Monday, 1 March 2010
The other day, my daughter said something quite disturbing. For the past year she has been asking me questions about her looks (how different she is). When she was three, she came home one day from nursery school and said to me
“Mamma, is it true that you are black?” I was amused. I asked her what she thought and she said
“I think you are brown. Mattia said you are black and I told him you that are brown.” With that, I knew that it willl be just a matter of time before the you-are-different snake pops its head up again. It’s been two years.
Well recently, she has gotten into fights a lot too often with the boys in her class and although her teacher had trivialized the whole thing and had told me she was simply a difficult child, I found out that the boys in question had called her Bistecca (steak - for the colour of her skin), ricciolina (nappy head - for her hair) and cacca puzza (smelly shit - for…heaven knows what).
Anyway, on this particular day, I had picked her up from school and we went grocery shopping before heading back home, and while we were stuck in traffic, I was listening to Sarah Brightman, my mind was wondering in all directions when suddenly she said
“Mamma, I am not black.”
“Yes principessa, you are not black,” I responded, (she loves being called a princess ever since she learned that my paternal family were at a time rulers in my African hometown).
“And I am not white,” she added, again, I shook my head.
“No principessa, you are not white either.”
“I am Mulata,” she stated.
“Yes you are Mulata.” This has been a conversation we have had in the past, so I was certain this line of conversation was closed until she added
“I don’t want to be black because I don’t want to be a cacca puzza like black people are.” I felt my rage rising slowly but I kept it under the lid.
"Is it true that we stole this car because black people are theives?" (refering to my car of course). My tolerance lid popped.
“WHAT?” I barked.
“I didn’t say it,” she defended quickly, “Mattia said that black people are cacca puzza (smelly shit) and that I am a negra femmina (female negro - usually when Italians use the term negra it carries an offensive denotation), and that blacks are thieves."
For the next sixty seconds that felt like more like sixty minutes, clearly and harshly, I defended my being black. She began to cry. When the anger cooled down, I felt bad, then sad. I didn’t trust myself to speak. I cannot say I perfectly understood what it was like for her to continually have to defend being related to me. I had taught her that there was nothing wrong or superior with being either black or white and more so being a mixture of both. What I had never envision nor planned to tackle was the possibility of her having to deal with defending my race and embracing her white Italian father’s race.
“I’m sorry,” I eventually said. She gave me a puzzled look. I knew she didn’t understand what I meant. We have always had an understanding with her, never say you are sorry about hurting someone until you fully understand what is it you are sorry for, otherwise the ‘sorry’ would only be a cute cover for a wound that would rot under the cover until it leaks out, bigger and uglier than before.
I was sorry for not preparing myself for the roller coaster of emotions she would be dealing with for being different. Granted, she is lighter-skined than I am and could pass for another non black race with her hair heat straightened. But she is too young to have that option (or I purposely choose to let her embrace who she is from the very start).
When we got home, I tried as best as I could to explain to her that there will always be shallow minded people like Mattia who are just not intelligent enough to appreciate the beauty of our differences. And that she must concentrate in embracing her being different rather than defending or running away from what makes her different. I also told her that I loved being black, I didn’t want to be a Mulata like her or white like her father (and it’s the truth too) and that she MUST learn to embrace who she is AS SHE IS and not crave to be more like me or more like her father because her being different is what makes her special. Now, that doesn’t mean the problem has been solved. That doesn’t even mean it’s a reliable solution but for now it works for us.
What bothers me though is that I am still not prepared to handle what will come next, and I know more will come. I know that I need to educate myself on what being Biracial feels like.