How to White Mother a Black Daughter (during Black History Month)

I am the white mom of a black daughter and what the hell do I know about unleashing her #blackgirlmagic?

I know that moms are really just temporary tour guides who keep everything as safe and comfortable as possible before our charges walk off into their own sunset.

Before they enter the zone beyond their mother’s purview.

Their real life.

We may have our children’s hearts, but we will never have their minds. Not if we raise them right.

As much as my daughter is mine, which I feel with that grip that lifts cars, my love for her is the one part that I actually control. It’s the only thing I own when I am telling you that she is mine.

Because she is, of course, the king of her own universe. That is why I gave her the middle name Kingsley. Because how cool is a girl named King? But I also wanted to infuse her with power. If that’s tyrannical or if she eventually is, so be it.

I know what it means to grow up “girl.”

I know the tremors inside you and the eyeballs upon you and the ups and the downs of finding and using all of our female parts and our voices.

But I’ll never know much of anything about what it means to live black.

The blackest part of my childhood in Oregon was Lando Calrissian. I didn’t know yet that in my desperation to understand the world, I would center my education around black people in film and literature, because that’s the only way to truly understand the other thing about the world.

This thing, our monster god: whiteness.

Black History Month has always seemed a well-intentioned, but miniscule effort to recognize what is inestimable. But there’s no good reason to rail against it. Why pour water on tiny flames when we are otherwise in the dark? Black History Month doesn’t need more harassment. It is burdened enough by tiny girth and impossible heft.

But this morning on Twitter I caught news of the president’s massacre of the already overworked event. The degradation was as obnoxious and callous as his routine before the CIA memorial wall. And his defilement of the office of the presidency itself. And the tarnishing of the Supreme Court. And the smearing of what we once knew as facts. And all the violence, the golden endless showering upon, all the other symbols and institutions that many of us hold dear or sacred.

Of course, his unctuous performances degrade his own person so overtly that the object of his defilement is made somewhat safer through his denouncement.

Like the pussy. Which now claims a power and status far less reticent and untold.

Frederick Douglass strikes me as existing still in some untouchable grace well beyond the forked spewing of our presidential creature.

As does John Lewis. As if Trump’s rants could actually besmirch what is unimpeachably sacred. You cannot undo anything truly good.

Blacks, more than any of us, have endlessly born this kind Trumpian violence and have always thrived beyond it.

But we rely on that resilience and courage way too much. Us whites will watch these folks get hurt. We will wait, then cheer when they recover from punches, and we will have never done enough to stop the harassment in the first place.

We will have never done enough. Until we hit a Someday Planet that does not resemble the world as it is today.

I’m a white woman whose greatest loves are black. Which is meaningless.

I cannot do enough to protect them. And they do not immunize me from my responsibility in the unrelenting shitstorm that is racism.

When I next see my husband, I’ll direct him to the brilliant Twitter stream #TrumponBlackHistoryMonth and I will nestle into his laugh. I take care of my biracial 9 year-old in other ways—in the necessary mess of constant conversation. Daily race talk, Trump talk, identity talk.

But my daughter.

She is only four.

My tiny, mighty, kingly queen.

She does not yet know what she is in for. I mean, she knows that black is a thing that can hurt, but she doesn’t know the scope.

The sweeping power of all things White Supremacist.

Which arise to blow dangerous winds at the Power of All Things Black and Beautiful. And she knows about those things too.

And you know I’m just some well-intentioned white girl who doesn’t know what I’m doing with regards to this.

And similar white people handed me this angel. And white people sighed relief and black people raised eyebrows. They took one look at her and could tell that she had magic far beyond the reach of whatever I would do to fuck her up.

Of course she does, but why should she have to tap such reserves?

And now my black girl (who isn’t more important than any other black girl in the grander scheme beyond my heart) lives in this land we all made.

Yes, her Daddy is black and mighty. But her mother is white and lost.

And here is my latest idea that has steeped as long as a teabag to give you some sense of its finished-ness. You know about rushed ideas. All of mine lately beset with tremor. With my I-have-to-do-something-before-we-die-and-oh-my-god-what-if-just-I-die-what-about-my-children-what-then-???. That anxiety.

Which doctors would probably medicate if they met me without glancing around Washington D.C. first. It’s in that register of alert, post-election dysfunction in which I put forth my minor solution.

To blowback against the president’s desecration of Black History Month.

Because this event is holy in the way that religious things are not. Because it is human. Because it is real. Because it has consequence on the actual plains of earth.

My small effort is a daily note on Facebook #BlackHistoryMonth, For my Daughter, for 28 days. You will find art, film and writing mostly. Little doses. Because that’s how you get to anything big. With the tiny paces. Each day a piece of black writing or art that once got inside me. I cannot give her what isn’t mine. But the love for each thing that I share this month, I will tell her that love is the only part of this I own (and even that is quandary.)

She can find it or not when she’s ready.

I am talking to you, my darling, when you are becoming woman-ish. (When will it be? 17-27?) Old enough to sink into a different kind of knowing. Because that’s how old I was when I finally started to really understand this world. If and when you are here, listen: here is a history more yours than mine. Take it. You may never see any of this and you may never care.

And I’d prefer you careless, if that could mean carefree.

One-a-day for the month, 2017.

Day 1: Gwendolyn Brooks “We Real Cool”

Day 2: Jean Toomer’s Cane

Day 3: Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust

Day 4: Ella Fitzgerald’s “Blue Skies”

Day 5: Kara Walker’s silhouettes

Day 6: Gordon Parks’ “American Gothic”

Day 7: Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (opening credits)

Day 8: Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

Day 9: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

Day 10: bell hooks The bell hooks Institute

Day 11: James Hampton’s The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly

Day 12: Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B”

Day 13: Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Day 14: Toni Morrison’s Jazz

Day 15: Joshua Smith’s Space is the Place (with Sun-Ra)

Day 16: Beyoncé’s Lemonade

Day 17: John Edgar Wideman’s “Looking for Emmett Till”

Day 18: August Wilson’s Fences (film adaptation)

Day 19: Hortense Spillers’ “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book”

Day 20: Tanya Hamilton’s Night Catches Us

Day 21: Patricia J. Williams’ The Alchemy of Race and Rights

Day 22: Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy

Day 23: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad

Day 24: Ava Duvernay’s 13th

Day 25: Haile Gerima’s Bush Mama

Day 26: Misty Copeland for American Ballet Theater

Day 27: Amiri Baraka’s “Somebody Blew Up America”

Day 28: Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass



1 thought on “How to White Mother a Black Daughter (during Black History Month)

My overriding response to this article is that you are So. Not. Lost. in mothering this kingly queenly angel of a child. You may be white as snow, but you are the fiercest and most loving of moms – and perhaps more hardworking intellectually and emotionally than any I know. She is a gift to you and Val, of course. But what a gift to her you both are as well.

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