I would like to honour a mother I know.
Sometimes our children demand the almost impossible from us and it’s so easy to make it the child’s problem and avoid making the unimaginable changes that will make the situation better.
This morning I observed a happy, flourishing, balanced girl and I thought of how it might have been if her mother hadn’t done what she did – and I felt so moved I decided to write about it (I got this approved by her before I posted it).
This mother has children of a different race group to herself. All was fine while they were young but as they grew older her girls began to ask questions, some of them incredibly painful and difficult to answer. “Mama, can people with my colour skin drive fancy cars?”, “Why can’t my hair be straight and blond?”
Looking around at her world through the eyes of her daughters, this mother saw the role models for her dark girls were either rich light-skinned women or poor dark-skinned women in service to the light-skinned. Neither role model fitted these upper-middle-class dark-skinned girls. Even her own hair was straight and blonde. She didn’t have the tools to help her girls live in this world from within a dark skin. She couldn’t teach them what strengths are needed deep inside to deal with all that comes at you from society when one is wrapped in a dark-chocolate-brown skin.
It was a time of deep crisis for her. She felt painfully inadequate to help her girls in the world. Her girls were also in a crisis of painful inadequacy. They were different and it hurt.
It would have been so easy to send her girls to therapy to cope with their difference. Probably with a light-skinned therapist who might make it all about them. (I can say that sort of thing because I’m a light-skinned therapist.)
She didn’t do that. Instead, she changed her world.
She began to ask the Universe and anywhere else she could think of to bring into her life dark-skinned, educated, middle-class, inspiring role models for her daughter. Women who would know. Women who could fill in the gaps of knowledge for her girls. Dark-skinned women who were beautiful and successful and proud of their hair. It was a difficult time for her light-skinned friends who felt rejected and rained sharp criticisms on her for her resolute head-hunting for new friends. Hurt comments were made about feeling inadequate due to lack of pigmentation.
She was having none of that. “I’m sorry you are hurt. It’s not about you. I have to do this for my daughters.” And on she went, searching determinedly.
Through her quest she has met some incredible role models – not just for her girls but for her and many of her light-skinned friends (the ones who stuck around for the changes). She had to face many inner prejudices and assumptions she didn’t know she was walking around with. She has been challenged and cracked open in all sorts of painful and exciting ways. She has challenged and cracked open those around her who were willing to join in on this journey.
There’s been a whole lot of mess and a whole lot of treasure. There’s still going to be.
And this morning I watched her dark-skinned daughter, shining within herself, knowing she is fine as she is. Knowing she can grow to be a beautiful, successful, proud dark-skinned woman who will probably change the world – just like her mother.