Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mother-of-Color Raising Biracial Daughters

This is Essay #26 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished, totally messy!) essay each week during 2017.

Last week, on June 18, 2017 in Seattle, another black woman was killed by police. Charleena Lyles. She was pregnant and mother to four children. I don’t understand. I mean, yes, I do. I understand the systemic racism of this country. But, despite my knowing, I still don’t understand. To open fire as first (preemptive) response is incredulous. Not unfamiliar, not (sadly) surprising, but still heartbreakingly incredulous. What do I tell my young daughters? How I explain that Charleena was shot and killed because of the color of her skin? How do I explain this world to them in a way that does not breed hate but instead builds compassion and an insistence to fight for what’s right?

I don’t know.

Just days before Charleena’s murder, Camille Dungy wrote an essay, “Notes from the Lower Level”, in Guernica about how it feels to be in her black skin in this America. How she worries what people’s intentions are. How she wants to take up boxing again. How she wants to learn how to use a gun. How they live in their house with the blinds drawn. How she almost prefers living in the basement, a cocoon of safety away from the world. How, in essence, white people just don’t get it.

I don’t know what to say anymore, what to do.

Nothing seems to work. I find myself saying the same things to the same people. To folks of color, I don’t have to say anything. We share understanding with a nod, a shake of the head, clenched fists, floods of tears. This is familiar. Nothing has changed. To white folks, I try to point things out. Don’t you see? I say over and over. No, they don’t see. Instead, they get defensive. Nothing seems to sink in.

I am tired.

But I must persist.

After all, I have the responsibility of raising three citizens of this world. And if there’s any way I can effectively help incite change for the better, it’s with these kids of mine.


When the results of the 2016 Election were officially announced that fateful Wednesday morning, my daughters’ mouths hung open in disbelief over their cereal bowls. Keep in mind that they are young kids: second grader, third grader, and sixth grader. They couldn’t believe that this nation would elect a man who grabbed women’s private parts. A man who hated brown people. Their next reaction was fear: “Mommy, is he going to take you away? Are we going to move? We need to move to Canada.” My youngest was in tears.

I’m sure this scenario didn’t happen in the homes of white people.


Since the election, this country has been in a downward spiral. I don’t think I need to list any of the disasters that have been happening. But if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then either you have been living under a rock or you are a white male and very, very rich. Like billionaire rich. If this is you, go take a look at The Guardian for a quick pulse check.

As a mother of color, I try to discern giving enough knowledge to my kids but not so much that it decimates their innocence. As biracial people, they need to know what's up. I also realize that as a non-black mother, I have this privilege of measuring out information in ways I see fit. I don’t need to teach them how to interact with police, how to show extreme measures of respect and compliance. I don’t have to teach my black sons how to walk friendly, how to dress, how to speak. I also don’t pretend to know what that’s like, what kind of painful love that is.

But as a woman of color, it is still important for me to impart the knowledge that this country is not built on fairness. Not for people of color. We have our own terrible histories –for my ancestors, it is as Filipinos in this country. My daughters need to know where they came from so that they can navigate forward with clarity. They need to know that white people will treat their mother differently because of the color of her skin, because of her facial features that define her as Other.

I think they know this already.

My daughters are light skinned; they do not look as Other as their mother. Often, I am relieved by this.

But how do you explain something like Charleena’s murder to compassionate children who notice difference and celebrate it? How do you explain that white officers are killing black people because they are afraid of black skin? How do you explain the officers’ fear of a mother, standing before her children? A fear that was so great they chose to shoot her dead in front of them? And how do you explain it in a way that does not perpetuate more fear or hate? How do you encourage love and compassion? Kindness and generosity?

I don't know --it's fucking hard-- but, for my daughters, I have to try.

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