Jack & Jill

Sometimes people ask me what it is like to have a parent who is white. This is like trying to say what it's like to have two arms or brown hair - it's what I've always known. Maybe a better question is what has it been like for my mother to have a non-white child, especially after she and my father split up. From what I've seen, she's pretty at ease with it: I had a homegrown afro until I was 12; she and my dad made sure I spent time with both sides of my family; and, to this day, she tells me I am smart and beautiful, without caveat or further explanation.
But, I know she struggled with how to make sure I had enough black role models. I guess she didn't want me to base my life on the people in our poor Minneapolis neighborhood - a motley crew of pimps, druggies, jobless and borderline blue collar. 
One year, when I was still really young, as she scanned the greater world for ways to make sure her black daughter didn't grow up confused or a prostitute, she found Jack & Jill. If you haven't heard of it, Jack & Jill is "a family organization that provides cultural, social, civic and recreational activities that stimulate and expand the mind to enhance life." It is also billed as an African-American family organization. Not knowing the undercurrent of what she was getting into, my mom signed us up.
When people talk about how hard it might be to be a white parent of a black kid - like Brad and Angelina with little Zahara - they focus on things like how do you handle coarse hair, ashy skin or other kids teasing them for being different. They do not talk about what it would be like to be a young, white woman who comes from a wealthy family but was cut off because of marrying a black man and then, when trying to provide a black experience for her child is shunned by the black community. And maybe, depending on your own experience, you might not feel much pity for that woman. After all, it was her choice and living the life of a black person in America and the burdens that come with it isn't a choice.
What I can say is that my mother has only told me the story of taking me to Jack & Jill once, but it has stuck with me. When I picture my short, spunky, very white mom walking into this group and having them tell her that Jack & Jill is not for her or her daughter, even if she is HALF black, I just want to cry. Not for me. For my mother, who loved me so much she tried to join a black organization.

1 comment:

  1. Sheesh! Jack & Jill making people feel inferior since 1938.