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Thank you so much for hosting this workshop. I have been wanting something like this for a long time without knowing exactly what it is that I've wanted. I am looking forward to learning and being a part of this healing environment.

I am Mo. I was born in TN in the mid1970s. I am an African American. I grew up being a Black American, and in some ways, I prefer that label partly because that is what I learned and became proud of as a young person and partly because black does not allow for the misperception that I am anything other than American.

This is important to me because my family has been in this country for a very long time. I recently read my family tree, uncovered by one of my cousins many times removed. She traced my maternal grandmother's roots back to a black slave woman who was married to a slave man. The woman's sons were fathered by the white master whose name was William. The woman's husband was also named William which implies that he was also the slave master's son. This woman's son, who is my great great great grandfather was born in 1815 into slavery.

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Memphis; it's in the heart of the city, but it wasn't "urban" like people think with traffic, crime, and density. It's the South and so it was tame and actually quite charming. Most houses were small (3 bedroom in 1200 sq ft) single family homes with a porch and a front and back yard. People sat on their porches and watched the kids play. My neighbors were almost all black, with the exception of one or two white mothers of biracial children. It was just post-civil rights and most houses held three generations of family members. Extended family was just family. There were lots of us and we got together almost every weekend at my house where I lived with my mom, sister, and grandmother. Eating was (and still is) very important to us. We grew tomatoes in the backyard and fried them with fat back on Saturday mornings and ate it with biscuits and molasses. We BBQed ribs and chicken.

The dirty secret of living in a segregated black community is what some call the "color complex." Light skin and long straight or loosely curled hair was blatantly preferred and rewarded while dark skin and kinky hair were denegrated. The conditioning starts at birth when people check babies' cuticles and ears for the darkest possible pigment, the color the baby will eventually achieve in her face and body. From there, people are pigeon-holed, pretty or ugly. Children tease, adults either fawn over a light-skinned child or berate a dark one. Light-skinned babies are automatically good babies, but it's way too easy for people to find fault with an equally good dark-skinned baby. I've seen and heard some nasty things projected on kids by colorist adults. I beg my family to stop the ignorance, but it's so deeply ingrained that they slip into it without a second thought.

My sister was pretty. She was also smart. She really was these things, but what it meant in the context of our family, neighborhood, and school was that she had light-skin (lighter than a brown paper bag) and "good hair" soft ringlets that held their shape instead of frizzing into a big afro like mine. She was the object of too much objectification and it did not serve her well. Being pretty became an end in itself, but there's more to the story than just colorism.

I was average. I had medium brown skin that could not pass the paper bag test and thick tight rings. My hair was always a problem for my mother. I sweat too much and so I could never keep it silky straight after it was pressed with the hot comb. Today I wear it just as it is and I love it. My grandmother, on the other hand, hates it. I hate the hot comb.

My sister and I did not know that we were black until I was 6 and she was 7. This is a good thing because kids should not have to confront race. They just shouldn't. The way it happened was that there was a man driving a white van who was abducting kids in our neighborhood. It was on the news everyday for about a week or so. I just remember that it was big horrifying news. My sister and I were latchkey kids and so my mom told us to be careful coming home and to not talk to strange men. We reassured her that the man was only taking black kids, not people like us. She asked us what we were and my sister said beige and I said brown. We knew color, not race. Black meant people with very dark skin, the kind that was ridiculed in my neighborhood. She told us that we were black. And so the racial learning began, as well as solidifying the reason for the color divide.

I was a difficult child for my mother to understand because I did not believe the negative messages about my race as they should have applied to me. I always believed that I should have opportunities that white people had and that I could have white friends and live somewhere other than Memphis. I did not want to live in segregation and feel the oppression of colorism. I wanted to be Somebody like the civil rights chant declared. I had big dreams for myself and in some ways, my daydreaming made my mother very angry with me. I still don't understand why, but I'm coming to understand that she equated my desire for something different with a rejection of her.

In 8th grade, I was tired of my school. My sister and I were tracked to the advanced classes from a very early age and we did very well. School was dull. I wanted to learn more. I wanted more autonomy and responsibility. I was stifled in my segregated school with a principal and teachers who re-enforced the message that we black students could only go so far. So I decided to apply to New England boarding schools. My sister and I got offered scholarships and so we chose one and went. Just like that our lives changed dramatically.

We went from being the smartest in the class to the ones who needed extra help. For the first time in my life, I realized just how poor and country we were. Our clothes were wrong, our accents wrong, our skin color just wrong no matter how light. We still made lots of excellent friends, but we were different people. We realized our anxieties and handled them very differently. My sister developed clinical depression. I was targeted by some girl on my hall for a racist note written anonymously, and I also became depressed. I was 14 and I discovered a deep resiliance that has allowed me to overcome discrimination, even though it has not stopped finding me.

I graduated from that school having held some very high leadership positions including class president, student council officer, and prefect. I went to a Southern prestigious university and met racism all over again. It was blatant and nasty and I spent 4 years drinking like my grandparents and hating white people. I was isolated and lonely. I became more depressed. I graduated from there with mediocre grades and a very low sense of myself and my worth. I went to graduate school.

In graduate school, I had found the freedom I was looking for to just be me. I stopped relaxing my hair. I stopped having sex with boys who didn't like me as much as I liked them. I stopped being self-conscious thanks to an excellent therapist. I still drank too much. I still was targeted for racism, but this time it was different. I was one of few black students in most of my classes. The security guards in the buildings were always black and they always noticed me and made sure to check my ID. White students slipped by because the guards never bothered to distinguish one from the other. Being black made me more conspicuous and an easier target. Everywhere I went, I was asked to prove that I belonged there. I was followed in stores and had my bag searched when I left. White professors confused me with the other black girl in the department. But I was resilient and I knew how to make friends. I had friends of all races and walks of life just as I did at my high school. I was still me, the girl who loved to learn and had a nice smile.

I graduated from there, the first black american woman to receive a PhD in that department. It was 2001. I moved to DC where I had an internship in my field. I was 26. I met a 39 yo white guy from the Midwest who really like talking to me. I thought he was funny, so we talked everyday at work. For a while, I didn't have any white guy friends, so I was happy that I had this new relationship blossoming because it was important to me to have all sorts of people represented among my close friends. He had an interesting perspective and I learned some things from him. One April day, he asked me to go hiking with him, cliche, I know. We went and he asked me to be his girl. We've been together 5 years this month, married 4.

Marrying him made me confront a lot of racial baggage that I had as well as made me yet another target of racism from his family. I remember in my militant days wanting to marry a black man, of course, and never ever considering a white guy. I had only dated black men. I kissed one white guy in college after drinking a bottle of wine with him at happy hour. He asked me for a kiss. It was sweet and I think he really liked me, but it was the wrong place for either of us to cross the divide. Even kissing on West End Blvd was a big deal, a really big deal.

So here I am married to this white guy from a family of people who consider themselves to be the true Americans. They have the American accent, they are the All American blonde, blue-eyed heartlanders. And yet my family has lived here longer than his. They treated me as peripheral, like I was a midlife crisis for him. But I am not. I am his wife and the mother of his children.

My children are wonderful. I am a mother of 2 biracial children: a girl who has white skin, hazel eyes with flecks of blue and grey, and blonde curls, and a son who has chocolate eyes, brown skin, and not much hair to speak of. My children look just alike. Not many people can see it because they can't see past color, but they have the exact same face. They have the same shaped head, same eyes, eyebrows, nose, chin, and lips. And they have many more of my facial features than my DH's but people who can't see beyond color say that my DD looks just like my DH and DS looks just like me. They look like both of us in interesting ways. They are a special blend.

What being in an interracial relationship and being the mother of a DD who people think is white has meant is that I am now "on the list." The list is the names of blacks who married whites. It's a disgrace to be on the list. Black people used to scoff at me when they found out that DD was my daughter instead of some little white girl that I babysit. They say things like, She looks like her dad, even though they've never seen her father. One man told me that I should be ashamed to have that "white baby." I looked at him with defiances, but then I came home with my 4 month old baby and cried my eyes out. I was so happy to be pregnant and so happy to have an unmedicated birth. I was so in love with my baby because she was mine and I nursed her day and night with a determination to give her the best of me. And some f'ing stranger spit shame at us. We didn't do anything to anybody. I didn't care what she looked like, but it seemed that everyone else did. They made me and my baby the object of way too much attention. I had to draw on my strength and I held tight to my baby who is as black as she is white, and if you know the black community, you know that her features are not unique by a long stretch. Remember my story about my slave ancestors. There is plenty of white in my family, hence the problematic colorism.

All of this makes me a black woman who can make a friend easily and an enemy just as easily. My identity is too complicated for people to stereotype me. I am the youngest and only black woman in my position in my entire department at work. All other young black women are secretaries and so people mistake me for the one who makes copies in meetings. I don't get coffee for anybody, not even myself since I'm BFing. I make a point of directing requests to my white male assistant. Some black people decide that they can't like or trust me because I have a white husband but they drool over my DD's pictures. She is granted a special black status in spite of her father, but mine is diminished because of him. White people are more likely to befriend me when my husband and DD are around. White people love her and we have been asked several times to arrange dates and even marriage with white american families. I wish I were exaggerating. So her blackness is not a genetic problem like mine was for my husband's family because you can't see it. Hispanics like to tell me that my DD does not look like me. They ask me if I am the nanny of this pretty baby.

In my neighborhood, I am isolated from the poor blacks who live in the projects. I am a part of the "families association" that is almost all white, upper middle class and well educated. We were invited during Halloween, but the other black family with the rowdy kids who look as poor and country as I did growing up were not invited. I understand why Washington,DC is one of the most segregated cities in the US because I can't find a black girlfriend to save my life. I feel very sad about that. I love being black and I share what I consider to be my culture with my DC. I wish I had more black friends close by. My one best friend lives in Indiana. She is married to a Japanese man. We have lots to talk about and have huge phone bills.

I am a woman who loves diversity and people. Even though I lament my lack of black female girlfriends, I love all of my friends. I get to be just me, just Mo, with them. I need that after dealing with society as a black woman who goes where she does not belong.
 
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