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The Wonderful Things One Learns Accidentally

14 Mar 2017Other Essays

I am six years old, and my mom is dropping me off at Jennifer Bean’s house. Jennifer and I are friends, and it’s her birthday. I remember ringing the doorbell as the excitement I felt over the day coursed through me. The party, the dress I wore, the carefully wrapped present I had picked out—each of these small things joined together to make my heart pound in excitement and anticipation. As the door opened and Mrs. Bean appeared, I looked up and prepared to offer her the birthday gift I held along with a pleasant greeting. (My mother had reviewed this procedure with me before we left the house and again as we exited the car, and even though I had done this kind of thing before, I wanted my mother to be proud of me as I introduced her to Mrs. Bean.) I looked up and extended the arm that held my gift, but as I looked Mrs. Bean squarely in the eye, I saw something there I did not understand.
That I am the product of a biracial relationship is not something I understood that afternoon on the Bean’s doorstep, nor had I yet identified the look I saw on Mrs. Bean’s face for the subtle form of racism that it was. Looking back, I can recall clearly the awkward visual exchange that passed between my mother and Mrs. Bean, and I can also see myself standing on that porch for an elongated moment of time as Mrs. Bean struggled to recover from the shock that she had unwittingly allowed to cross her face as my mother pretended not to have noticed.

I don’t recall just when I understood that my being half black and half white made me “biracial,” nor can I pinpoint the moment that I understood what racism was or how it felt to have it directed at me, but I do know that that moment on the Bean’s porch has always stuck with me. Fortunately, it did not make me bitter or hateful; instead, it made me extremely sensitive to the ways in which my actions—no matter how subtle—can affect the people around me.

It is no longer uncommon to meet people who are involved in biracial relationships, and more and more, children are being born who are wonderful combinations of ethnicities. I think this is the key to the end of racism and hate: because it was “normal” for me to see “white” when I looked at one parent and “black” when I looked at the other, I had the advantage of going out into the world appreciating and feeling a part of both races. Think about it: if none of us were the products of only one race, how could we hate based on something as arbitrary as skin color?

I have recently experienced another form of prejudice: I have a six-moth old daughter, and while I am married, my age often causes others to make assumptions about the type of woman I am. I am perfectly content with the choices I have made: I am happily married, and I love being a mom, but I admit to being frustrated sometimes by the feeling I get from a number of people in the world that it was irresponsible of me to give birth when I was only twenty-one. These people seem to think that age has some bearing on maturity, and while I am aware that being a mother at my age is not the right choice for many people, it was the correct choice for me. I know plenty of people who are in their thirties who have one or more children and have no idea how to parent. I also know many people who are older than I am who have difficulty making appropriate choices. Obviously, age has little bearing on one’s ability to make good choices or act in a responsible manner.

One of the things that I think about when I feel that another person is judging me about being a mother at “such a young age” is the experience I had that afternoon of Jennifer Bean’s party: there is nothing I can do about the perceptions other people have of me. It makes me sad to think that there are people out there who have such narrow views of things, but I try to look at it as an opportunity: if there are those who think poorly of young mothers, but I show them that some young mothers are really great at parenting, then perhaps I will help those people have a less judgmental view of people in general.

I guess I am the kind of person who really does not take well to those who stereotype and judge, yet I admit at times to feeling a bit ahead of the game: not only have I found someone to share my life with, but also I have started my family. While many of the people around me spend a lot of their time and energy looking for the “right” person with whom to settle down and worrying about what their future will hold, I am free to concentrate on developing my relationship and watching my daughter grow. In the meantime, I can work patiently work on fulfilling the other things in my life that are important: my education and my career. I don’t ever have to worry about looking back at my life with regret for putting off getting married or having a child to complete my education or compete in the job market.

Truthfully, having faced some of the prejudices that exist in the world have made me a more sensitive, understanding, and confident person. Being responsible for another life also puts many things in perspective. There are few joys as great as those that surround one’s child, and there are few things as stressful as watching one’s child suffer through a cold or similar difficulty. When compared to the pressures and trials of raising a child, my future responsibilities and trials—such as having to meet deadlines, to deal with office politics, or to budget time for homework—pale.

I am a twenty-two year old woman born of a biracial relationship. I am married, and I have a six-month old daughter. These facts alone tell you nothing about me, and if all you see is the color of my skin, or all you think about me is based on your stereotypes, you will diminish both of us. People are much more than the sum of the labels that can be applied to them, and until we realize this as a society, we simply will not grow. This is a truth that this young mother realizes every time she looks into the eyes of her little girl—it this a truth you have considered?

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