A couple days ago, a white man named Calvin Hennick admitted that he hoped his biracial kid would come out looking as white as possible.
Writing for (ironically enough) Ebony, he said that the three-year-old he had fathered with his black wife could ‘pass’ for white, but:
I want my son’s skin color not to matter, but the truth is that it does. If he gets darker — if his skin eventually comes to resemble my wife’s more than mine — there will be consequences for him. People will fear him. Not everyone, but plenty of people, and he’ll never know who until it’s too late. It will only be worse if he wears a hoodie and sags his jeans, and so shamefully I also hope that he’ll be “culturally white,” following the trends of the suburbs and not the inner city.
Later on down the page, he also confesses that he had originally hoped for a girl rather than a boy (so there’d be less risk of violence).
Maybe some people read this article as a sweet, sad confession of a concerned father.
But for me, it’s hard to read his article as anything other than a complete shirking of one’s responsibility as a parent, as a citizen, and as a compassionate human being.
Never mind that being ‘culturally white’, whatever that means, doesn’t guarantee safety. Never mind that his wishing he’d had a daughter instead of a son completely ignores – well, how we completely ignore violence against black women in this country. This article is the other side of the victim-blaming that seems to be all the rage now: it’s asking victims to solve all the problems that their attackers visit on them. It treats injustice as a force of nature, no more worth fighting against than a tornado.
It asks absolutely nothing of society, it does not resolve to contribute to a solution, it disrespects the living memory of every unsung freedom fighter that ever threw a rock at a tank or refused to go to the back of the bus.
In short, it shows no courage whatsoever.
I was sad to see that article, but it’s not that I haven’t heard this kind of sentiment before. As a matter of fact, I heard it very recently.
A few weeks ago, I got an email about an article I’d written on Ferguson from a church pastor. He said that he preached to a ‘mainly white’ church. He has a few sons — some white, and some biracial, that ‘look black.’ Ferguson had made him afraid for his biracial sons. He worried about what would happen when they left the house and were looked at as ‘just another black man.’
He asked me questions: Would he have to teach them to be afraid of people and police and politicians? And: Would he have to have conversations with them that he would never have with his white sons?
I wrote him back immediately, and told him that yes, his kids would have to fear people and police and certain politicians. But that he didn’t have to teach them anything if he didn’t want to, because society would do it for him. That’s because left alone, black kids will learn the lessons they need to survive. Television will teach them, other black people will teach them. Yes, there is a ‘talk’ that some black kids get, but many of us can’t remember it because it happens through osmosis anyway.
Instead, I asked him to focus on his ‘mainly white’ congregation. To help them to understand why race must be in black people’s minds — all the time, not just now — and that it is not responsible or even possible to ignore it. To teach them to not be afraid of their fellow human beings, and to stand with them when the time comes (now).
And that he should be having the same conversation with all of his kids. Because honestly, I was more worried about his white kids than his black ones. Black kids will learn — white kids, well, you never know.
I never got a response.
I like to think it’s because he is very busy right now, because he took my words to heart and is frantically preaching to his white congregation about how they can save their souls by following Matthew 7:12.
To be fair to both the white father in Ebony and my new pastor friend, though — this sort of logic is very common. For some reason, we immediately seek the solution from the oppressed, even if we ourselves are the oppressor, and the problem is ours. It’s more comfortable that way.
In fact, it’s the same sort of logic that makes parents tell their kids not to marry ‘lower’ on the racial totem pole. ‘I’m fine with it,’ they lie to their children, ‘but think about what society will do to them.’
There’s a word for this sort of logic: ‘fascism.’
Or, well, to be more specific: this sort of thinking is very compatible with fascism, if we consider that one defining feature of fascism is that it considers inequality inherent and unavoidable. And that another feature is that it prefers to remove ‘inferior’ beings from the gene pool — for the good of everyone, of course. Crossing your fingers and hoping your kid turns out light is, in other words, just a lazy form of eugenics.
In 1944, a Swedish economist named Gunnar Myrdal published a book, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, which ‘frankly concluded that the Negro problem is a white man’s problem.’
He said that ‘the overwhelming majority of white Americans desire that there be as few Negroes as possible in America,’ and that this view was held even by those ‘enlightened white Americans who do not hold the common belief that Negroes are inferior as a race.’ ‘Usually,’ he noted, ‘it is pointed out that Negroes fare better and meet less prejudice when they are few in number.’
Fortunately, or unfortunately, a polite way to make Negroes disappear could never be found — particularly because, as Gunnar wrote, ‘white Southerners realize their economic dependence on the Negro and would not like to lose him.’
So, to all of those white parents passively worrying about your colored kid’s safety: don’t despair.
Realistically speaking, odds are that your kid won’t get shot. He’s got a much higher chance of getting stuck in a low-wage job, or maybe filling a cell in a prison somewhere, and providing low-cost prison labor that the American machine relies on. So at least there’s that.
Rest assured — black people, and all other minorities, fill a very specific need in this country. They can’t kill us all.
…Uh, so maybe my title was a little silly.
After all, I don’t care what color my kid ends up being. And realistically, said kid — should someone be unfortunate enough to be conned into creating one with me — probably isn’t going to come out all that dark, regardless of the race of the mother. I’m more Fresh Prince than Blade, and if I stay out of the sun for long enough, I can probably pass a paper bag test.
And it’s probably not fair of me to comment on a parent’s heartfelt musings, because I’m not a father and I don’t know what it’s like to worry that your kid will die because of his skin color (though I’ve seen the flashes of that worry in my own parents’ eyes). Maybe I’m being too harsh.
But I want to believe that if I have had the courage to live with brown skin in America, and that I’ve had the courage to stand next to my women and Asian and gay and Latino and everything-else friends when they needed me thus far, that I’ll have the courage to keep pushing to make my kid’s world a better one.
I want to believe that I’ll have the courage to listen to my kid and ask what he or she needs from me, and to not just shrug my shoulders and hope that my kid blends in well enough to not get shot in the face.
talk to me if you like: @dexdigi
Images are screenshots from Blade.