“I’m going to say something that I know you won’t like, but you need to hear” my mother decreased the volume of the blaring stereo, despite the fact that I was mid jam to F***ing Problems. I immediately cringed and looked anywhere except the confined, and now seemingly claustrophobic space which I could hardly escape from, unless suicide was an option…hmm actually.
My mother is quite the troll. She enjoys initiating conversations when there is no room to hide- quite clever. So rather than risk grievous bodily harm by flinging myself out her Beemer, I decided to act grown and stick it out… and despite the direction the conversation went, I’m glad I did.
“I’m not comfortable with you dating black guys” she said, “I know that times are different but I can’t get over what my mother taught me, her ideas are still floating around in my head”.
This doesn’t surprise me. I loved my grandmother; she was one of the most moral, god-fearing women I knew and by far the most inspirational in my childhood. However she, like many people in her community, had the context of Apartheid to base all their decisions and ideologies on. My mother’s side of the family considered themselves more superior than my dad’s, wealthier and more importantly they saw themselves as more similar to white. The fairer skin was seen as more superior than the darker skin that my dad and his family had. Even my uncle, when he married my aunt (by blood) had commented to my dad- gloating that he had “married the fairer sister” and she in turn had obviously done well for herself marrying a light skinned man with green eyes.
“I’m not saying that you are going to marry the man but, think about what your children will look like” she repeated the old phrase my grandmother lectured her on all those years ago that had obviously been drilled into her. I guess that it would seem backward if I did start popping out babies with African noses and African hair- that I was meant to go for straighter hair, lighter skin and lighter eyes so that my babies would have a better chance in life, as they would be as close to white as I could get.
During this conversation, my mother explained to me how her family didn’t speak to her for 2 years while she dated my father and that even her oldest brother pretty much disowned her. She and my father married without the family’s blessing. She’d never told me this before, how much hurt she went through and how hard it was to go against her family’s wishes.
“Despite all this Mal, you are responsible for your own happiness- I can’t dictate it to you” she said, completely changing the direction of the conversation. And I knew that she was partially saying that although she didn’t like it- she was accepting and respecting my decision which meant a lot to me. The idea of a perfect someone doesn’t guarantee you the perfect life, shown over and over again in the abusive and depressing relationships women in my family have found themselves in. And sometimes, and often, parents don’t get it right. Often they can’t set aside their own prejudices and see what is most important- that their child is happy.
I was so grateful that we had this conversation, so appreciative that we cleared the air- although her pointing out where I could get free birth control had me want to risk endangering my life again. Tres awkward.