My children’s identity has always been a concern for me, even before they were born knowing that they would be viewed not only by the content of their character but also by the color of their skin. I worried what’s too black? Believe me I don’t use that phrase lightly and with some shame. Early on I hoped for an American utopia, but now more than a decade in I am more practical.
My children often say that I am blacker than they are. Before I became pregnant I talked with my parents about it. My father in his customary style said, "I want a grandson, do your duty and make it happen!" My mom was closer to understanding, well at least closer to vocalizing one of my fears. She said her fear was that I wouldn’t be able to grasp “blackness” and all that comes with it. After her statement, I kissed her and in a typical Japanese fashion she suggested I study my concern. And so I casually did, for about a month, which is the day, I became pregnant, far too fast for my taste. Sure my husband and I had talked and decided to try, but damn that fertile man if it didn’t happen within a month after I stopped taking the pill. I mean what’s up with that? Luck of the draw or stereotypical black man virility? My mom said the latter and insisted that I stop relations with my husband immediately until the baby was born for fear my husband's brutish Negro super sperm would end up battering her grandchild about the head and shoulders while in my womb.
Nine months was all I had to become an expert in black, so I immersed myself in American black history and the study of black culture. By the time my son was born, I was blacker than my husband, at least information wise. His life experience was something I could not channel and so I was left with the impossible task of trying to empathize and understand what can be only be understood by being. In the birthing room as our son was making his entrance, I decided two things: one, to never have another child and two, to make sure our child was well versed in my side of the family tree as well as his father's. With each contraction, I realized that I had spent so much effort concerned with his blackness that I had made secondary his being Japanese. The first promise I did not keep, but the second I did.
As he and our second child grew, we celebrated every African American holiday and event and also every Japanese. I spoke mostly to them in my native language even while taking them on tours of The DuSable African American Museum. They have grown up being forced to identify as African American by society but I know they understand that they belong to two cultures and ancestries. In our home we fly many flags: American African American, Japanese, Italian and Irish. Sometimes just to stir up the neighbors we fly them all at the same time. Despite my early fears, I have found no conflict in celebrating the desperate parts of my children’s culture. They have experienced some difficulty in acceptance but never in their identity. Labels have always been an issue especially so when their peers have asked, "What are you?" I have my own answer for that question, but I can’t answer that for them. I have learned with much difficulty that they will find their own way.
As for me, I am proud to say that I have been in charge for the last five years of organizing my husband’s family reunion. Each year as the poster of the family tree is displayed, I am proud to see my parents' and grandparents' face in the line that extends from Africa to Japan. It is those moments I truly feel a part of my husband’s culture. Although it did take some getting used to when someone in the family looked at me and said, "Nigga please."
I never know what to say when that happens it’s not a word we use in my immediate family. But on a hot day in Indianola, Mississippi after one of my husband's relatives called me such, my son came up to me and said, "Well, Mom I guess you're black like me."
I honestly don’t know what that means.
Camile Ryerson is our regular contributing writer. Her column appears every Wednesday. Read her views on politics, world affairs, pop culture, family and what she's reading. Her favorite genre is sci-fi.