“My mom is (not actually) half-black”

As far as I know, my mom is not actually half-black, but I once told a group of high school friends she was. My mom is one of those southern white women who worshipped the sun every summer, and tanned easily and darkly. It was the early 1980s and she was wearing her hair in what I can only describe as a short, psuedo-afro. So when I responded to a friend’s racist joke by glaring at her and stating matter-of-factly “My mom is half-black”, everyone half-believed me, and a very uncomfortable silence ensued.

When I told my mom the story, she laughed and said “yeah, I guess I could pass with this tan.” But then she got serious and explained to me that it shouldn’t matter — that I didn’t have to conjure up some fake blackness to take an anti-racist stand. In fact, I had inadvertently sent my friends the message that their racist joke was only innapropriate because it was told in front of someone with a (fake) half-black parent.

This story came to mind this week as I watched this video about how to use white privilege to confront racism, and as I read this piece on the hegemony of white male speech in the technology world. I highly recommend both the video and the article.

I’m continuing to learn how to be a better ally, and how to acknowledge my privilege and use it as appropriate to call out racism, classism, transphobic behaviors, ableism, etc. I suspect there is not one right way to do any of this, but I promise I haven’t lied about my mama’s race in years.

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