The dream I had last night will make a lot more sense if I add that in the last week I’ve watched Selma twice, and just last night sat down with Dear White People.
I sleep in shifts now; I can’t make it more than a few hours without the babe doing it’s bladder dance and sending me sliding out of bed. Some nights I sleep deeply in every interval and the night stretches on and on in this luxurious way; always hours left to go if I check my phone. Other nights though, it’s all restlessness and peeing and this sensation in my lower back that I can only describe as static electricity. I fidget and turn and piss off the cat, and even disrupt B., who’s been known to fall asleep in the corner of the club with a speaker as his pillow. Other nights, like last night, I dream.
I was sitting in a long, spacious hallway with dark, carved, wooden walls and gothic windows set in high ceilings. On the walls hung portraits of white haired white people lit with little lamps. It looked like what I imagine Oxford or Cambridge to be. I was in one of a cluster of armchairs, student center style, when up walked Oprah Winfrey and Harry Belafonte. Oprah was looking regal with braided and looped hair; she did not sit, but presided over us, disinterested, a being of an elevated state. Harry though sat right down with us. I don’t know who “us” was, but I wasn’t alone, and it was understood that we were student organizers of some kind. Then my mother and her brother were there too, and my mother, who is as blonde and white and Scandinavian looking as her brother, suddenly appeared as if she was a shade or two darker…it was if she had become another, darker ethnicity and when he was introduced to them, Harry commented on it. “Siblings?!” He was surprised. Then he got to me, shook my hand, and said, “And you, you look like everybody. It’s almost a race-less thing.” And I nodded and laughed, and it was clear I’d heard it a million times before. Then Oprah began walking through an imposing set of double doors. We knew to follow. Her braids were at my eye level, and I admired them. I wasn’t pregnant, and I was wearing tight, high waisted black jeans and a boxy, cropped black sweater and I felt Harry Belafonte admiring the flashes of tattoo he caught as he walked behind me. We walked through the doors and I woke up.
I think about the babe’s potential skin color.
My mother is Norwegian and Swedish and looks it–as I said, tall and blonde and green eyed. My father, well, we don’t know exactly. He was born to Spanish parents exiled to Mexico, but his mother was adopted, and the circumstances of this were hazy and secretive. In the photos I study, she sometimes looks Palestinian to me; Arab. He doesn’t look Mexican and he doesn’t look Spanish. His skin is a rich brown, his eyes opaque and dark; his dark hair curly. Some North African men remind me of him, and again, some Arab men too. B. is Sicilian and Polish, with none of the darkness of his Sicilian family. He is blonde, or used to be, his hair has darkened, and green eyed.
I’ve never figured out how to handle my whiteness.
Because for me my white skin is not simply that (as if skin color were ever simple)–it is instead an entire narrative, proof of things that I wish were not true. My whiteness advertises my estrangement from my family of color, tells the world that I don’t write my cousins enough, lists every word in Spanish I don’t know. Every time, my father sends an angry email, my skin pales a shade.
And now this baby is coming, and what can I offer it of those lost countries, culture, and family? What am I going to be able to explain? My urge is to bone up on my spanish vocab and family history as if cramming for a test.
This must have been at least five or six years ago, I was in a small library when a very white father came in with his very white daughter, who was maybe 6, and he was speaking to her in a loud voice, using American accented spanish, his words slow and deliberate. He did not sound at all like someone who had grown up with the language; it didn’t seem a part of him, and I was sure that this man, this family, had simply chosen spanish as the language to teach their kid–take advantage of those early sponge like years, to help her grow up speaking a second language. And I was so pissed and so jealous. I wanted to be free to just pick up a language, scan my city for the largest immigrant group, and buy it for my kid. He didn’t care at all how he sounded, didn’t mind his gringo accent, he was so damned self-assured, while in the meantime, I sit and linger over Pablo Neruda’s poetry books, alone, whispering words to myself like incantations that will bring to me all that I don’t have.
This babe will not be race-less. No one is. It will have a color, a shade, and the world will read into it what it does, and the babe will have to learn to negotiate whatever those meanings, privileges, signifiers are. We’ll have to talk about it, and whatever I’ve lived in my body will not be what it lives.
It would be a surprise if this babe didn’t come out white; not impossible, but a surprise. And if my father’s genes assert themselves in this new being? Well, as B. pointed out, the world will probably just assume we adopted.