By Margaret Rapp
From Mom Egg Review Vol. 13
On my son’s third birthday, he got chicken pox. We cancelled his party, but I still gave him the present he most wanted – a Barbie doll. Although I am a “modern” Mom, I was a little uncomfortable giving him a Barbie, so I gave him a Barbie and Ken; and, since he is an inter-racial child and I wanted to be politically correct, I gave him a black Barbie and Ken (although Barbie did have a blonde streak in her hair). My son loved his gift and I can still see him, sitting in front of his cake with a birthday hat on, his face speckled with pox marks, holding up his Barbie (Ken had already been relegated to the unused toy box).
For the next two weeks, while he was recuperating, Barbie was his constant companion. When he went back to daycare, he wanted to take his Barbie for show and tell. While I had my misgivings on how the other children would react –would they make fun of him—I stuck to my feminist principles and didn’t discourage him. That afternoon when he came home, he threw his Barbie angrily in the corner. My first thought was that he had been teased or called a sissy. Then he tearfully said the words that are still imprinted in my mind. “I want a white Barbie.” He had never used the word white to refer to a person before. Years later, I learned that it was actually Jessie, a black girl who lived down the block, that had taunted him about his “black” Barbie.
I hate the word “bi”. Like in I am the mother of a biracial child. I keep expecting to see a child that is painted black on one side and white on the other like those mimes you see in the park standing like statues. It comes from that puritanical Calvinism where everything in America is bifurcated, cut in half, polarized. Like either/or, good/evil, black/white. And you are always expected to come down on one side or the other.
Murphy Brown was very big on TV when my son was small. After his Dad took off, I played the Murphy Brown role – the fast talking, independent woman who raised a child on her own. It worked very well until they found out I had a mixed race child. Even then, it could work if they thought he was adopted. Once they found out I had him the old fashioned way, I was relegated to the welfare Mom role –the woman who was too stupid to keep her legs together and was dumped when she got pregnant.
I know that my son has spent much of his childhood longing for some traditional nuclear family that he will never have (as do many children from both black and white homes). But our society is much more multicultural now than it was when my son was born twenty-six years ago. These days he self identifies as a German Haitian Dominican Jew. And we do have a “biracial” President.
My son is grown now – a muscled young man with light golden skin, deep dark eyes and the somewhat rounded features that compliment his dimpled smile. His dark curly hair is slowly turning into male patterned baldness — a trait which I find attractive but I suspect he is embarrassed by as he has taken to wearing a hat. He lives with a friend in Harlem and writes lyrics for a pop singer that plays the small downtown clubs. Like most starving artists, he walks dogs to pay the rent, It is hard to believe that he is actually a grown man who has to lean down to hug me instead of looking up at me. So why am I still so worried?
Sunday afternoon a couple of years ago, my son called me from the police station. He was picked up at 6am in Harlem in front of his house. When he protested that he had rights, he was arrested. After two days he was released. He spent two days in jail, lost two days work for which he was not paid, his only good winter jacket was torn when he was roughed up and he saw a homeless man beaten down by police while he was in the holding cell.
The particulars of why he was arrested aren’t important. The charges were dropped, the judge apologized. His legal aid attorney told him he should file charges for false arrest. He made some halfhearted noises about filing charges, but never followed through. He seemed defeated by the whole experience. When I told people what happened, indignant at my son’s mistreatment, the first question they asked was what did he do wrong? After a while, I kept quiet about it, ashamed that he had been arrested. I began to believe he had done something wrong. And I wondered if he would have been arrested if he had been white.
Two months ago he told me he was frisked again in the same neighborhood on his way to work. This time, when the arresting officer “copped an attitude” when he tried to find out the reason he was stopped, he didn’t say anything and let her frisk him because he didn’t want to be late for work. I didn’t know if I was more relieved that he had chosen the pragmatic approach to stay out of jail or saddened that he had learned the lesson society expected him to learn – that he is a second class citizen who knows enough to shut-up and keep his head down. And he was still late for work.
Recently my son told me he was glad that he had been raised in an “alternative” family. He felt that it gave him a more worldly and tolerant outlook on life. What I learned is what it feels like to worry every time my son walks out the door.
About the Author: Margaret Rapp–My life time commitment to feminism and feminist writing is a direct result of my experiences living as a single mom in New York City. I have met many interesting and diverse women I would not have met except for this one commonality and their stories are reflected in my writing. I continue to write short stories and plays for various reading venues in New York, blog on DailyKos and hopefully will get my novel “After the Music Died” published this year. Read more about MER/ Link is HERE
About the Artist: Louise Camrass — Louise was born in London in 1969 and is an artist using paint, charcoal, film/video, clay and performance. Her work charts the human experience. Sex, death, the poetry of our lives. Always responding to the people, places, atmospheres around her, she works with whatever medium suits the moment.
She is currently painting, inspired by the colour and atmosphere of Venice, of memory and times past.
This is also reflected in recent video which expresses the pathos of moving between past and present, the non linear nature of time. Read more at ProCreate Project/ Link is HERE