Monday, July 14, 2008

Digging Into Family History

A friend of ours, upon meeting our brother, asked, "Do you have the same father?" She was directing her question and finger to our brother.

Jerry is lighter skinned than Yvette and me. His skin color is closer to our mother's. We're brown skin like our father. Jerry's hair is also different. He and our father have what used to be referred to as 'good hair' - hair that doesn't need straightening, more like white people's hair. Jerry would have a difficult time growing dreadlocks. Yvette and I have hair that gave us perfect Afros until we decided to start straightening out the kinks. None of this is unique in a black family. Some of us are dark, some light and some, somewhere in between. Basic knowledge of African American history could explain the array of complexions one black family can have.

All three of us looked at our curious and severely ignorant friend as if she had three heads. I remember feeling hurt and angry. I felt as though she was trying to break up our family with something dark and unknown. She was a smart girl, quick witted and lots of fun. But not anymore, at least not to me. To me she'd morphed into the kind of person my mother would say, "Hasn't been anywhere, doesn't know better."

Our father taught me a lesson about personal questions. He overheard me asking one of our playmates, "Where's your mother?" I'd never seen her and since we all had mothers, I wanted to know where his was, I had assumed he had one.
"Don't ever ask people questions like that," he told me after I was whisked away to another room. He wasn't angry but he was firm. "Maybe he doesn't know where is mother is or maybe it could hurt him," my father explained.

Don't worry about Yvette and me trying to dig into your family's business. You'll let us know what you want us to know.

The question our friend asked was about more than skin color. Having always lived in poorer neighborhoods, she was subscribing to what she had seen, children in one family fathered by more than one man. Whereas blacks tend to ask about who's father belongs to whom, whites are more interested in the nuptial piece of the equation. "Were your parents married?" a friend asked. I asked her to be honest and tell me if she would have asked me that question if I were white. She turned red. Another white friend was trying understand how many fathered the six of us (three). "That's a lot," he marveled. "Not as many different fathers Elizabeth Taylor's kids have," I snapped back. The burning question he never asked was, "Was your mother married to any of them." We have been asked this question too.

If you're not sure of a question, look in the mirror and ask yourself first. It's okay if you look stupid, it'll lead you to a better question or maybe a piece of good conversation. It's best to stay away from those questions about families. The answer probably isn't going to improve the quality of your life and it'll only make you look uncouth.

Do you have a personal question that irks you? Let us know. Or is it too personal?


Anonymous said...

My eldest child is almost the same age as his godmother's child. My younger child is 2 years younger. The godmother worked long hours when they were all young and I often had all three. I am white, as are my children. Their pal is Chinese. People often asked if she was "adopted". I simply said, "no".

Anonymous said...

I completely understand where you are coming from with this blog. I always make sure I think about the personal question before I ask it or even ask the person if they would mind me asking them the question. Once they hear it they can chose to answer it or not either way I like to make sure I'm not making someone feel uncomfortable over a question's answer that wouldn't make a postive or negative influence to know.

My responces to unwanted personal questions are: "Why do you ask?" or "Does it make a difference if you know or not?"