Remember when she found the tallest inflatable slide at the festival? She crawled to the top with a trail of fifty kids lined up behind her waiting their turn. You panicked while I beamed with pride at our daughter’s fearlessness.
She decided the top was too top and refused to slide down, damned the kids behind her. But you were her Prince Charming that day, scaling up along the side and coaxing her down to the ground. She felt safe, was unapologetic and I saw you relish your role as her protector. My heart melted at the scene, and I took her stubbornness as an early sign of an independent attitude, nearly immune from herd mentality.
It’s been ten years since that day. She’s now a teen who is fearless about standing out, and you – you still see yourself as Prince Charming. And that’s sweet.
But, honey, there are some things from which Prince Charming can’t rescue her. She’s part you and part me. She’s our biracial daughter, and though we know and she knows she's white and black, the truth is that perception of some people outside of our small circle, is that she’s black. Like me.
While I know what that means personally – from assumptions made about her musical likes, to curiosity about her hair, to the possibility of being stopped for DWB -- you know it only anecdotally. We talk about this from time to time, and you bristle at the thought of someone prejudging your Princess.
She will face dragons you can’t slay or castle walls you can’t breach, even though you are her knight in shining armor. But there are things you can do to help her along this journey which she and only she is taking.
Ask her what she thinks about the graphic novel that features a black heroine. Ask her about how she feels identifying as black and white, versus some of her biracial friends who identify as one or the other but not both. Ask her how she feels about her natural hair. Ask what goes through her mind when she hears about Sandra Bland, Mike Brown and Tamir Rice.
As much as you may want to interject or correct, don’t. Just listen. She’ll be telling you the world as she sees it through her eyes and experience. Discounting her experience because it is not yours will leave her feeling like she’s crazy and fighting imaginary windmills. If you listen, she’ll learn to trust herself and stand up when/and if she feels slights or side eyes.
Some of what she may tell you will have you rolled up in a ball of worry and anger that are likely rooted in your helplessness to change the world for her. Hold your tongue, hold your sigh or even your reflexive rant. Look her in the eyes and understand that she is trusting you to hear and hold her fears, opinions and insecurities. She doesn’t need you to change the world. She just needs to know you are walking beside her in her world.
Expand Her World…and Yours
You probably don’t remember showing her some Youtube video about two black guys who are classical violinists, but it made an impression on her more than you’ll know. She talked about it for two days straight on our morning ride to school, which led to us talking about stereotypes and the senselessness of them.
Then there was the time we were front and center for a spoken word performance by black, urban poets. You showed genuine appreciation for the show when you could have easily written it off as boring or too foreign to your culture; but your wordless nods and smiles spoke volumes. And she heard it.
When we went to New York, you commented on all the different kinds of people we saw, and then we all talked about how our own hyper-segregated city could take a page from downtown Manhattan. It may have been a small conversation to you, but even mighty oaks were once small seeds.
Prince Charming, I wish you could rescue our daughter from all high towers that race will erect throughout our her life. But you’re already doing so much to help her rescue herself.
I'm proud of you...and proud of us.