11:36 am “Come on, Sasha, just one more push.”
I heard nothing after that, except a loud shriek two minutes later. My new baby was hooting and hollering. Hallelujah! She was breathing, healthy, all fingers, and 10 toes; a chunk-a-licious seven pounder, with rosy, chubby cheeks, and shiny brown hair with honey blonde streaks. She was precious; the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And she was mine.
My baby girl had those “pretty” eyes. When her lids opened up for the first time seven years ago, they revealed a piercing grey colour. I was hypnotized. Her skin was the perfect shade. Right away, my sister nicknamed her “Pinky.” I was overcome with joy. “To whom do I owe my gratitude for this gorgeous creature?” I thought. This must be what every new mother feels. But the new-found celebrity status that would follow was something I wasn’t entirely prepared for.
Heads turned when I walked past with my baby propped inside her stroller. Then questions of her nationality, my ethnicity, and her father’s heritage ensued. Everybody wanted to know her “mix.” I remember a particular doctor’s visit when a Caucasian mother and daughter arrived into the waiting area. It was a Tuesday morning, not a soul inside but me and baby, and an elderly couple over in the far corner. The mother and daughter checked in with the receptionist and began looking for a place to sit. Lots of empty chairs around, but they made a B line straight to me. I had baby out of the stroller and in my lap, bouncing her on one knee at the time. As they got closer, they began racing – literally running in the doctor’s office. I noticed mom slightly nudge daughter with an elbow to her side and as if jokingly she said, “No you sit there. I wanna sit next to the pretty baby.” She led with the question that usually came second. “Wow, is this your baby?” I had been told before, that I look like the young nanny, so I figured this was where she was going with that one. If it wasn’t this scenario, it was another, where folks would play an annoying guessing game. “Her dad is white, right? No, no wait lemme guess, he has Chinese in him?” Ugh. Wrong!
See, it had been eight weeks and my baby was still light-skinned. For my non-black readers, let me explain. In many cases, when a black baby is first born, their complexion is of a lighter tone. But you can usually tell by looking at the slightly darker ear lobes or somewhere around the finger pads, what the baby’s true skin tone will end up being. The skin tone changes over the next couple of weeks. My daughter, however, had gone from a blush pink to what some would teasingly call a “high yellow”…or as my fellow Jamaicans would say, she was “red skinned.” The shocker at the time: neither I nor her father was light-skinned. We still aren’t. Some people couldn’t fathom how our gene pool could have produced this outcome. Never mind our dozens of black family members who are of a lighter hue – the general population remained clueless to genetics and how they work. I can still hear one distant relative’s voice when she said, “My goodness, how do you feel, Sash? She’s way lighter than you!” A man and woman both with a brown complexion making an olive-skinned baby, I guess that was unheard of.
This has gone on for years, and as baby girl grows older, my answers to the 21 questions get cheekier. Then I educate them. The number one challenge is to protect my daughter from colourism, as best as I can. That, being the prejudices people can face based on the lightness or darkness of their skin tone. My pumpkin now has a younger sister, whose complexion matches mine. While many in my community understand colourism as the discrimination against darker-skinned blacks, it happens on the flipside, too. Having longer hair or lighter skin will make some assume she thinks she is prettier than them – something I’m working to make sure she, and others know simply isn’t true. Last thing I’d want is for her to feed into that stereotype and feel alienated from her own people. She’s “black enough” – she’s not advantaged – this, I pray my child understands, is her reality. As her mommy, I just want to wipe away the insulting names I know she’ll get in the future. And now that her eyes have changed to hazel, well good Lord! Too bad the buck doesn’t stop here on a wide-spread issue I wish would just die already.