Black, White and Love All Over

My husband will be the first to tell you that he has struggled with racial identity most of his life. His father wasn’t a part of his life, and his teenage mother was trying her best to provide for his basic needs, leaving Brandon to carve out his place in an all-white family as a biracial child. He grew up in a Disney daze, idolizing the characters and stories of the little boys of Neverland and warm jungles. His adventuresome spirit and wild imagination protected him from the dark thoughts and sadness that came from wandering thoughts of who is father is, was and should have been.

He was surrounded by younger cousins that acted like brothers and sisters, unaware that he looked different, he lived a youth filled with joy and laughter with his tight family unit of loving grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. But we all age, and as we do, that childhood veil lifts and family members don’t necessarily treat you differently because they are ‘used to’ you… but what about their life shows support? The comments of ‘Well, not you… you’re different.” “Obviously I am not racist, I love you and care for you!” “We need to make America great again, like in the good old days!” “But, what about my ancestors and my father’s family, the good old days weren’t ideal for them.” “…”

Most people that meet my husband will agree, his presence is intoxicating; his joy can fill you from the tip of your toes to the top of your head in a matter of minutes. His aura emulates pure love and joy, and the genuine nature of his heart is one I envy. He’s a chameleon, always changing his style but somehow manages to nail every look. But, beneath that intense love and devotion is a child buried within him that he keeps hidden. A child that didn’t know how to process why his dad wasn’t there, a boy who didn’t know why his skin was different than his family’s, a young man who endured abuse from a stepfather, that in my humble opinion, envied him. As the only black kid in many of his classes, he was always searching for some place to belong. And over the years he learned to bury, cover and mask his feelings with typical characteristics of his favorite Disney characters and forced himself to become the loving, caring, selfless human that he is today.

Like most people of color, he has had racial slurs shouted at him, some while walking our children. Because his jeans are skinny, he is called a ‘faggot.’ Because his beard is long and black, skin is brown, and hair is wavy black, he is told to return to his ‘own country.’ Growing up, even the African American children in his schools shunned him because he wasn’t black enough, his hair wasn’t curly. His white family didn’t mistreat him, but their actions towards the larger black community convinced him that fitting in and being ‘more white,’ was ideal.

When we met in college, I was newly divorced with two young children that were half white and half Liberian. We collaborated on school projects and quickly became best friends that were inseparable. Being a couple came naturally, blending a family is what took work. He wanted to help me raise my children as his own, to guide their path as mixed children and teach them to represent their heritage, rather than mask it.

Being the white wife and mother to a blended family, I find myself on guard with a mama bear instinct you don’t want to mess with. I am a protective wife to a fault, perhaps picking up the slack that scarred his childhood, always wanting to make sure my husband doesn’t endure any more pain and keep this happy bubble that he has us in, protected from popping. I am careful with friendships and am quick to dismiss rather than forgive. I make an effort to choose dolls, books, toys, events and things for my family that represents the diversity of the whole human race. But does that matter? I question myself A LOT. Am I doing enough in my daily life to make sure my family feels represented and loved? Do I advocate enough for a community that is larger than me?

For Brandon and my children, I hope to open myself up to understand something that I truly never will – their balancing act of fitting into two cultures that are not truly 100% their own. Our family has grown by two more children, and we consider ourselves fortunate in many ways. The road bumps of ignorant people along the way have presented opportunities to protect, teach, and lead with love. Every day, I choose to believe the world is mostly good. And now, if only someone could teach this white mother how to care for mixed baby’s curls.

Photo by 2ndTruth

Chelsey Werth is a photographer, producer, creator and mother of four. She grew up on a farm, but would rather ‘glamp’ than camp. She loves to garden, cook and bake, and when she’s not being a modern-day Martha Stewart, she also runs a family blog called Hop & Howl.