I just finished creating the first issue of BLACKBERRY: a magazine. I am so proud of the finished product and so grateful to everyone’s support. But as I wrapped up the inaugural issue and began to solicitsubmissions for the fall issue, I started to really think about labels and identity.
My mission with BLACKBERRY: a magazine is to give black women writers, artists, and photographers a voice. I wanted to explore the diversity of our experiences as we navigate universal truths. On the submissions page I explicitly state that my focus is on black women. But, how do I classify who qualifies as a “black woman?”
What if she was born a he? Is he still a woman?
What if her great-great-great-grandmother was African but her skin is the color of creme-fraiche? Is she still black?
* * *
The day after I performed in the Listen To Your Mother Show I hopped a plane to New Orleans. It was just me and the baby. Me and my dark brown skin and dark brown eyes and big afro. My baby and his cream-colored skin and hazel eyes and sandy blonde hair. (I am just waiting for the day when I am interrogated by TSA for suspicions of baby-theft.) On the second leg I had a middle seat; the baby sat in my lap. On my left, an Asian man. On my right, an African. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as the baby touched the Asian man’s arm and his fingers blended into his wrist. Oh! but how stark the contrast between his stubby fingers and the African’s thumb!
I wonder when my children will begin to ask the question of why they don’t look like Mommy. And why they don’t look like Daddy either.
* * *
As an infant, my first son was as white as sheet of paper his eyes were blue—bright blue—until he was 13 months-old. And since black stay-at-home moms are a rarity in these parts, I was often asked if I was the nanny.
Today I breathe sighs of relief when they call me “mom” in public—just in case those around me are confused.
* * *
A few days ago someone on Facebook said that we get to choose our labels. She is wrong.
We don’t know or get to choose what people assume about us when they see the color of our skin or hear our voice or read our words.
(Maybe we don’t want to know.)
However, what we can choose is how we respond to those assumptions.
It’s not what you’re called, it’s what you answer to.