I’ve been a mama for eight years, nine if you consider the 36 weeks my uterus was being rented out by my daughter Tiny Smalls. I’ve been a Black woman for over three decades and have experienced various levels of overt, covert, poorly hidden and slickly disguised discrimination and racism. I’ve seen and experienced some things. And while I’m not one to lament, there have been a few situations where I may have suppressed my desire to clock someone in the eye.
Picture it, Brooklyn, summer 2004. I was a brand new mama, enjoying a park bench with Itty Bitty Smalls as she sat in her stroller giggling and throwing her hands in the air, waving them like she just didn’t care. Of course this was spurred on by my rhyming MC Lyte’s “Paper Thin” because I couldn’t recall any lullabies and wanted her to nap; we were having a blast. A white woman in her mid-30′s or so approaches us, smiles, and casually mentions how “well I am taking care of her.” She then asks me how long the baby had “been in my care” and if I were interested in “caring for others.”
Gasp, cough! Say what now?
It took my mind a few seconds to register what she meant and scenes from Pinky and Imitation of Life (1934 and 1959 versions)raced across my mind. This woman thought that I was my child’s mammy nanny. I’d already gotten funny looks from folks when she and I would be the only brown mama-child duo out in the middle of the day chillin’ as we are known to do. It was if the public visibility of day was reserved for white women and children or nannies and charges and I should be in the fields harvesting that cotton crop. Insert Negro Spiritual.
Now I’m not mad at nannies, maybe I’m a little pissed at a culture which exploits brown women’s labor and the smug, self-righteous folks (not all, but I’ve met quite a few) who indulge in paying subsistence wages for childcare. But I was pissed that this woman assumed that I, a Black woman, having a hilariously tender moment with her 4-month old daughter on a gorgeous day was not her mama. Yes, Tiny Smalls is lighter complected than I, but so what? If you’ve ever seen more than 2 Black folks from the same family, you know that we can vary widely. And hell, I am pretty confident in saying that most everyone in these modern United States have been exposed to the Huxtables. Denise and Sandra sure looked a lot different than Theo, Vanessa and Rudy. Not to mention that this took place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a neighborhood lauded for its elitism liberalism; a community filled with educated folks who if they have not a) known more than 1 Black person in a family; or b) watched Cliff and them; then they definitely were exposed to c) Mendelian genetics in high school, so there is no excuse for the assumption, at all. Because you know, Black women just can’t love their children in broad daylight.
As I quickly gathered my thoughts, I decided to speak freely and responded something like, “I’ve been taking care of her ever since I peed on the stick and received a positive response.” It was her turn to gasp, get flustered, turn red and stammer. She mumbled an apology and walked off. Itty Bitty Smalls and I went back to our cipher of 2, right after I called my mama and told her what happened.
Since then, I’ve continued to get questions from strangers asking what Tiny Smalls is mixed with and I usually respond with “Negro and Black” or “Gullah and Colored” primarily because it’s none of their business. Really, what does it matter to them? Folks are always going to be fascinated with “race” and it’s “mixtures” for whatever reason, but as long as Tiny Smalls continues to introduce me to her friends as “My mommy, Aiesha Turman”, she and I are going to be alright.