When it comes to extended family gatherings during the holidays, mixed couples with kids often wrangle with how much exposure they want relatives to have with them. You might worry about that crazy uncle or aunt going rogue and begin ranting about how your husband owes them 40 acres and a mule. I know I do. Some of my worst lessons in colorism were taught by some members of my family. But it didn’t stop there. I was teased mercilessly about “talking white,” which of course translated to me not wanting to be black, so I tried HARD to sound “street” which only served to make me sound like a valley girl taking ebonics as a second language. It’s for that reason and a few others that I’m very particular about which members of my family I allow around my kids. The others:
–I refuse to hold my breath for the entire event waiting to see if someone will feel so familiar as to say something ignorant about my husband or “other” my children.
–I believe in protecting children from ratchetry and aspects of black culture that Mike and I deem negative, like modern rap music, BET, defeatist mentalities, etc. We also refuse to allow anyone on his side of the family to impose negative stereotypes about blacks. Thankfully they never have, and if any extended family ever thought it, they’d always have sense enough not to say it. My family? Not so much. Some of them can take “keeping it 100” to another level.
–Absolutely no relative of mine will see me if they have an inferiority complex toward white people, and if they do, they’d better hide it well.
–I will not allow any of my children to be indoctrinated by the seeds of colorism by anyone in my family.
So with those ground rules, we pick and choose what family events we go to, despite some family members who make us feel guilty for not coming to every single barbecue and birthday party.
There’s not a question about whether or not we’ll attend an event hosted by my cousin/aunt, who lives in Orange County. (She’s a cousin-slash-aunt because she’s so much older than me and is nurturing and caring like an aunt, so…there.) Cousin/Aunt Lois lives in an affluent community with her husband (he’s black, if you’re wondering), and because they made a crap-load of dough during the housing boom and invested it well, she doesn’t work. Cousin/Uncle Larry does, and provides Cousin/Aunt Lois with a queen’s lifestyle, and treats her like one, too. I want my girls to see black women loved and cherished and living well, and Cousin/Aunt Lois is living the dream.
When she called and invited us to a Christmas party (and since the younger three haven’t seen much of “the chocolate cousins” lately, and I want my children to see positive examples of black community and culture) we scrubbed up and packed the kids in for the hellish two-hour car ride.
Cousin/Aunt Lois has always treated The Hubster like family. She was always supportive of us and delighted in our marriage and expansion of our family. She loves all of our kids, and Clo Clo, the ten-year-old, is enchanted at how at almost sixty, she’s gorgeous. She hugged her and said, “I know who you look like, now! That lady from The Wiz!” Way to go, Chloe. You tell a black woman she looks like Diana Ross and you’ll be in the will.
Of course there were funny and a little awkward situations, like when my cousin/aunt’s Asian friend asked me if I colored The Babsters hair. I just looked at her a blinked for a beat or two. I giggled and told her no, because, what parent dyes their four-year-old’s hair except those crazy dance and beauty pageant moms?! She then asked me how come she looks like she does, and Cousin/Aunt Lois, who is graceful and dignified in all things calmly explained that The Babster is a wonderful mix of chocolate and vanilla, and like a box of chocolates, you just never know when you’ll get a blond one.
And then there was the hilarious and awkward moment when, upon learning that that The Babster also belonged to the white dude standing next to me holding the camera, one of my littler cousins cartoonishly looked at me, then looked at Mike, then looked at me, and then looked at Mike and then the baby. She then said, “Are you sure she’s yours? Because she doesn’t like like either one of you.” We laughed a little nervously at first, and then told her that yes indeed we were sure our baby belonged to us, in which she said in perfectly-timed deadpan, “Are you sure? Because I know Jerry Springer.” That was funny.
I was glad Clo Clo got a chance to meet the cousins her age, all of which are 10 with birthdays within a month of each other. They all bonded over complicated patty-cake chants and their collective adoration for One Direction.
Hands down my children had a much more diverse experience with the chocolate cousins than when we went to visit Mike’s family in lily-white Connecticut. There were lots of black people, an Asian, a couple white guys, a Latino, and an Indian family, all having a jolly good time. All in all, a delicious and diverse cultural fusion, and it was all good.
In my book, Swirling, I discuss the “Guess Who” moment, which discusses how to deal with potentially awkward moments with family. The key to making family event enjoyable to build your allies–your circle of support. Limit (or even eliminate) exposure with people who can be potentially toxic to your marriage and children.
How are you handling potentially awkward family events this year?