I'm reading Sinclair Lewis' masterpiece, "Kingsblood Royal," and it's helped me to bring into focus that my mother's problem with me all along was the one-drop rule - even though it was no longer the Law, she had grown up under it, and certainly, legal or not, many white people still observed it. Understanding this helps me to better understand the strange ways she often seemed to me to be 'reacting' to me, and some of the things she said. She often said she felt a very serious responsibility towards me (the responsibility of bringing me up to be 'white'), and that she didn't 'know how to raise me.' (Didn't know how to raise a white child.) When I asked her why she felt that way, she said, "Well, I never expected to have 'you' - I expected a small child with dark curly hair." My father used to say, "I don't know why she's so upset, all Danish children have blonde hair when they're little. Often it darkens later." My father also felt my mother should tell me about her 'Moor' ancestors, as did some of our relatives on her father's side of the family, but she was adamant that I was not to know. Not to know was not to tell, because telling could bring down the one-drop rule on my head! Nevertheless these 'relatives' tried to tell - Aunt Elizabeth coming over with a coin necklace draped over her head; my father pointing to the pyramids and the mosque and having me look and look at them, repeatedly, on his Camel's cigarette packet.
Yes, she was trying to protect me. But by the time I came along, the African-American population was darkening, not whitening up - the light-skinned African-Americans were being sidelined in the Black Power movement of the Sixties - and she probably felt that if the 'Moor' heritage was hushed up, no one would ever be able to tell by just looking at me. Yet, she had fears about it. I remember when I was around fifteen, she sent me to the local country club, which was having some sort of 'open-house' for new prospective members. I felt terribly shy about going there on my own, but she refused to come with me, probably so that I could appear in all my white glory, without a 'possible mulatto' Mom hanging around in the background. I stood around the large upstairs room at the Country Club feeling very awkward, until a group of young men approached me and almost the first thing they asked me was whether I was a Republican or a Democrat! When I answered Democrat, one of the boys whined, 'You're not actually going to say that, HERE!' Well, after being snickered at by the 'boys,' I just went home and when I did my mother kept asking me, 'What happened!? Did anybody say anything to you?!' as if some kind of crisis were occurring. (What could they have said? What did she think they might have said?) I kept muttering that I just didn't like it there - and I didn't. These young (white) men were singularly unattractive physically, emotionally and in terms of their manners, in my opinion at the time, knowing nothing about how the elite white males comported themselves in their heyday. (Something I'm learning by reading "Kingsbook Royal.") Perhaps the malicious, ill-mannered question about whether I was a Democrat or a Republican was just their way of letting me know I didn't 'belong' there, or maybe it wasn't, but my mother and I fought, off and on, for months about that country club, she trying to get me to go and 'meet people' (other white people, presumably) and me refusing.
Looking back I can see that all my boyfriends were not from among the white elite, such as it was in our area. My first boyfriend was Italian, the second was part-Sioux and probably part African on his mother's side (even though at the time I thought he was a young white intellectual - shows how much I knew about that world!), the next was Jewish and Japanese (although more a part of the 'elite' than anyone I'd known up til then), and after that, overlooking a couple of liaisons that never amounted to much, but who weren't white either, I met my husband who is from a similar background to mine.
Please forgive me for 'going on' about all of this. It's just my process of understanding so many things that were confusing for me in terms of my relationship with my mother. I guess before I die I'm going to figure all of this out, especially the ambivalence of the whole phenomenon. Her solemnly giving me the life of Kateri Tekakwitha to take to heart somehow. Her 'strange' (to me) fascination with the role of Catholicism in the New World, Willa Cather's books "Shadows on the Rock" and "Death Comes for the Archbishop" and the fact that her father took the name Xavier when he 'converted' to Catholicism in order to marry my grandmother - while attending the Moorish Science Temple in Philadelphia (after it opened) and bringing my mother with him! And all of the 'Moorish' paraphernalia we still had in the house decades after he'd died. And how much I loved all of that, and yet when I began asking questions, my mother said to her mother, 'I guess we don't need these things anymore' - and then getting rid of them!
I've read other books about the light-colored 'negroes', for example "The Darker The Berry The Sweeter The Juice" which was written by an African-American woman about her blonde, light-skinned African American mother who felt abandoned by her darker family, just cut adrift to supposedly live a 'white' life - as if looking white gave you all the cultural wealth and bias that the born-to-the-silver-spoon white elite demonstrate. All that was supposed to come 'just naturally' to you if you looked white - at least, that is really what I suspect my mother thought! And was part of her confusion about me, when I did not automatically play the part. Yet, at the same time, surprised and gratified when I seemed not to be prejudiced - as if one is born with that along with the white skin! Soooo many contradictions - it's amazing I never lost my mind completely! ;-) (just partially)
The focus nowadays is on the dark-complected African Americans and there is little sympathy for the old-time 'white negroes' (as I call them). Maybe that's right and just, but I think it's difficult to compare 'sufferings.' Who suffers more, the person who can't walk because of crippling arthritis, or because of diabetic amputations, or because of paralysis? It seems to me that all of these 'sufferings' are part of a continuum, although some may be more painful than others, each has its own particular hardships, and how can we compare those? Similarly, how can we compare the sufferings of those who have been deeply affected by racism, whatever their skin tone, and more than that - whatever their ethnicity? Because it's been an ethnic problem for many in this country, and for many many more throughout the world! This is a human problem.
Two other good books to mention in this connection are "Racing to Justice" by John A. Powell (2009), who helps us understand the deep roots of racism in our country and how it has affected our entire economic and social system. And "Fields of Blood" by Karen Armstrong (2014), a history of violence and slavery worldwide throughout time. Also, "A Chosen Exile" by Allyson Hobbs (2014).