It is your turn. Go.
February 25, 2015 5:22 AM   Subscribe

You are a good man, and a good father, but all this good cannot continue to make up for the race we cannot touch. I am so tired of slipping into black and out of daughter whenever race is evoked. I need for you to meet me as your daughter, as your daughter of color, all at once. We cannot keep evacuating our bodies to love each other. We cannot simply ignore the way our bodies are policed and politicized as antithetical, irreconcilably raced when we stand side by side.
"An Open Letter to the White Fathers of Black Daughters, from Kelsey Henry in Bluestockings Magazine.
posted by Stacey (68 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not an easy read for me (a white father of mixed-race children), but thanks for posting this.

Growing up is hard. Growing up minority is hard. Growing up female is hard. And growing up queer is hard. (I'm extrapolating on those last three items, but I don't think I'll get much disagreement). I hope that I can do a somewhat better job than Kelsey Henry's father (and it seems like he was mostly decent but painfully oblivious), but I really hope that I'll be self-aware enough so that my daughter won't have to write that letter.
posted by math at 5:44 AM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


That was a lovely read. Thanks for sharing.
posted by colfax at 5:49 AM on February 25, 2015


This letter makes me so sad. I'm married to a white man, and while I personally consider myself white as well, my skin, hair and eyes mark me as Latina. If our children inherit my skin tone, are these the sort of issues that will await in the future to drive a wedge, no matter how small into the relationship between father and child?

He's a good man, he will be a good father. But he can often be so very blind to his whiteness and privilege. I will be saving this for future need. Thank you, Stacey, for posting it.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 5:50 AM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


The comments I would make are likely to be followed by "you don't understand", which is true. I really do not understand anything other than a letter regarding the ongoing struggle of children to understand their parents, parents to understand their children, partners working to understand each other and a world of of folks waiting to be understood and trying to understand. My experience is that when one says 'you don't understand" it often means "you don't agree with me", "you will not do what I want you to do" or "I think you do not see me the way i see myself". It would be interesting to see the same letter written in ten year intervals.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:58 AM on February 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


I hope that, someday, Kelsey Henry will live in a world where her race is not so essential.
posted by Mr. Justice at 6:01 AM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I hope, someday, that she (we all) can live in a world where she gets to decide how important her race is, and not have that imposed on her.

That was a lovely if difficult read.
posted by rtha at 6:24 AM on February 25, 2015 [25 favorites]


That's a lovely letter, frank yet generous. I appreciated her addendum in the comments-- she discussed the letter with her father before publishing.

It's interesting to me that this essay by Anjali Patel is running in xojane right now. It could almost be a companion piece to Henry's, dealing as it does with family and social interactions. I was particularly struck by one line: "I’m not someone who suffers from some tragic confusion because I’m mixed-race, but I am someone whose complicated relationship with herself has been compounded by multiple racial identities."
posted by BibiRose at 6:26 AM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


rmhsinc, I thought the same thing. I'd be very interested to see what this letter looks like as Kelsey grows older.

While I'm wishing for the moon, it would also be very, very rad to have been able to see their interactions growing up and be able to compare what I saw to Kelsey's stated experience. Regardless of the details, I've always appreciated having that experience with the young people that I know.
posted by Poppa Bear at 6:56 AM on February 25, 2015


That was incredibly powerful. Thank you for posting it.
posted by Westringia F. at 7:02 AM on February 25, 2015


I don't see a damned if you do damned if you don't situation going on here. She's calling her father out on the sort of attitude that leads to statements like "I don't see race." She's asking him to think about his white privilege and she's doing so in a compassionate manner. She specifically states that he stayed out of conversations about race as if it were her mother's problem. Both parents should have been involved in that conversation. That's fair.

Nice read. She could have taken out the paragraph breaks and it would have been a prose poem.
posted by GrapeApiary at 7:03 AM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


My wife and I have been married for 2.5 years. She's black, I'm white. Sometime in the next year or so, if all goes according to plan, we're likely to have a child. Duffess and I speak often about race and parenting, and how important it is that we both talk about race with our child(ren), that we both be present, involved, and open in those conversations.

Like any parents, I'm sure there will be no shortage of fumbles and "hindsight moments." Echoing math's comments above: I really hope that I'll be self-aware enough so that my [child] won't have to write that letter.
posted by duffell at 7:29 AM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


The piece about her father picking her up at the hair salon was astonishingly uncomfortable to read. Dads are embarrassing. But when they do things that embarrass their daughters in a way that damages their self worth in terms of their race, it's all the more awful.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:37 AM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Awkward question: is "high-yellow" a common insult? I have never heard it before and I've heard people say some rude things.
posted by michaelh at 7:45 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Where do we go from here? I am sure that is what you want to know, because you are a fixer. Talk to me, Dad. Read this letter and do not expect me to start the conversation. Come to me. It is your turn. Go.

Made me cry. Thanks for the lovely read.
posted by onlyconnect at 7:47 AM on February 25, 2015


I help manage the website that this was published on, and the author is the girlfriend of one of my best friends.

It's so exciting for me to see one of our pieces get picked up here, and I am so happy it was this powerful, necessary, and beautiful work of writing!
posted by kylej at 7:51 AM on February 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


Wow, this was so beautiful, and so harrowing. I also recognize that I don't understand (I am a white woman, married to a white man). And I am eager to hear what others have to say. I do know that as a mother, even while my daughter is not a person of colour, reading this has raised my daily parenting anxieties to a whole new level of horror over the ways in which I may, and probably will, fail my daughter.
posted by kitcat at 7:55 AM on February 25, 2015


I'm really glad people are liking this. I thought it was really powerful and generously written. Popping in just to link some background information on "high yellow".
posted by Stacey at 7:56 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Awkward question: is "high-yellow" a common insult?

I first saw it in a Samuel Delany story. From that context it seemed like a term more in use 50+ years ago than now; I understood some of the implications of calling someone "high-yellow" to be that the person thinks they are better than darker-skinned blacks, and/or that they can or try to "pass for white." Googling I see the passage I am probably remembering here (for context the novella is a fictionalized account of Delany's father coming to NYC in the 1920s.
posted by aught at 7:58 AM on February 25, 2015


If you thought your presence would have been an imposition, you were wrong. I interpreted your absence as a sign that you had nothing to say and no stakes in these issues.
This is going to echo in my head forever now.
If you thought your presence would have been an imposition, you were wrong.
I'm not a white man and I don't have a black daughter, but I know the feeling of hanging back and staying out of conversations for fear of being insensitive, of talking over others, of using my privilege like a club as we so often unconsciously do. But that shouldn't stop me from being there, from listening, from acknowledging that this is important and trying to understand. Just be there, damn it.
If you thought your presence would have been an imposition, you were wrong.
posted by a car full of lions at 7:59 AM on February 25, 2015 [14 favorites]


I am a woman of color, and I have often thought about what would happen if I had children with a white man. But I am not black, and I cannot imagine how much harder it must be if you are.
posted by Ragini at 8:18 AM on February 25, 2015


a car full of lions, you've articulated one of the things I worry about (and perhaps overthink) as the future father of mixed-race children: understanding when, if ever, my presence might actually be an unwanted imposition. In the writer's story of the hair salon, her dad's presence was an imposition. Now granted, he seems to have been especially clueless there (she specifically asked for her mom to pick her up, on top of which he seems to have been insensitive and demanding at the exact wrong time).

So that case feels like it should've been a no-brainer for dad. And, y'know, generally, I think it's best to assume your presence as a parent is appropriate! I can also see how her white dad avoiding conversations about race could send the message that he had "nothing to say and no stakes in these issues." And that haunts me.

Still, there may be times when my presence is somehow harmful or unwanted, and I hope I'm not clueless enough to understand when and why that would be the case.
posted by duffell at 8:27 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


The guy in this piece doesn't strike me as someone inexperienced with the complexities of racial identity. His daughter defines him as white, but his grandmother is named Garcia and didn't change her name when she married (presumably to maintain her hispanic identity). He married and produced a child with a black woman and after a divorce dated white women and married one (and procreated again).

Perhaps he's lived a life of unexamined white privilege, but I doubt it. I am guessing he knows his privilege better than most white men. He's also obviously not a bigot.

The greatest failures here seemed to be of communication and empathy.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:49 AM on February 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Perhaps he's lived a life of unexamined white privilege, but I doubt it.

I think what this article does so well as that it explains that you can examine race and privilege in your life, through your actions, and STILL get it wrong.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:56 AM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I tie my shoes every day, but I still believe someone when they tell me my shoes are untied. Part of not being a bigot is remembering that you sometimes might still do or say something bigoted.
posted by gilrain at 9:00 AM on February 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


High yellow: Oh, yeah. I've heard people say it, both as an insult, and as a repulsively tone-deaf descriptor. Seems like it's mostly the province of the 60-and-up set at this point.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:05 AM on February 25, 2015


I think what this article does so well as that it explains that you can examine race and privilege in your life, through your actions, and STILL get it wrong.

Sorry. That's actually where I was going with my commentary.

Seems like he had the knowledge to parse a lot of the racial issues, but failed to actually articulate any of his experience or to validates and encourage his daughters.

I actually found it to be a greater failure, since he probably wasn't someone living an unexamined white identity.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:05 AM on February 25, 2015


Seems like it's mostly the province of the 60-and-up set at this point.

If I remember correctly, there was a recent episode of Empire where one (black) character used the term "high yellow" to put down another (black, much lighter-skinned) character.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:08 AM on February 25, 2015


Awkward question: is "high-yellow" a common insult? I have never heard it before and I've heard people say some rude things.
posted by michaelh at 10:45 AM on February 25


Not hugely common IME, but the insult is still in current use among African-Americans.

Source: have been on the receiving end of this insult more than once, along with "oreo".
posted by magstheaxe at 9:09 AM on February 25, 2015


I know the feeling of hanging back and staying out of conversations for fear of being insensitive, of talking over others, of using my privilege like a club as we so often unconsciously do.

I think there's a big difference between Whitey McRandom inserting himself into an Internet conversation (for instance) and a parent talking to their child. I would hope there's more room for conversation, more assumption of goodwill, and more forgiveness in a non-dysfunctional family or close friend constellation. Sadly, it seems that Kelsey's well-meaning father was somewhat distant, or at least careful. The fact that he was, apparently, the one who initiated her parents' divorce, and he formed a second family, appeared to Kelsey as a rejection of her and her mother.

Leaving Kelsey's racial socialization up to her mother - that actually seems to be what many fathers do as far as their daughters are concerned, but in the case of a white dad with a biracial daughter, the issue of race rears its head and complicates things.

Loving white parents with biracial kids can't assume that Love Is Colorblind and Children Are Resilient. I think this is a great piece; if I were to have children, I'd definitely want to have read it, and others like it, when my kids were young, so I could be better informed. First-person pieces like this have more resonance than textbooky stuff.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:13 AM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Clarification/correction then: In my experience, the white people who use it tend to be 60 or older, and mostly older.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:13 AM on February 25, 2015


There's a lot of good here, but I really wish this had been edited a little to become "Advice For White Dads of Mixed-Race Girls." I am not a fan of the Open Letter genre, especially when the recipient of the letter is not a celebrity but your own father (and even though it is title "To White Dads," it is clearly, pointedly, to her own very specific dad). The final paragraph made me cringe--it felt like eavesdropping on a conversation that should have remained private. Calling out your father in a public forum and then putting the impetus on him to take the next step seems very, very uncool. I feel really bad for the person who seems to be a sincerely loving, supportive dad, and now has strangers reading about him in a very public way. I hope he at least wasn't blind-sided by this, but read at face-value it seems that he was.

To be clear, this is a topic that needs to be discussed openly and publicly, and everyone has the right to discuss their own experiences. But "I wrote a letter to my Dad. Here it is, world!" is a pretty inconsiderate way to tackle this.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:20 AM on February 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


Her first comment below the piece talks about how she sent it first to her father and that he supported her publishing it:
I just want to clarify and confirm that my decision to publish such a personal letter to my father was a choice that I made after years of deliberation. Before even dreaming of publishing this, I knew that I would have to send it to my Dad and begin a dialogue that might be very difficult for both of us. I sent it to him, we are beginning to talk, heal, and hurt with each other, and he was absolutely supportive of me publishing this piece. I love my family dearly and would never publish something so personal without discussing it with them. I am grateful, now, that people are using this letter to open up difficult conversations in their own families. If there was anything I desired from publishing this article, it was the possibility that maybe my words would help someone else find their own strength to have a vulnerable conversation with their parents about interracial family dynamics. I am beginning to embark on that very personal journey and I am sending so much love to everyone else who is attempting to do the same.
posted by jaguar at 9:21 AM on February 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's easy to miss but the author clarified in the comments that she cleared things with her dad first.
posted by beau jackson at 9:22 AM on February 25, 2015


I'm a white man with two biracial daughters. It's a little more complicated because they both pass for white 90% of the time or more. My wife is half Chinese, so my daughters are one quarter, and they both have blue eyes and light coloured hair.

My wife never learned to speak Cantonese, and growing up in Toronto half Chinese, as I understand it, she only very rarely was confronted with her race as an issue.

To a certain degree, I feel like I am the one going more out of my way to encourage our daughters to think of themselves as both Chinese and Irish, without having to choose or qualify. It's hard, and I don't think anyone can know what the best way to do this is, especially when they are at an age, and live in a city, where racism is largely invisible (present, but invisible).

I think the main thing I take away from this article is that, when someone is in a position where their relationship to their own race is complicated, the best thing their parents can do is educate them and then let them blaze their own path.
posted by 256 at 9:30 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


In the writer's story of the hair salon, her dad's presence was an imposition. Now granted, he seems to have been especially clueless there (she specifically asked for her mom to pick her up, on top of which he seems to have been insensitive and demanding at the exact wrong time).

So that case feels like it should've been a no-brainer for dad


As a parent of a preteen, though admittedly not a white one, I feel like this is not a no-brainer question. The daughter says that she didn't talk to her father about race. He thus has no idea that she considers a black hair salon a sacred black-women-only place. She says "I want mom to pick me up" but may not have said "because she is black." And honestly, kids are always, all the time, doing things like "no not you mom" or "no not you I want dad to do it" and you just have to ignore that to parent sometimes.

He had to pick her up and they had to leave immediately. She doesn't see the reasons behind that. What did they have to do? Why was there a rush? Because I'll bet there was. There's no way any parent -of any race - leaves midway through their child's haircut unless there's an emergency. Maybe not one they tell their kid about, but something is going on.

There is no way to safely navigate as a parent, even before you bring race into it, when your presence is an imposition and when it's not, when they say they want you but actually don't or say they don't want you and actually do or when they actually mean what they say. Things that are trivial to you are deathly serious to them and vice versa. It's just part of parenting.
posted by corb at 9:31 AM on February 25, 2015 [15 favorites]


> but I really wish this had been edited a little to become "Advice For White Dads of Mixed-Race Girls."

Why? Why does it need to be her - or any one person's - job to be the giver of advice for anyone who fits into that category? I think that kind of framing is worse in a ton of ways than "Here is my experience, here is how I managed things or didn't, here is what I wish had gone differently, here is how my dad and I are handling things now" because she can speak authoritatively about her own experience, and those reading can go "Huh, yeah, me too."
posted by rtha at 9:59 AM on February 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


Please not again with the how-they-should-have-written-it bit. We can all extrapolate on our own.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:07 AM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


corb, that's fair. I also recognize I'm a non-parent doing the classic "well that's the wrong way to parent" thing.
posted by duffell at 10:10 AM on February 25, 2015


There's no way any parent -of any race - leaves midway through their child's haircut unless there's an emergency.

I'm pretty sure what she was describing was not a haircut, but a hair-relaxing treatment. My read was that he inserted himself into the treatment because he wanted her hair to remain at least somewhat curled (against the author's wishes/plans).
posted by sallybrown at 10:15 AM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


And if he had been open about discussing race with her -- his and hers -- then she may have been able to explain to him why his presence was unwanted and she may have been more forgiving about his reasons for yanking her out of the salon. Instead, she's left having to extrapolate based on not enough evidence or trust.
posted by jaguar at 10:32 AM on February 25, 2015


I've prevaricated on chiming in, but I am a white dad of teenage black daughters and if there's some advice in this piece for me, I have no clue what it is. It doesn't contain any general truths that I can see. The language comes across as the overwrought elaborations of an undergraduate English major that obscures more than it reveals. I've read and re-read sentences and paragraphs, and they still make no sense. I wish they did. I would have liked to learn something. I'm glad it helps her and others.
posted by idb at 10:39 AM on February 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


idb, I have children (but no teenagers) who are white (as am I), so I recognize that I'm speaking from a position of relative ignorance here. But when she talks about "racial socialization," that she wishes that her father had been part of conversations about race with her -- is that something that resonates with you? Is it something you do?

As the white parent of white children, I struggle with talking with my children about race. It's a very difficult conversation, and as members of the unmarked class, there aren't many personal, immediate, pressing reasons to have that conversation. But my kids have a race -- they're white. And their race affects the way they experience the world, and I think it's important for them to be aware that it does. In the author's case, her race affects her life in personal, constant, immediate ways, and she feels like her dad just noped out of that whole part of her life.
posted by KathrynT at 10:49 AM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


And if he had been open about discussing race with her -- his and hers -- then she may have been able to explain to him why his presence was unwanted and she may have been more forgiving about his reasons for yanking her out of the salon. Instead, she's left having to extrapolate based on not enough evidence or trust.

What this reminds me of, actually, is trying to have a conversation about sex with your kid.

When my kid was very small, I knew I was going to be the best, most sex-positive mom ever. I was going to talk to her about sex and have all the hard conversations. I was going to charge right in there and make them happen and we'd talk about it openly and she would have no shame about any of it.

What I didn't count on was her sheer embarassment of the subject and refusal to talk about it with me because that was not the relationship she wanted to have. And so now, we don't talk about sex. I am always there ready! I try to sneak it into conversations! But she does not want to talk about it with me. I thought it was just her developmental state until I found her reading racy teen lit and talking to my cousin. But it's just that she didn't want to talk about it with me.

The daughter in this essay explicitly says that she didn't want to talk about race with her dad for a long time. And I wonder if the dad was like me - maybe he tried to talk about it at a time when she didn't want to be different, didn't want there to be something between them, and he just got the message that she didn't want to talk about it with him and butted out.
posted by corb at 10:50 AM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


While my kids have told me that there's nothing they can't talk about with me, they are sometimes monosyllabic balls of self-centered resentment. They are also wonderful sometimes. They're teenagers. I figure it comes with the territory. Sometimes we can talk about sex and race and sometimes they just nope their way out of it. I've never been unwilling to listen nor to talk about anything.
posted by idb at 11:10 AM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


The language comes across as the overwrought elaborations of an undergraduate English major that obscures more than it reveals. I've read and re-read sentences and paragraphs, and they still make no sense. I wish they did. I would have liked to learn something. I'm glad it helps her and others.

I hear you on this. I assume she's consciously channeling and sort of dialoguing with some theorists (ie. Spivak) in this piece. That's neat. It's just pretty rarefied. I want to learn something here too, but all I am understanding is 'talk about race with me'. Talk about it how? I feel like she has an idea of the right way to talk about it, but I just don't know what that is. Hoping someone here can parse this a bit?
posted by kitcat at 11:12 AM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


The language comes across as the overwrought elaborations of an undergraduate English major that obscures more than it reveals.

The letter comes across as any one of your "geeze my parents screw up raising me/screwed me" (up, out of something I felt I deserved, etc) tropes, only wrapped up in race, gender and sexual politics, rather than the usual "daddy didn't buy me a pony, so that's why I sleep with my drug dealer" stuff.

And askme would tell the author to return to therapy and keep working at it.
posted by k5.user at 11:23 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I hear you on this. I assume she's consciously channeling and sort of dialoguing with some theorists (ie. Spivak) in this piece. That's neat. It's just pretty rarefied. I want to learn something here too, but all I am understanding is 'talk about race with me'. Talk about it how? I feel like she has an idea of the right way to talk about it, but I just don't know what that is. Hoping someone here can parse this a bit?

I think, mostly, just talk about it. In any way. Stop pretending it doesn't exist. She lists missed opportunity after missed opportunity where he could have said something:

I am the “ethnically ambiguous” woman who strategically reads Gayatri Spivak in your kitchen while you bob along to James Taylor and bake batches of blueberry scones. I patiently wait for your questions, longing for the flurried attentiveness I was once greeted with when I read Nancy Drew, Little Women, and all the other innocuously white narratives that populated my childhood.

Dad could have asked, "What are you reading?" Dad could have engaged with daughter while she was reading books written by people of color. Dad could have read books written by people of color and recommended his favorites to daughter.

You came to pick me up at the salon, even though I begged Mom to come instead. You showed up early and came inside, even though I explicitly told you not to. They were not finished and you made a fuss. You demanded that we leave mid-metamorphosis, half straight, half curly. I ushered you out the front door, with my head to the ground, determined not to be the weak, temperamental, easily excitable halfie. I couldn’t let these “real” black women see me cry as I apologized to them for allowing a white man into their sacred space. It was theirs, not mine. You were mine, you were a white man, and I was a liability.

We drove home listening to a Spanish radio station, drowning the magnitude of our silence in a language neither one of us speaks, even though your mother’s, my grandmother’s, maiden name is Garcia. She married an Irish-German man and did not allow her children to touch her name. I had to find it for myself. Garcia was not given to me, I had to fight for it.


Dad could have said, "I know you wanted your mother to come, but she couldn't for X reason. What made that so important to you? What's so upsetting to you now?"

Dad could have talked about his mother's race to daughter.

In fifth grade, Josh Michaelson told me that he only liked white girls. Dad, I wanted to ask you if you left Mom because she was black. According to Josh Michaelson, white men did not think black women were beautiful. I watched you date white woman after white woman, marry a white woman and have a white baby. I wanted to ask you if you felt safer with them, like they were the real deal, and we were just practice.

Dad could have talked about the race of his partners and wife and child. Dad could have asked if there were things he could to make sure daughter continued to feel part of the family.

When I was fifteen and followed home by a black man who repeatedly called me a “high-yellow whore” and proceeded to sexually harass me for blocks, I walked in the front door crying and told you my phone had been stolen. I didn’t want to watch your face when I said the words “high yellow” and they did not even register as a racial epithet to you.

Dad could have educated himself on racism, microaggressions, slurs, and other things faced by black people, and black women in particular, and made himself a safe person for his daughter to discuss these things with.

... You should have been part of the conversations I had with Mom about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. If you thought your presence would have been an imposition, you were wrong. I interpreted your absence as a sign that you had nothing to say and no stakes in these issues. I needed to hear you speak to learn how to speak about my race. You are not unmarked and the whiteness you gave me is not either, even if we operate as if it is. I would not be writing this letter if this were true.

Again: He should have just talked about it, in any way, to indicate that he was part of the conversation.
posted by jaguar at 11:25 AM on February 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


Love Isn't Enough is a great (sadly defunct) blog on parenting and race that has some other wonderful essays on the topic, mostly (if I'm remembering correctly) geared more around parenting younger children.
posted by jaguar at 11:26 AM on February 25, 2015


I couldn’t let these “real” black women see me cry as I apologized to them for allowing a white man into their sacred space.

An acquaintance asked me once, upon finding out that I was half white, what it felt like to have a colonized body.

When I was fifteen and followed home by a black man who repeatedly called me a “high-yellow whore” and proceeded to sexually harass me for blocks, I walked in the front door crying and told you my phone had been stolen.

All these point to a huge unexplored issue: The racism and self-seggregation in parts of the black community, something that (in contrast to white racism) is often simply accepted without protest. Blaming the father for his personal behavior seems to ignore the real issue: living in a racist society. To paraphrase Adorno: "Wrong life cannot be lived rightly."
posted by tecg at 11:27 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Blaming the father for his personal behavior seems to ignore the real issue: living in a racist society.

That's not an either/or issue.
posted by jaguar at 11:29 AM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


She was a child during the incident at the salon; the letter is written at twenty. At what age should a kid have to be the one initiating and conducting a conversation about race? It isn't that she considered the salon "a sacred black-women-only place" (???), it's what happened -- the dynamic of what she described, her white father coming in and causing some kind of disturbance and taking her away from a place she had begged to go for a very specific race-related reason. It's that her father either did not understand that dynamic, possibly never picked up on the reason behind her wanting to go so badly (and a kid should not be expected to be able to address it explicitly!), or understood and didn't care. Whether or not there was a legitimate-in-a-parent's-eyes reason for doing that is irrelevant, though it could certainly be part of the discussion they presumably had as a result of this letter.

The whole thing is a pained and loving request for dialogue. There' s no blame, there's no "geeze my parents screw up raising me/screwed me." Reading it like that honestly seems like defensiveness and dismissal.
posted by automatic cabinet at 12:51 PM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


And askme would tell the author to return to therapy and keep working at it.

Wow, there's a lot wrong with the response to this article here, but I think this one is the worst. There's nothing wrong on calling out racism, even if people claim not to understand what you're talking about, or think you are being "overwrought."
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:01 PM on February 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


"My whiteness is a gossamer ghost that haunts me, lightening my skin, softening my curls, coursing through me wordless and unaccountable for its actions. An acquaintance asked me once, upon finding out that I was half white, what it felt like to have a colonized body. I was speechless. I wanted to stand up for white and call it loving. My white could not be “colonizing,” but I did not know what else to call it, really. I wish you had taught me another word for white."

Sad and beautiful description here.
posted by Paper rabies at 1:11 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Me extended family is multi-racial. Growing up my cousins were more like brothers than cousins and their parents were additional primary caregivers. Their grandmother was 100% Japanese and their mother half and they were a quarter. It gets a bit confusing, but the American grandparents of my aunt brought her mother to the US (she never married the serviceman who got her pregnant).

I also am the uncle to adopted Korean nieces and a half-Korean nephew. Their parents are as white (as am I).

To some degree all of the kids have had identity crises and had to deal with some blatant racism, and some silly ignorant incidental racism. They've had the derogatory name calling, but that's fairly easy to deal with as far as talking to them about. The more difficult stuff is the incidental stuff like when people will flat out make fun of them for not being good at math, or commenting on weight issues because "Japanese people aren't usually fat" (that's a double zinger) or when someone tells them "I don't think of you as Korean. I think of you as an American." or "You probably prefer Chinese food to pizza or Mexican."

Some of my relatives have curiosity (or passion) for their non-white cultures, some don't.

Thing is in the case of the adopted kids there was never any question about if or when they would be told they were adopted. The racial differences in appearance made that obvious from the start.

Maybe it's not the same with biological mixed race parents, but in my sister and brother-in-law's case they got a lot of guidance on these issues and there are literally "Korean Camps" where the kids can go hang with other kids like them. They also have exchange type programs where if you're adopted from Korea someone from there can come stay with your family (I think it can also go the other way).

I would have, previous to reading the linked article, thought it would be impossible to avoid racial discussions. I've been around my family members when people have said dumb things to them (often well-meaning). I've heard them tell the stories of being called racist names. It comes up in lots of little ways like the fact that we had to buy my oldest niece a Pocahontas doll because Disney didn't make any other dolls that looked like her and she wanted a dark(er) skinned doll (this predated Mulan). Or that her learning CDs and books were "Dora the Explorer" (again, for the reason it was a character she related to because Dora wasn't white).

You second guess the gifts you are thinking of getting because you want to be culturally enlightened, and you are extra careful about how you approach certain topics. Sometimes people just get it wrong like shortly after adopting, another family member, who is a dumbass, asked my sister if she planned on having "real kids." (She said she was perfectly happy with her fake ones. He wasn't bright enough to figure out he'd even upset her.)

It wouldn't surprise me to see something like this written by one of my nieces, but at some point I think there's no way to not make mistakes (a triple negative sentence!). Some of these things are hard, since no one wants to look like a racist ass or someone bathing in white privilege. Hell, being the adoptive parents of international children has built in baggage of assumed privilege.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:36 PM on February 25, 2015


Stacey, thanks for the background link as well. Yellow rose of Texas. I had no idea.
posted by Phredward at 1:38 PM on February 25, 2015


Wow, there's a lot wrong with the response to this article here, but I think this one is the worst.

The article is hard to not see through the lens of a child who feels rejected and not understood by her father. A father that isn't emotionally connected to his daughter, divorced her mother, ... .

Yes, there are other issues and I'm wrong to trivialize them. But my reading came away as a disaffected child who felt her father didn't understand her, and felt rejected by that father. The reasons are different than the usual teenage angst troupe, but the "get some therapy to work on your feelings of rejection" would be a common askme response.
posted by k5.user at 1:52 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


And "talk to you father about your hurt and see if you can forge a more honest relationship with him based on that sharing" would be a common therapist response.
posted by jaguar at 2:43 PM on February 25, 2015


disaffected child [...] felt rejected by that father [...] usual teenage angst troupe

But she talks about how much she loves him? And about how he was so supportive of her sexuality, and how much she appreciated that? And the whole point of the letter is her desire to talk with him, to open this discussion up now that she's an adult and has the words, not push him away and stew in old, hurtful memories by herself?

This letter is only "the usual teenage angst" if you disregard everything about race, which doesn't seem to be a fruitful approach to me. It would be exactly what she's asking her father not to do, in fact.
posted by automatic cabinet at 4:08 PM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


For the white fathers of black daughters - I'm not a black daughter, but I would imagine sharing the letter with your daughter along with your fears of missing things and your desire to support her and have her feel like a whole person in your presence would be a good way of going forward, if you're unsure. Sometimes just opening the dialogue and indicating your willingness to listen to and value her is enough.

I'm a white woman who often works with people of color who are my clients, and one of the things I do as a matter of course is bring it up, use the words they use, and manage my own defensiveness. It was difficult the first few times I did it, but it's gotten easier. I've begun bringing up race with my white clients as well, usually in conjunction with other relevant axis of discrimination.

I am disturbed by the discussion of this woman and her decision to take a vulnerable step toward connection with her father on an incredibly fraught topic. A lot of people do not handle discussions of race well, with "well" here being defined as managing one's own defensiveness, owning ones understandable ignorance, practicing listening even if you don't understand, being open for disagreement and critique, and accepting the layers of complexity that include the specific complexity of the relationship at hand.

This woman wrote a letter to her father about her relationship with him in all its lights and shadows, and that is a profoundly brave thing to do - and then they together offered up this opportunity for other people in a similar circumstance to take a similar step without having to be quite so vulnerable.

It's a beautiful gift to those who want it.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:09 PM on February 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


And about how he was so supportive of her sexuality, and how much she appreciated that?

Maybe I misinterpreted her words, but I came away thinking her thoughts were that dad was over-compensating about her coming out vis-a-vis her "dad put the camera away!" put-down based on his exuberance of taking pictures for prom and how she characterized his "oh my gay daughter" remarks. (ie not supportive... )

I mean, it's hard to separate the two: a woman writing about all the ways her dad failed her, and then the specifics in this case (of how dad failed) of an interracial child.

We all fail our kids, and our kids hate us for it, as that poem goes, so it's hard to see the specifics given the universality of the premise. I see those specifics as secondary/tertiary, given the over-arching theme of how much/badly dad screwed up/was ignorant of, etc..
posted by k5.user at 5:12 PM on February 25, 2015


I mean, it's hard to separate the two: a woman writing about all the ways her dad failed her, and then the specifics in this case (of how dad failed) of an interracial child.

I don't think the difficulty lies where you think it is, but rather in assessing what this letter is about.

This letter is not at all about all the ways her dad failed her. If this letter had a thesis, it is "let's talk about race, because we never talked about it at all, and this is why it's important we do so." Race is not a secondary or tertiary concern, a mere detail. It's the entire point of the letter. The letter does not have a universal premise -- it's about growing up biracial, and how difficult that was at times because he either didn't know how to talk about race with her, or simply didn't. She doesn't tell her father about these past hurts to lash out at him and blame him, but to explain the difficulties he didn't seem to see or understand, because she wants to them to talk about race. The point of the letter is to open a dialogue, about race.

If you continue to view the piece as not really about race, then yes, the difficulties you keep mentioning will crop up as a result of your chosen bizarre framing, and I will just have to let this go because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by automatic cabinet at 6:17 PM on February 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Someone who asks you a bullshit question like "what does it feel like to live in a colonized body?" is not your friend. Or is too damned stupid to be your friend. I hope the person who dared ask that question dies of embarrassment every day at the memory, or at least grows up enough to be embarrassed one day.

I am the white father of a mixed-race daughter. She's a little one, only four. All parents make severe mistakes, and multicultural families provide more than enough room for even more mistakes on every side. You need to talk about this stuff, be clear, be open, don't shy away, but also remember that as the parent you are the responsible party. It's really, really hard.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:52 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yea, as a biracial dude i think a lot of people here are missing the point. A lot of the situations she talks about here are reactions, perceptions, and assumptions that are internal to herself. Everything with the ladies at the hair salon, for example. And all the stuff that's essentially about feeling not-minority-enough.

She didn't expect him to solve that, or understand that. She just expected him to be there and at least get that it was happening, even if he didn't actually get it(because in many senses, he never would).

A lot of it is just screaming frustration. It's not about the individual incidents. At first i was going to do the "well the incidents as examples kind of hamper the point getting out" but i'm so fucking tired of the peanut gallery armchair admiral responses to writeups like this so no.

It is interesting though, how talking about this is something that's really fucking hard to do in a way that really absorbs in to other people who don't have the experience. I got it as soon as i started reading it, but i think that's because i have some shared experience with having parents of two different races.

I'm reminded of the Miles Davis FPP a few posts away from this one, where someone points out that even learned, intelligent musicians completely fail at explaining modal tonality to someone who doesn't already get it and know what it is. This feels sort of like that. It's really, really hard to explain your frustration to someone who hasn't felt it(or something similar) because it's such a personal thing.

And really, i can relate to having a dad who just doesn't talk about it and leaves it to my brown mom. I can also relate on wanting to do certain things with my mom, especially community gatherings and stuff, because i felt like people wouldn't see me as an "authentic" minority or member of the community otherwise. And even at a younger age, i had experiences to back that up.(and of course, ugh, the reverse experiences when someone would see my mom and get a reaction ranging from "oh WEIRD!!" to what amounted to "oh, your mom isn't white!?!?" delivered as if that's a bad thing)

Someone who asks you a bullshit question like "what does it feel like to live in a colonized body?" is not your friend.

Two thoughts on this. The first one is that holy shit does this sound like something a dumb high schooler who was trying to be radical or progressive would say, coming from someone who went to a groan inducing alternative school.

Secondly, part of being in a position like this is deciding how much bullshit like this you'll put up with from otherwise good people. You would live in a cave alone far away from civilization if you set that bar at zero. Good people say stupid shit sometimes. People you love, people you date, will say stupid shit like or related to this to you. It'll hurt, it'll make you scream inside your head and go "WHY DID YOU THINK THAT WAS OK".

I'm not saying that comment was ok, but just that part of being seemingly any percentage of minority is shrugging off a certain amount of this stuff. And there's definitely fun and exciting dumb shit for people to say that comes with not being 100% one race.
posted by emptythought at 4:32 AM on February 26, 2015 [8 favorites]


rmhsinc, I thought the same thing. I'd be very interested to see what this letter looks like as Kelsey grows older.

While I'm wishing for the moon, it would also be very, very rad to have been able to see their interactions growing up and be able to compare what I saw to Kelsey's stated experience. Regardless of the details, I've always appreciated having that experience with the young people that I know.


There were several comments along these lines. I don't understand them. Are folks literally saying that if they watched Kelsey grow up, they would be more objective observers of her life experience than she is herself? If so, is that because she is young, because she is black, or because she is a woman? Or is it all of the above?
posted by hydropsyche at 5:27 AM on February 26, 2015 [8 favorites]


"My whiteness is a gossamer ghost that haunts me, lightening my skin, softening my curls, coursing through me wordless and unaccountable for its actions. An acquaintance asked me once, upon finding out that I was half white, what it felt like to have a colonized body. I was speechless. I wanted to stand up for white and call it loving. My white could not be “colonizing,” but I did not know what else to call it, really. I wish you had taught me another word for white."
Is there another word for white? I mean, yes, there are synonyms like caucasian or European American, etc. that can mean white, but you're still left with whiteness and the identity that comes with.

I'm one of those people who has no real knowledge of 50% of my racial makeup. I always identify as white, since that's the color of my skin, but I have no history on one side of my family and on the other it really only goes back a few generations. I'm not one of those sorts of people that can trace their ancestry back to the founding of city in Greece or Romania. I'm generic white.

I've thought about the above quote since yesterday and I don't have an answer. If someone asked me to describe my race without using white I don't think I'd have an answer.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:39 AM on February 26, 2015


I'm one of those people who has no real knowledge of 50% of my racial makeup.

This is so interesting to me, because my family has this broken down to the atomic level, as far as I can tell (I am apparently 3/32nds Chinese, according to an ancient scrap of paper with the family tree written in chicken-scratch). My mom's side of the family is Czech: firmly, fully, absolutely Czech. This was something passed on to me in every kolacky I could stuff in my face when we went to visit my grandmother in Chicago. My dad's side is Hawaiian-Chinese-English. I have cousins who are Hawaiian-Chinese-English-Puerto Rican; half-siblings who are Hawaiian-Chinese-German-Polish. I've never thought of myself as half white, but as half Czech.
posted by rtha at 9:00 AM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


I got really sick once and needed information of family history. My mother contacted my genetic material donor's mom and got what the doctors needed, but I never had a relationship with him.

I remember getting tested for sickle cell anemia, and asking the doctor why they would bother, since it's not an illness white people are exactly known to get. The doctor basically laid it out that if I didn't know my racial makeup it made since to test.

I've thought of doing one of those genetic tests just to see exactly what sort of confluence I am, but it's not really been high on my curiosity list.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:11 PM on February 26, 2015


There were several comments along these lines. I don't understand them. Are folks literally saying that if they watched Kelsey grow up, they would be more objective observers of her life experience than she is herself? If so, is that because she is young, because she is black, or because she is a woman? Or is it all of the above?

My knee jerk reaction, upon first reading this, was "yea, uh, because she's young". How many of us didn't think we really got it and said a bunch of stupid shit we thought was meaningful at 20?

But then two things hit me. Firstly, that you can't separate those things. There's just too much of a history of telling women and people of color that they're exaggerating it, or somehow just don't know what they're talking about because that isn't how it really is and no one meant it that aggressively and bla bla bla.

And secondly, it's that while i may have learned a lot about myself since then, i was really the only objective observer of my life in the first place. Just because i didn't fully understand what i was seeing, experiencing, and why it was upsetting or effecting me didn't mean my feelings were invalid. Just because i've had revelations about it, and time to reflect on it doesn't mean my anger came from nowhere.

So yea, those are bullshit comments. I think the biggest thing needed going forward is just to believe people when they say they're hurting. It's not even like she's asking you to do anything that drastic, just, like most writeups like this, asking you to reflect on how you may have hurt someone unintentionally.

And yes, even if "i don't think she's an objective observer of her own life" isn't what those people meant, that's the end result of what they were saying and they kind of need to realize that and own up to it.
posted by emptythought at 2:43 PM on February 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


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