Fading (an essay by 'Jill Williams')
Dr. Jil Williams wrote the following essay regarding the
impact of both living in a race-conscious society and
also of having and being from a Mixed-Race family
which is also categorized as 'light-skinned "black".
This essay is based on a radio interview with Dick Gordon
of 'The Story' (National Public Radio) who talked with
Jil Williams on April 13, 2007 about her experiences
as being a woman who is both Multi-Generational
Multiracially-Mixed and also "black" [categorized].
(An Essay by Dr. Jil Williams)
"I grew up on the south side of Chicago
in the late fifties, sixties, and early seventies.
There were no drugs, gangs, or poverty in my
neighborhood. My father was a doctor and my
mother was a housewife. We lived on a quiet
tree lined street of brick bungalows. I attended a
Catholic grade school and an all girls' high school.
I was sheltered, but sheltered from what?
You see, I was "black" [categorized] and all that
I saw with the exception of nuns, priest, and grocery
store owners were people "black"-like-me.
Chemist, teachers, lawyers, doctors, butchers, policemen,
the list goes on, were the fabric of our neighborhood.
Perhaps I should qualify that by saying that
"black"-like-me meant, frequently, a
person of Mixed-Race appearance.
We were the last vestiges of Mixed-Raced
descendents of White [enslavers].
Of course, I was not aware of this at the time
but we were certainly not an anomaly.
(Dr. Jil Williams in the 1980's)
I grew up thinking that all black people were middle
class, Catholic, and not "unusually" Mixed-looking.
When I went away to college, I naturally gravitated to other
students-of-color. Some occasionally teased me about my color
and social class, but I never felt completely alienated by other blacks.
White people were foreign to me. It was not so much their color,
because many of my friends and family looked as white as them,
but the sense of distance and aloofness. I was twelve before
I realized that both of my next-door neighbors were "black"
[categorized]. I thought they were White because they acted
much like the only Whites I had ever encountered. They
were decidedly cool, and distant to my siblings and me.
I did not judge race by the color of your skin,
rather, by a person's attitude or affect.
Like most upwardly mobile "blacks" in the seventies and
eighties, I went to graduate school, married, and decided
to pursue the American dream of a home in the suburbs.
(Jil Williams husband, Jasper, from the 1980's)
I momentarily hesitated choosing a nearly lily White suburb,
but I thought the schools, and community amenities off set the
issue of being one of the few "blacks" in the neighborhood.
Gradually I became aware of how
much a fish out of water I had become.
While visiting a nearby park, another young mother asked what
kind of doctor I was, when I had never mentioned I was a doctor.
Word had spread that there was a "black" doctor
family who moved into the neighborhood.
My children were invited to other children's birthday
parties, but when I arrived to get them, mouths would drop.
They did not realize that my kids were "black" until they saw me.
(Jill & Jasper's son, Jordan & daughter, Jillian)
Gradually, they were no longer invited over to some
children's homes for play dates or birthday parties.
I began inviting my 2nd and 3rd cousins kids
over for weeks at a time during the summer so my
children would see and interact with other children of color.
It helped but was not enough.
We joined 'Jack and Jill,' a historically "black" social club for
children and returned on Sundays to the south side of Chicago
for Sunday worship, but it never seemed to be enough.
I tried hard to instill a sense of pride of being "black",
but with so few playmates who were "black" my
children didn't really understand my message.
I remember a sorrowful day when by daughter was watching
a movie about Huck Finn. As she watched a scene where
a White overseer was beating some black slaves in a field,
my daughter broke down and cried. She said she no longer
wanted to be "black" because "black" people got beat.
The pain I felt, as a "black" mother was indescribable.
What made it worse was the fact that if my daughter wanted
to, she could one day decide to be "black" or White.
If she or possibly her future children chose
White, then I would fade into a closet.
How do you instill pride with so many negative messages?
Once, while my daughter was on a school bus one of her
classmates pointed out some 'bad' words written on a seat.
The child told my daughter, "I bet black kids wrote that."
When my daughter questioned her logic, the child
explained, "Because black people are bad."
I removed my children from the suburban schools,
moved back into the city and put them in more
progressive private schools. There were a few
more students-of-color at these schools, but
it was still predominantly upper class White.
My daughter started to experience another
kind of prejudice, black-on-"black" haters.
She had long, straight blond hair whereas
the other black girls had short hair.
(Jill & Jasper Williams' daughter, Jillian)
One in particular, lashed out at her and told
my daughter that the only reason she had
"white girl's hair" was because her
grand-mother (I think she meant
ancestor's) were raped by White men.
My little girl came home hurt and confused
because she didn't know what it meant,
but knew it sounded shameful or bad.
She became the brunt of pranks,
teasing by the other girls-of-color.
She began to experience a phenomena
that I was not aware existed, at least
not while I was growing up.
I call it "you're not 'my' black."
Both my children were not openly or readily
accepted as being black by other black children.
They not only didn't "talk black," they also didn't
"look black." At the "black table" in the dining halls
at school if they would sit down at them, they
would get the "what are you doing here?" look.
In my neighborhood growing up, my friends were
all ranges of color, many as light as my children.
Everyone was accepted ...
It seems today, with the advent of de-segregation, the
`concentration` of Mixed-Race "black" [categorized]
-- who aren't the product of one White parent
and one obviously black-looking parent, is now
[falsely being seen as some sort of] an anomaly.
(Jill & Jasper Williams' son, Jordan)
It's easier to assume we're Hispanic or Middle Eastern.
Although White students seem to accept my kids as being
"Mixed" they are more curious and persistent
in wanting to know "how" they are Mixed.
But even then, often they "forget" that my
children are "black" [categorized], and
again, sometimes with painful consequences.
America has created us, but now
no one knows what to do with us
Whether I 'fade' through my children marrying White
people, or 'fade' by the gradual perception that 'Mixed'
is no longer accepted as black, the result is the same ...
A printable version of Jil Williams' complete essay can
be found at http://thestory.org/sidebars/jil-williams-essay
In addition, listed below are links to a podcast of her radio interview:
Listen ----- Listen in your iPhone ----- Download ----- View full cache
JIL WILLIAMS' FAMILY ALBUM