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My Piano Keys --- Her Mom is NOT White (& Neither Is Her Dad)

I'd say my complexion is caramel.

My wife's complexion is that of a perfectly fried French fry.

My son's coloring is a bit richer than mine, almost Aboriginal in the way it glows all year long.

My daughter's skin is the color of parchment (faint parchment at that) or maybe that paper color, Ivory Linen.

My mother and father's complexion is about the same, a shade lighter than mine.

My maternal grandparents both had dark brown complexions.

My paternal grandmother's skin was golden and her hair was like silver silk. My paternal grandfather was brown-skinned.

During my recent trip home to Chi-Town, I visited my great aunt (my paternal grandmother's sister) on the occasion of her 97th birthday. Her skin was white and she wore her hair pulled back into one silver braid that ran down the length of her back.

And until I was informed otherwise as a high schooler, I just knew one of my cousin's fathers was Jewish.

And why do I point out all of this frivolous information?

Because for whatever reason for people of color, complexion matters. If I wanted this post to run very, very long, I could provide my reasons for why people believe this matters, and how it's been used to divide, similar to religion, political beliefs and nationality. But I only want it to run kind of long, so I won't.

Coming from Chicago I was exposed to African Americans of all skin colors. My first exposure to this was in my own family where from one family member to the next, complexion jumped from one end to the other of the color spectrum. And hair texture? When I was little, for the life of me I didn't understand why everyone on my father's side had straight, wavy or curly hair without the aid of a beauty salon or hair care products. To this day, my father's hair blows in the wind like a flag and he could care less. Sadly, I grew up believing if you were African American you had "coarse" hair and if you didn't it was either because you a) pressed the hell out of it with a hot comb, or b) had a Jheri curl. Even more pathetic, I was jealous that my father had the head of hair he did. I thought something was wrong with me because that didn't pass on to me (even though it did just before my hair fell out). So what did I do, I spent the better part of my teenage years brushing jars of grease into my head to get one or two waves to pop. I collected lint everywhere I went and wearing a hat was just disgusting.

But by the time I was a teenager, I understood that we (African Americans) took on many appearances. From my father's mother who could've easily passed for white and passed on passing to live a life of discrimination, to my mother's side and their unmistakable African characteristics: wide, flat (and proud) noses, strong (some would argue large) foreheads and brown skin.

Out East things are a bit different. I can't tell you how many times I've been told who is or is not African American because their hair is curly, or they have a fair complexion. My wife suffered through this growing up being told she must've been something else besides African American. Years ago, a workout partner told me a woman he was dating had to be Spanish.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because her hair is curly," he said.

"And that makes her not black?" I asked incredulously.

I laughed hysterically as he continued to dig a hole for himself with his teeth.

So now I'm a father. When I'm with my daughter I'm sometimes asked not if my wife is white, but if she's not black or of mixed race.

My daughter is a dead ringer for my father and when they're together she looks more like his child than mine and more like her daughter than I do his son. To the questioner, I laugh politely and say no. Only upon someone's insistence do I become a bit sharp with my "no." But as each time I'm asked is an opportunity to educate, I typically try to explain that BLACK PEOPLE COME IN ALL COLORS AND NONE OF US ARE ACTUALLY "BLACK".

The only time this foolishness is even more infuriating is when a person of color does the same thing. Last year after attending a god-awful play with my son at his school, I was standing in the lobby with my daughter while I waited for him to finish socializing. An African American woman looked at the two of us and shot me the dirty looks. I knew exactly what she was thinking. She looked perplexed when my son returned to us and was completely stunned when my wife joined us after using the ladies' room. During a Take Your Kids To Work day at my wife's job she encountered the same thing. "Is your husband white?" an African American co-worker asked, and when my son called out to her, this woman was completely confused too.

At the end of the day it's nobody's business what you or your children "are." At the end of the day who cares? At the end of the day complexion does not determine beauty or "niceness" and if it does for you, then you've got a problem.

Sometimes interracial marriage is a factor, but in cases like my family's, it is not. For anyone who is curious, people in my family (or anyone's African American family) stretch the color spectrum as do my two kids (my piano keys) because of a little thing called a gene pool. Take any grade school health class and they explain it there.

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