Today’s post is inspired by the amazing novel Ruby by Cynthia Bond. It’s set in a rural Texas town in the 1950s. Not only is their racism between the whites and blacks of the town, but among there’s also racism within the black community based on how light or dark your skin was. Ruby’s mother, who is very light skinned, breaks free from the town and moved to New York City as a white woman. Ruby is the current book club feature at From Left to Write.
We don’t talk about race very often in our family.
I mean, we don’t talk about race in the sense of dividing people up into separate groups. When Sophia talks about her classmates and I don’t know who she’s referring to, she describes them by their hair color and how brown or pink their skin is. Or she’ll just say that so-and-so has skin like mom or skin like dad. She’ll even mention her classmate’s family culture, if she knows it.
She knows that sometimes folks of European descent are called white while the darker, browner folks like her father are called black. Since she was young, we talked about skin color as a description of what we look like not an assumption of who we are. Our family’s cultures include Vietnamese and Louisianian. Of course we talk about her African American heritage too.
Like most Americans, my kids have a complex family history. I want to show them as much as I can about all our family’s cultures. I’m going to do everything I can to pass along my Vietnamese-ness. My husband and I share our favorite foods and traditions from Louisiana. But most of all, I want them to feel like Americans. That includes all American things like ketchup and french fries. Or football and Super Bowl parties. We Americans are complicated, with multiple identities.
I want my kids to be proud of all these different parts of themselves and our family. To see how each fraction completes them as a person. I’ll never force my kids to pick a race: Asian or Black. Neither will my husband. Thankfully the census won’t make them choose just once either.
It doesn’t mean others won’t ask them to choose. “No, really. If you had to just choose one race, which one would it be?” I can see someone asking my kids that. It could happen tomorrow at school. It could happen in the future, maybe as they wait at the gate to board a flight.
All I can do is instill in them as much pride and belong to all these parts, they’ll be proud of the sum of them. They’ll be confident of who they are and not let skin color define then. To not let others define them by their race.
If they’re every asked to choose a race, I hope they’ll answer, “I’m both.”
I highly recommend Ruby. It’s a dark and intense book with some very graphic violence. However, I think Ruby’s story needs to be heard. It’s already been told. We just have to open ourselves up to her story and learn from it. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book for review. This post contains affiliate links.