I am a woman of color, and I was not aware of my race until someone else pointed out the ways I am different, sometime in my childhood.
The ways in which race/difference is pointed out, marks us for life.
I remember other children pointing to my eyes in daycare while in New York City; this means I was probably about 4 years old. “Why do you look that way?” they had asked, laughing. I had not realized I was in any way different from anyone else, and it did not even occur to me that I could be “lesser than” for being different.
I remember staring at myself in the mirror a lot, from then on.
My mom found me, she said, staring in the mirror with a stillness not typical of my 4 year old self. Noting a new tension or sadness or grief or questioning in my manner, she asked, “Why are you looking in the mirror?”
I replied with a question. “Why do I look like this, Mommy?”
She didn’t have to ask me to clarify. This was New York in 1977. Or maybe it was 1978. I can imagine that she took a deep but very quiet breath. Maybe she hesitated. She had to say something that wouldn’t scar me further or allow me to question myself. To this day, she’s proud of her answer; she replied, “Because you look like me.”
Was I satisfied with that answer? My mom said her answer broke the tension. (She also likes to clap her hands and say, “Wasn’t that answer so good?”) I can’t remember if I’m satisfied with that answer, but I’m sure it gave me some comfort; if I was different, then at least I had some company in the world.
But I was still different.
And it just dawns on me–that despite the fact that I don’t racialize my decision years ago to have had double eyelid surgery, it must be directly linked to this early childhood experience; that my eyes were linked to my awareness of race.
When was the first time you were marked?