Not so Black & White: My Family History
As soon as I learned my colors, I knew something was different about my family. There were so many colors involved. The various hues and saturation of browns with rich undertones of yellows and reds. I’ve always been a curious person, even at a young age, I constantly wanted to learn and I asked questions.
My mother tells a story that when I was four years old, I walked up to her and said, “I have a black grandma and a white grandma.” She asked me, “Who’s your black grandma and who’s the white one?” I told her, “Daddy’s mom is my black grandma. And your mom is the white one.” She laughed and said, “My mom isn’t white!” And I told her, “Well she ain’t black!”
Now, I have to say I was a pretty precocious child. My siblings were a lot older than me, and I entertained myself by listening to adult conversation. There was such shade variation between my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandmother that I knew that they were different. But it wasn’t until I got older, that I learned and understood what those differences were.
My paternal grandparents were from Montgomery, Alabama. They moved to Pittsburgh, PA when my father was young. My paternal grandfather liked to tell me stories that he was related to the husband of famous civil rights leader from that area, but I never knew if he was telling the truth or not. He had a silver tongue, and he could pull the ladies in his old age even without having any teeth.
My paternal grandmother couldn’t tell me much about her family, but she knew that her grandmother was a slave. Sadly, my parents separated when I was 12 due to domestic violence and my father moved back to Pittsburgh, PA. My paternal grandfather died in 2005. My paternal grandmother is still living, but I don’t know if I will get the chance to see her.
Because of my parents’ separation, I grew closer to my maternal grandparents. Funny enough, my maternal grandfather was also a storyteller. His family was Blackfoot Native American. He was originally from Mount Sterling, KY. They had a horse farm there, but it was gone by the time I came around. The family name could be traced back to Kentucky, it was the slave master’s name that was given to the slaves.
The only mystery that I had was my maternal grandmother. After the conversation that I had with my mother when I was four, I went up to my grandmother and I asked her why she didn’t look like everyone else. And why my mom and my youngest aunt had brown skin, but the rest had light skin (turns out that’s just genetics). But she told me that I was the first person that had ever asked her that question.
And to this day, whenever asked about it, my mom will say, “My mom was my mom. I never thought to ask her about her family.” Well, I had to be the odd one out, because I did. Turns out, my grandmother was half-Chinese. She knew that her father had a small shop downtown at one time, but then he left and went back to China. She never got to meet him.
My grandmother died in 2006, from Colon Cancer. This was just a year after my paternal grandfather had died, but this affected me more because out of all of my grandparents, I was closest to my grandmother. And just a few months later, I started my freshman year of high school so there was a lot going on.
During this time, I was stuck in a ball of emotions and I was looking for something that would connect me with my grandmother. So I started to write. Write down my emotions. Write down my memories and realize that not everything is black and white.