A Letter to My Daughter on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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Dear Mae,

This isn’t the first year you’ve been alive on Marin Luther King Jr. Day. In fact, this is the sixth year you’ve been around, the fifth you’ve lived in our home. But this is the first year you’ll begin to understand some of the darkest days of our humanity. The first year that you’ll be aware of both darker skin colors and our societal and cultural values placed on them.

This is the first year that you’ll begin to grapple with the complexity of being mixed race in a white-parent home.

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t love that you mentioned learning about Rosa Parks right before bed. You dropped this on me so nonchalantly as a brilliant stalling technique. But behind your stalling, I saw a yearning to know more. When I heard you crying from your bed about what you claimed was eye pain, I knew we needed to talk. There are times when bedtime needs pushed back. Our first heart-to-heart conversation about white people and dark people, and how and why you’re uniquely both, was one of those times.

When we adopted you, we knew you’d innocently help us see the world differently. You were the spark that helped your two white parents move from ”white moderate” as Dr. King called them to those who took steps toward action. We knew that adding another race to our family would break a mold that needed a few cracks. Those cracks made me sensitive and intolerant to racial jokes, slurs and off-color comments; I now take personally the injustices within racial inequalities and the concept of privilege. I’m aware that I don’t feel it the same way as someone with darker skin, but you entering our family and unknowingly to you, bringing that awareness to me, helps me find courage to do my part and speak out against what’s wrong. There’s more work that needs done.

I understand why your knee-jerk reaction was to identify yourself as more white than black. I can imagine that it’s really hard to see dark people put in jail or told they can’t use water fountains and feel good about being both races. I know this world still glamorizes whiteness and oftentimes elevates it to a position of power. I pray that as you wrestle with what it means to be biracial, you’ll see how God made all people to be equal. White isn’t better than dark, and vice verse. Both are beautiful. This world needs all of us, no matter our skin color, to stand up for what’s right.

Thank you for trusting me with your questions and telling me about what you learned in school (even if it was past your bedtime). I’m glad your teacher is talking to your class about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights stories. I agree with her, kindergartners need to learn about this stuff early on. I love that your “everyone is equal” worksheet hangs on our fridge. I also love that you said Dr. King reminds you of Jesus. I think Dr. King got a lot of help from Him. That’s probably why some of his dreams have come true.

Dr. King dreamed of a world where we wouldn’t be separate from one another because of skin color. A lot of people fought hard for that dream, which is why over 50 years later, you and me can sit on my old twin bed and pink elephant sheets, which I’ve now passed on to you, and be a family. I’m sure there will be days to come when we face a racially divided world together; days where we get stares, questions and criticism. But we will make it through because we fight for what’s right. We understand love. There’s still parts of Dr. King’s dream that have not come true yet. I believe that’s where you and me come in.

Our story is one of many that shows a person’s heart and soul is what matters, not the different colors of our skin. We must value honest, good character and integrity above all else. Together, let’s keep believing, keep fighting, keep loving and keep dreaming.

Love, Mama

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