For Savannah, growing up Black in a white family came with unwanted questions
'Endless amounts of questions poured in from my peers and complete strangers about why my mom is white'
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For years I struggled with my identity, frequently looking in the mirror and asking myself, "Who am I?" I often felt out of place with people my own age growing up in Fredericton — it wasn't just my interests that made me stand apart, but the colour of my skin too.
I couldn't ignore the fact that I'm Black and my family is white. I was raised by a single mother, and in family photos or at get-togethers I'm aware that I stick out and look nothing like my grandparents and aunts and uncles. To us that is the norm, it's not a problem. Race was never a big deal in our household.
But over the years, endless amounts of questions poured in from my peers and complete strangers about why my mom is white.
"Wait, your mom's white?"
It often left me feeling embarrassed and ashamed that our skin colours don't match.
I shouldn't have to explain my family situation, yet I feel the need to. So I would like to put in print once and for all that I am Black, my mom is white and no, I am not adopted.
Wherever we go, I am often looked at with questioning eyes, as if to ask: "Why is this Black girl with a white lady?"
I once went to McDonald's with my mom, and as we sat down I noticed a strange white man staring at me. Feeling uncomfortable, we chose to move tables. I felt ogled, like a circus freak show, but my frustration gave me the courage to ask what he needed.
"Who is she to you?" he asked.
Confused, I asked what he meant.
"Well you aren't white and she is, so how do you know her?"
Holding back my anger, I said, "She is my mother."
As we got up to leave, this man looked me in the eye and said three words I will never forget: "Are you sure?"
In that moment, I realized that although my family didn't see me any differently from how I saw myself, the rest of the world did.
A pill neither of us wanted to swallow
My mom and I had plenty of conversations about race and racism and what it meant for me. But we've still struggled to connect because her life was never made difficult solely because of the colour of her skin.
Since my mom has never walked in my shoes, the important conversation of racial profiling was even harder. It wasn't a lesson on the subject but a lecture on all the trials and tribulations I would endure because of my Blackness. It was a pill neither of us wanted to swallow: No matter how much love she gave, it wouldn't protect me from these racial experiences.
On top of normal parental duties, my mother had the responsibility to see my colour and educate me to see it too. Race was always an open dialogue between her and I, and I believe she did everything right as a white parent. Any question I had about my skin, the paternal Black side of my family or anything else I wondered was always answered in an age-appropriate way.
By allowing me to ask questions, it reassured me as that although she never struggled the way I did or would, she was going to help to the best of her ability.
I am thankful my mom never said, "I don't see colour." This is often said by white family members or friends to make Black children feel more comfortable. But statements like that are harmful to their self-esteem, as it denies a child's cultural identity and dismisses the reality in which Black children live.
I hope writing this will bring some awareness to the unique struggle Black children face growing up in white families. I am not speaking for every Black child or white parent as this is my own personal experience. I don't have all the answers and never will.
However, I feel extremely lucky to have been raised by such amazing people and couldn't be more proud of the strong Black woman I have become. I no longer wonder if I'll fit in or if people think I don't belong, because at the end of the day I am me and that is enough.
About the writer
Savannah Thomas is a young Black writer in Fredericton, N.B., who spends her time writing about her own lived experiences as a way to discuss the social justice issues Black people encounter every day.
About the artist
Bria Miller is a multidisciplinary visual artist and illustrator, graphic facilitator and poet who also performs as DJ VJ. Born in Yarmouth, N.S., Bria is currently co-director of the Khyber Centre for the Arts. She is a self-taught artist and her artwork in the form of stickers, art prints and original paintings have been sold across Atlantic Canada.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.