The Dr. King Literary and Awards Awards, which this year honor “children of color with outstanding literary achievement,” ran into some controversy before the start of this year’s ceremony. In an email sent to Ebony magazine, correspondent David McBride complained that he had to leave the live broadcast of the awards dinner due to growing tensions between audience members from different races. The dinner had to be cancelled.
The fuss over the awards ceremony itself is of little surprise to the children.
My story “I Was Black But My Parents Were White” explores the difficulties of growing up in a multi-racial family in the late 1950s and 1960s. Some readers were surprised to learn I had written it. Others told me they identified with my experiences. Their parents had grown up as just a little different from my own in the segregated South.
“They were black, and I was white,” wrote Mark Rethmeier of Houston. “My mother loved her mother’s parents, and it seemed like a shame to my son that we couldn’t share both sides of the family for a few short years.”
“Your mother, Lynn Saxby, was truly one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met,” wrote Angelo Charrier from New York. “I am so thankful she showed me that beautiful and caring other side of motherhood.”
Another reader contacted me, Jennifer Rice Davis, to tell me how the challenges of growing up as the child of two black parents had affected her as a teenager. She wrote:
“I’ve had people ask me, with deeply concerned eye contact, what it was like growing up with a biracial family. I have a long story but I don’t want to ruin it for you. When I was a teenager, my parents wanted me to date white boys, but I didn’t know that was illegal. I’d sit at my bedroom window listening to my parents laughing about something or other, and they’d say, ‘Oh, yes,’ like it was just a joke. ‘If you get into trouble we’ll write you a ticket for speeding. And a bad driver, too.’ My first policeman made my skin crawl. The first time I witnessed police stop a black person, I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t make any sense. Eventually my parents split up. After my mom remarried, she began dating not-black men, and I soon realized that I had to get to know that side of the family too. I learned to be tolerant. I became a kind and warm person, and eventually moved on. Then, fortunately, I met my husband.”