“Skin” and Race Relations
By Dorsetta Hale

As a Netflix subscriber I’m sent recommendations based on movies I’ve rented and rated. One film on the list was “Skin,” by writer/director Anthony Fabian. I’d read good reviews about it a few summers ago. It’s based on the true story of Sandra Laing, a black girl born to white parents in South Africa who were unaware of their own heritage during the Apartheid era. The case was a national sensation as her parents sought in court to have their daughter legally recognized as white. Later, when she grew up and became ostracized for the color of her skin, they felt betrayed when she not only identified herself as black, but also fell in love with a black man.
Since it was an independent film, it had a very limited release. The closest theater showing it was in a Silicon Valley town that has a population of about six black people and as a natural bronze I would’ve stood out.
So, I forgot about it, until I had a conversation with an ex in-law. One of their relatives had mentioned to them that it was interesting how none of the second-generation kids in the family had black girlfriends or boyfriends. Since it was a true, I didn’t have an adverse reaction, until they added, “It didn’t happen in my house.”
I don’t know about anybody else in their family, but no one can say I didn’t raise my kids to embrace their African American heritage. It was no accident that I married a black man. As the child of parents who grew up in legally segregated Alabama and moved to a white Bay Area community, I was determined to be close to someone who looked like me and shared my experience. When I grew up, I wanted to have brown-skinned children who could change the world, who stood out with their attitude and audacity to achieve and no one would have to say, “they’re so successful and talented, they must be mixed.” It didn’t always work though.
Once after a man read in the newspaper about one of my children winning an eight-year academic scholarship at age 13, he asked if my husband was white. He was black and said he thought we had something in common because he was married to a white woman. It took a few deep breaths for me to maintain my composure.
“No,” I answered as calmly as I could. “He’s African American.”
I knew where he was coming from because we were children of the same generation. Back then when we were growing up, almost all the popular, successful black people in the news had white spouses. People like Sidney Poitier, Quincy Jones, Diahann Carroll, Sammy Davis Jr., and Diana Ross. I think it was only natural that since I was raised in a white community, people would assume I’d want to be one of them.
The late Lena Horne once said in an interview, “It was cold-blooded and deliberate. I married him because he could get into places a black man couldn’t. But I really learned to love him.” I didn’t agree with what she did but I respected her honesty and was so glad black kids didn’t have to do that anymore. I didn’t have to, although I had to work around it in my teen years. My dad’s rules were strict, definite and non-negotiable. “Learn a trade, don’t date outside your race and above all, don’t come home pregnant.”
He was my father and like Sandra in the movie “Skin”, I revered him. And just like most kids, as I grew up I formed my own identity and didn’t want to be coerced into going against my own judgement. As with Sandra and in many other families, these choices can come with dire consequences.
Today, in my case, my kids and their relatives are dating and marrying whomever they want, legally. It’s a cultural adjustment. My aunt fell in love with a white man who is now my uncle. I love him dearly; so did my late father. My black child speaks a little Hindi and Russian she’s picked up from people she’ll love forever. My half-black, half-Mexican cousin speaks Spanish and so gets job offers up the ying yang. My two year old ¾ black, ¼ white niece recently greeted me by saying “Ni hao kilan” in what I thought was a cute babynese, only to find out it’s Chinese loosely translated as “I want to watch my new favorite TV show”.
Like any parent, I want the best for my children. I want them to find partners that will love and cherish them, be faithful, respectful and kind. Strength of character always shows its true colors, even within your family.
Check out the movie “Skin”. It’s deep.

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