Black people on the whole have never been mired as deeply in denial about the white folks in their bloodline as white folks have been about the black folks in theirs, which is not to say all blacks feel the same about it and certainly not to suggest that most blacks are thrilled. In a white supremacy, of course, it is inarguable that in most cases, the whiter you are, the better things are for you. Consequently, the better off you are. The exceptions actually prove that rule.
So, while Thomas Jefferson was fathering our Country and simultaneously fathering the children of his enslaved servant Sally Hemmings; and, more recently, while the rabidly racist late US Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) was similarly depositing his seed in a black servant who would bear him a child he would never publicly claim; and while allegations of half-black babies born of former President Bill Clinton's sorties with dusky maidens seem to languish, never fully excavated, never fully buried; most black folks understand their mixed race heritage as simply another fact that gave lie to the labyrinthine structure of myths white folks constructed to keep everything under their control.
In any event, after William's incendiary question tagged Ma as white on the first day of first grade, I don't recall any other incidents like that. Though we routinely dissected white folks in our house, neither Ma's color nor that of her brother who looked just like her, nor that of their mother whom they looked more like than did their other siblings, was ever discussed.
Anyway, twelve years would pass before the topic would pop up again in such personal terms. And when it arrived, it showed up as a screen door warning.
~ ~ ~
"Don't come bringing no white boy back here."
I was eighteen, a virgin, standing in the front door of our apartment, listening for a taxi horn. True, I was headed for the Land of the White People, but what would make Ma say something like that? It wasn't like we had been discussing my romantic future and certainly not my romantic past since I didn't have one. I was a classic cat-eye-glasses-wearing-head-buried-in-a-book-Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes. A bona fide nerd.
Plus, I wasn't even gone yet and there she was telling me how not to come back.
When I cut my eyes to hers, she was already in position, head slightly tilted, the better to aim that genetic Jackson gaze. I conceded reflexively.
"Ma, please. I'm not even thinking about any white boys and I'm sure they're not thinking about me either."
‘"Humph, you don't know the half of it, but you just wait. You'll see." She bit off the end off a piece of thread she had just pulled through the eye of a needle.
"Aw, Negro, white, what difference does it make? It's just skin. It's not that big a deal."
"Is that right? Well, now that you're going off to college, I guess you know everything. Maybe you'll even come back here and teach your old dumb mama a thing or two. Okay? Well, you're not out the door yet, so I suggest you watch your tone and remember who you're talking to."
Her blue-veined pale skin, thin lips, straight hair, sharp nose, and flat butt were proof that white men had been all up in our family for generations. My escape vehicle wasn't in sight, though, so I kept those observations to myself. In our family, fighting was how we parted. But I didn't want to leave like that, so I eased back towards reconciliation.
"Those white girls who wrote to me this summer seem nice."
"Well, maybe those white girls are a new kind, the kind I don't know anything about."
"Your Bible." She handed it to me, a slightly chastising shove, then folded her arms across her chest. Her eyes circumnavigated me in search of crooked ways to be made straight, fissures to be plugged. On the morning of my departure, I stood beneath her inspection, at long last eye-to-eye.
"Go back upstairs and take another look around, make sure you haven't forgotten anything," she directed, signaling the end of her examination. When I moved past her and stumbled over my luggage, she caught me, her hand on my shoulder. Thus anchored, she stooped and, with her other hand, yanked the hem of my garment, a seamstress' relentless ministration to her craft. Upright again, her palms flat in the center of my back, she smoothed the fabric across my shoulders, each hand moving in short quick motions in opposite directions.
"Hurry up," she said, slapping gently my bottom as she turned to the door. "The cab will be here in a minute. If you're not out there at the curb, you know they're not going to stop in the midst of all of those winos and rag heads. Can't blame them either. If I didn't have to live out here in this filth, I'd keep going too."
I walked backwards up the stairs, already remembering the back of her, the screen door propped open by her foot.