The Folklore Project


Atlanta, Georgia

It's Not Always Black and White

By Lydia Lay

"Well, damn, Lydia, she sure does look like a little n****r baby in this picture!"

I’ll never forget that night six years ago at a local pub. I had given birth to an absolutely flawless, biracial baby girl about six months earlier. We named her Bella. My father loved to say, “You can’t name her Bella; you have to name her Isabella. Bella isn’t a name.” 

After an eventful round of trivia (and drinking) with my dad and two brothers, I proudly pulled out my iPhone to show them updated photos of Bella. Then my dad vomited that racial slur. My heart sank into my stomach. The entire room was clouded from the tears in my eyes, and I heard my brothers scolding my dad for what he had said. Though it seemed like everything was frozen inside of that dreary pub in the historic town I grew up in, I could hear my dad completely denying he had done any wrong. 

That was the beginning.

You never think you’re going to have to protect your children from their own family. At least, I know I didn’t. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, because throughout my childhood, my dad used racial slurs. I specifically remember him telling me when I started dating that I couldn’t bring any “n****r boys” home. Naturally, I brought home black guys, Asian guys, Hispanic guys. Hell, I even brought home black girls. The rebel Lydia, the black sheep. You see, I come from a deeply Southern family on both sides. Children are seen and not heard; women are meek and not confrontational. I’ve always been the exception to those rules, unapologetically.

The election of Donald Trump to the United State’s highest office has brought out a smorgasbord of bigots, racists, sexists, and every other -ist and -phobe you can name. In a time where memes have become people’s “research tools” and social media posts are more persuasive than a candidate’s actual campaign, we’ve been able to see sides of people that most have swept under the rug for social acceptance. My father is no different. A barrage of disgusting memes, right-wing extremist posts, and all-around racist rhetoric began to constantly pop up on my Facebook timeline. I couldn’t have any positive conversations about our current president without his race being brought up or him being accused of being a “race baiter.” 

All of this begged the questions, “Well, if this is how he feels about other black people, how does he feel about my husband? How does he feel about our children?” 

Which, of course, was met with, “He’s not like them. The children are half-white! They could even pass for fully white when their hair is straight!” (These were his actual comments.) We’ve always thought we could let our dads, uncles, granddads pass with their racist comments, because they’re family, right? 

Wrong. The use of racial slurs behind closed doors is no longer acceptable. The “good ol’ boy” idealisms don’t fit into my reality anymore. These words and conversations affect my children, my husband and me. They affect people we love and people we don’t even know. 

I’ve found that this election opened new doors for us to speak to our children about how they are viewed, how to handle themselves, how to be self-preserving and confident. We, as parents, have a newfound appreciation for our firm belief in raising our kids to appreciate who they are on both ends of the spectrum. And 2016 has allowed us to show them the ugly side of what has quietly permeated our society since slavery. We are a buffer and advocate for our children in this time when white people are constantly letting them down, especially white family members. 

I’ve never really been 100 percent sure I’m handling things right as a parent. Using my moral compass to guide me around my father’s misgivings, I’m trying my hardest to raise well-rounded children who are self-aware, socially conscious, kind, generous, selfless, and genuine, in a Southern climate that doesn’t always value their biracial brown skin and throws them into the “one-drop” category. 

In so many ways, honesty was never my father’s strong point, but he was so brutal with his words, it seemed like being painfully honest was the only thing he could do well.