Black Like Me

My mother was black.

Well, technically, I suppose she was multi-ethnic. Her father, James Acker, was a young black man when he was shot to death by the police during a shoot out in Houston, Texas. He had just escaped from Huntsville prison, where I was later in the prison ministry for several years. It took my Mom many years to find her father’s grave. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Houston. My mother was seven months old at the time. She never got to meet her dad, who would have been my grandfather.

Back to Mom. She passed for white as a young woman. But her mother, and likely her stepfather, knew the truth. It was the Big Dark Secret.

I met her stepfather several times. Covey Clay was the most evil, racist, ignorant man I have ever known. He terrified me. Most of all because he terrified my mom. Given that my mom was what Covey would have called a “little nigra girl”, and given the attitudes that he expressed to me more times than I can recall, I have no doubt about my mom’s fate as she grew up in that house.

She was raped. Probably daily, or at least very frequently, by her stepfather.

In the light of this knowledge (I only recently figured this out), I can understand my mother better. When I was growing up, she was pretty much crazy. I never had a single conversation with my mother that I was not acutely aware that she was  not all there. (The famous quip from Ace Ventura comes to mind: “The engine is running, but no one is behind the wheel.” That was my mom.)

Periodically, my mother’s dysfunction would take a much darker turn. She would become extremely depressed, withdrawn and moody. Her connection to reality would shred. She would become very delusional, having many conversations with people who were not there. Eventually, she would attempt suicide, but always unsuccessfully. I never understood if she was genuinely trying to kill herself, crying out for attention, or simply out of control of her actions.

In the light of her childhood trauma, much of my mother’s bizarre life makes more sense. My parents repeatedly told me the story about how they met when my Mom was only seven, and my father was only 14. According to both of them, they decided to get married within a few minutes of meeting each other. That seems creepy now. A 14 year old proposing to a 7 year old? That would never pass muster today.

In the light of the times (the Great Depression), and the incredibly dark story of my mother’s racial background, that kind of makes sense. It took my dad 7 years to get her out of there, but eventually he did marry my mom when she was only 14. He was 21.

During their early years together, my mom passed as a white woman. Thus, I was raised racially and culturally white. We were taught as kids to hate one group in particular: Rednecks. Bigots, Racists. Men like my step-grandfather.

Eventually, by the time she died, my mother looked completely African. I almost outed her as a middle aged woman when we were living in Taiwan and my dad was a U.S. Air Force officer. I asked her if her father was black. (I had met my grandmother and knew that she was white.) She was completely flustered by my question. Eventually, she got my dad involved, who insisted that, no, my mother’s father was white. (Which is obviously a lie, given my mother’s appearance by the time she died. Whatever.) Even then, I told my mom I did not believe her. Her distinctly African features were already beginning to emerge.

So how does that affect me? I no longer self-identify as white or caucasian. I am a multi-ethnic person. I am beginning to embrace the African American side of my heritage. I have become much more interested in current African American culture such as rap, hip-hop and the like. I still look pretty much like a white guy, but the black man is leaking out.

More later.

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