When my parents adopted me, they were met with resistance from my mother’s family. She had an uncle that told her that she better never bring that nigger to his house. She tells me that he later softened and that was obvious because we spent a lot of my early childhood at the resort that he later owned with my Grandma Nor.
Regardless of his softening, I never liked him. And he was mom’s favorite uncle, so it was a heavy burden on me to be responsible for my mom’s estrangement from this part of her family, no matter how short it was.
However, it wasn’t the uncle that hated me because of my race that left one of the most enduring and demeaning memories of my early childhood. It was my Grandmother’s boyfriend, whom I thought the world of.
For some reason unknown to me, he would like to blow smoke in my Afro and them pat me on my head and laugh as the smoke puffed out of my hair. This was like a ritual for him. A game he would do in front of everyone and they would all laugh. It was humiliating and I hated it. Such a weird place to be in as a child, to have someone you like so hateful things to you.
As a child, I hated my hair. My mom thinks that doing hair is “a bore”. And so my Black nappy hair was just cut off like a boy’s. I wonder now if I hated it’s curliness because of the way smoke puffed out of it. They treated me as if I was some sort of minstrel show for their amusement. And my hair was the center of it all.
My grandmother’s boyfriend died when I was about 9 years and and I missed him. But I never missed that stupid joke he would play.
As I grew older, we would be around my mothers family- even the uncle who swore I couldn’t come to his house. I’m sure there were other stupid things said or done, but this one specific activity has stood out in my mind. There are very few things from my early childhood that I remember clearly. But this is one of them.