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By Rivka Wolf

Why do you think I need her so much?

My mother is the darkest-skinned member of my extended family.

She refuses to leave the house without curling her hair into waves more palatable for the white-washed suburbs in which I was raised. She piles on layers of makeup as though it will defend her from my father’s casual emotional abuse and psychological manipulation.

My mother holds a Ph.D in Psychology, but it has not protected her from a society whose racism she never understood. She has never been able to name the forces ranked against her, because in our Jewish society, racism is difficult to properly name and deal with. Many of our Eastern European and Western European forebears must have intermarried with people from Africa, because we have so many members who look like my mother, obviously multiracial. Yet we as a community choose to label people like her “white,” which means the racism she encounters every day of her life goes unacknowledged.

My mother has dark skin. My mother leaves the house, and people stare. My mother and I walk down the street together, and people do not view us as mother and daughter. We do not have features visibly in common.

I carry internalized racism inside my bones even though my skin is white. For many years, I tried to join antiracist organizations and fight my internalized racism that way. It almost worked, but it didn’t, not quite. It didn’t work because it never got at the heart of what was troubling me. My complex feelings about my own race could not be fought by fighting racism out there. Racism is something I encounter at every family reunion.

Racism is something I encounter every time I look in the mirror.

Hell, racism is something I feel every time I remember every previous Jewish man I have tried to love who has called me a name then run to the arms of a blonde, lighter-skinned Jewish Princess with wealthier parents than mine. I cannot help but think that her mother probably has light skin. I cannot help but trace my life had I been born blonde — the Ivy League education, the Ph.D. Or, for that matter, if I had loved myself, I might have chosen differently, the forbidden path of an artistic journey earlier on, a B.A. at Bard College, queer relationships, several novels already written and behind me by now.

I cannot help but think of the split futures. My twin impossible lives.

Shonda Rimes has written my monsters into view. Annalise Keating. Christina Yang. Miranda Bailey. These women who society would call “monster.”

Do you have any idea how much I wish these women had been my mothers? Do you have any idea how much I wish that any of the Jewish women of color who surrounded me when I was growing up, these women who were all silenced and alone in their endless grief for their own lost voices, might have dared to claim their strength this way?

Kerry Washington in Scandal is sexy and a white man is attracted to her. He is tender in how he treats her. He does not hit her. He does not call her stupid. He does not imply that she is crazy. He respects her intelligence and strength.

This is a thing that I have never seen. It is a thing my life has never shown me.

My life is filled with white men using women of color as mammys. The fact that the women in question are Jewish and the men in question are Jewish does not make this any less the case. I want to believe there was a love story, somewhere, back in the old country, but that is probably not what happened. Probably what happened was greed and exploitation and racism in America.

Once upon a time, the inverse of a fairy tale, a small but present percentage of my bloodline and now my mother carries the legacy as pigmentation on her cheek. Maybe. Either way, I can hear them. I can hear the stories that someone’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother told her, late at night, when everybody else was sleeping. Late at night, when it was safe.

I am not my family’s dream, you see. I am their nightmare. I am the girl who tells all their secrets. I am the girl who shares all the secret pain that my father and his father and all the other fathers raped into our mothers’ bodies with the whole wide world. I am the daughter who refuses to be a good daughter.

I am the bad daughter, but I come from somewhere. I like to think somewhere, there was an ancestor who could have loved me. If ever there was, I think she would have been a lot like Annalise Keating, don’t you?

Shonda Rimes, I know I’m probably not who you picture when you picture the ‘colored girls who considered suicide’ that you write for most, but without you, I think that’s exactly what I would have become.

“There are stories to be told that are still untold and characters to be portrayed that haven't been portrayed correctly. So there's work to be done.”

Shonda RhimesAmerican Producer

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