Title: Mama’s Child
Author: Joan Steinau Lester
A stunning tale about the deeply entrenched conflicts between a white mother and her biracial daughter.
Mama’s Child is story of an idealistic young white woman who traveled to the American South as a civil rights worker, fell in love with an African American man, and started a family in San Francisco, where the more liberal city embraced them—except when it didn’t. They raise a son and daughter, but the tensions surrounding them have a negative impact on their marriage, and they divorce when their children are still young. For their biracial daughter, this split further destabilizes her already challenged sense of self—“Am I black or white?” she must ask herself, “Where do I belong?” Is she her father’s daughter alone?
As the years pass, the chasm between them widens, even as the mother attempts to hold on to the emotional chord that binds them. It isn’t until the daughter, Ruby, herself becomes a wife and mother that she begins to develop compassion and understanding for the many ways that her own mother’s love transcended race and questions of identity.
Okay, this book was not what I had expected.
I really wanted to love this book because being a biracial child, I thought I would get this better than someone who isn’t, and to a point I could relate and completely understand how Ruby felt. I am half Mexican and half White my father was not always in the picture growing up so I was with my mother majority of the time. My mother is Mexican, but I have very fair skin and light brown hair that naturally highlighted blonde. I was always called the “white girl”. I was not Mexican enough for the Mexican girls and was not White enough for the White girls at school. I’m sure many would say that my mix doesn’t count because I was not African American and Mexican and/or White. I grew up in the 90’s and I am sure many would say that I wouldn’t understand what racism is but I do. Yes, it was not as bad as it was in the 60’s, but even today there is racism, it will never go away no matter how much I wish it would. Now that being said…
This book, to me felt like it was a lot of preaching for “black power”, and bashing on a white woman who, when it all came down to it seemed to hate who she was and the color of her skin. That she wished she was born with black skin and not white. To the point that I felt as though she hated who she was and the color of her own skin. That I didn’t understand. I love who I am as a woman of mixed race. I think I got the best of both worlds, it makes me who I am, unique and beautiful in my own way. And when you have a woman who is raising children, children who look to you for how to feel about themselves because you are a huge part of them, and you are talking down about lets just say “YOUR” people, which is HALF of who THEY are, how can you expect them to grow up and love who they are as a whole?
A HUGE part of me wanted to love this book I really did, but I just felt like all Ruby did was whine and complain about EVERYTHING, but then who could blame her when that seemed to be all her mama did. What mother tells her child to call her by her first name and not mom, mommy, mama (whatever you call your mother) and then says she is no longer cooking dinner??? I mean I had a WTF moment there… don’t forget about the fact that her and her husband decide to divorce, and what mother in their right mind says okay you keep the boy and I will keep the girl? REALLY?? I would NEVER, EVER, let ANYONE take my children from me without a fight. No matter what anyone tells me. Yes a son will benefit from their father being in their life to teach them how to be a man, but they also need their mother. Same with a daughter and her father. For me, I felt that there were too many things wrong with this story. I needed to remind myself that it happened in the past and things were different back then. So it may not have been so “out there” for those things to have happened.
I just had a very hard time believing and understanding why a mother would hate herself so much that she would put that onto her daughter, her daughter who will grow up hating that she is half white because that’s what she learned from her mother. Black is right and righteous and pure in every form and white people are evil. I can honestly say that for me, and call me stupid, naive, ignorant or whatever but racism is racism. The mother was racist against her own race, which in turn came back to bite her in the ass. I almost didn’t finish the book because I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes and saying REALLY?
When we finally get into the year 2005 and Ruby is grown…I thought, okay maybe this will get better.. Not at all! She found racism in EVERY damn thing. A Keychain?! I mean REALLY? A plate? At that point I just couldn’t be done with this book fast enough. I can honestly say I disliked the mother with a passion, feeling as though she did a horrible job teaching her daughter to just love herself and who she is because the mother hated who she herself was. (A White Woman) I also felt like Ruby to a point was just a brat. Don’t get me wrong, I completely get how she could have a dislike towards her mother, I mean, who wouldn’t when you hear her constantly talk as though she is an African American woman when she is the furthest thing from it, I have known people like that and it drives me up the wall. I want to tell them to go look in the mirror. Feeling unaccepted and unwanted by the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally. So I could understand why she would pull away.
The writing itself was not bad. I didn’t have an issue with that at all, but like I said above, I did have a bit of an issue with the content. I know this review may come across on the negative side, but I have my own personal issues with this book and that is because of my personal background of being a biracial child. The difference was my mother and father thinking their race each was superior to the others. So for the most part I grew up hearing how one was better than the other. It was negative at times, but I took it, growing up believing that I had awesome in me. I wish this would have went more to that route but when you have a father who wouldn’t want to really be seen with their mother because she is white, what do you expect that child to feel?
What I found ironic and really shouldn’t be a surprise is that Ruby turned into her mother for the most part. Her mother seemed to hate that she was white, and well Ruby pretty much hated the fact that she also was white. So the moral of the story…. watch what you do and say around your children because you are shaping and teaching them how to be.