Biracial woman recalls that even her mother couldn't identify with her or understand

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

For years, Comstock resident Angela Allen felt that her mother, who is white, was not able to help her deal effectively with the ostracism and outright racism she experienced growing up in nearly all-white Coldwater.

Allen, who is 29, had lived with her birth mother and father, who is African-American, until the couple divorced when she was about 4 years old, Allen remembered. She stayed with her mother.

But she was about 10 before she met her mother's parents, who lived in the same small town of Coldwater; her grandparents were apparently estranged from their daughter because she chose to marry a black man.

Allen met her grandparents only after she and her mother left their Oklahoma home and visited one of her mother's sisters in California. Her aunt telephoned her own parents back in Coldwater and brokered a meeting between the parents and their daughter.

"It wasn't a happy reunion," Allen said about watching her grandparents and her mother. "It was very uncomfortable, and I knew then that was prejudice. They treated me OK, it's just that there was a difference."

Though she and her mother then moved to Coldwater to live with her grandparents, the tension was so thick that her mother sent her to live with her father for a year in North Carolina.

There, Allen said she came in contact with the black members of her extended family. Although there was taunting from some of the black children, Allen said, she felt better accepted overall by her dad's family.

Then there was the day, two days into her junior year at the predominantly white Coldwater High School, when she again was confronted by prejudice.

"I was walking around the building and I heard this loud scream and heard, 'You n----r,' Allen said.

A traumatized Allen said she reported the incident to school officials, who apologized to her. But when she told her mother, Allen said, her pain and humiliation only deepened.

"It didn't bother her like it bothered me," Allen said. "She couldn't understand how it bothered me.

"'This is a big thing to me,'"Allen said she told her mother. "At that point, I knew that she would never be able to identify with me 'cause she wouldn't be able to understand."

Those experiences, however, have enabled Allen to better understand her own 7- and 8-year-old daughters, fathered by her husband, Thalmus Allen, an African-American man who is a personal trainer and a youth minister.

The girls attend a predominantly white elementary school, where Allen said they are in the racial minority and, as a result, often are left to play alone. They're experiencing what she herself experienced growing up, she said. But she and her husband "have instilled in them Jesus."

She and her husband say they believe that religious faith will help their daughters deal with the rejection they encounter because of their race.

Allen said she has made peace with the way one part of her family has chosen to treat her.

"This is the way it's always been," she said. "It's my life."

© 2005 Kalamazoo. Used with permission

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