fb-pixel Skip to main content

We’ve always talked about race, but this time’s different

'Just from existing, I feel like I’ve had kind of an identity crisis.'

Sophie Morganstern (left) and her mother, Yvette Yelardy.HANDOUT

Sophie Morganstern, 20, and her mother, Yvette Yelardy, 56, are both former Brookline residents who recently moved to West Hartford, Conn. Morganstern is a college student and Yelardy is an entrepreneur.

Sophie: Our conversations about Black Lives Matter now are just reiterating a lot of conversations we’ve already had, but with more frustration. Like whenever we see Trump talk on TV, we’re always just angry and frustrated. We couldn’t go to protests because of the health risks, so when I was feeling kind of helpless, I remember turning to you, Mom, and looking for advice.

Yvette: I don't remember what I said, but I hope it was good!


I mean, we’re a Black family, even though my husband’s white, so we’ve been talking about race for a long time. What I think is different, at least for me, is that I remember the day that George Floyd was killed, I was completely destroyed. I spent the entire night crying in my room with my husband asleep next to me, obsessively watching CNN. And I’m not sure if my husband, although outraged, ever felt the personal attack that I felt. So I’ve encouraged him to read the book “White Fragility.” In fact, I said to everyone in our family, “‘White Fragility,' it’s a must read. You need to have this language.” We’re having more conversations and requiring book reads, so that’s got to be something.

Sophie: Honestly with the intense increase in white people wanting to educate themselves, one thing I’m hoping will improve is that the little things, the microaggressions, will start to fade away. I actually saw a Black friend post a master list online of all the things about Black women’s hair, so you don’t have to ask your Black friends questions like, “Oh, is that a weave? A sew-in?” And from the mixed-race point of view, I also want people to stop asking me what my race is. I make an exception for fellow mixed people or people of color showing genuine interest, but there are still random people trying to figure out what this “exotic blend” is.


Yvette: It’s so incredibly ridiculous because so much of race is about what you see. I recently looked up my Ancestry.com DNA makeup, and I am 39 percent white. Yet I have not spent one day of my life as a mixed-race person. Barack Obama will never be known as a mixed-race president. It’s just the way it is.

And if I’m 39 percent white European, then what’s my son, whose father is white and his mom is a 39 percent white person? Technically he’s just a smidge [Black], but he’s a Black boy with an Afro, he looks like an African American kid. What’s my daughter, who has lighter skin and redder hair, but whose ancestors were still the property of a Mr. Peter Smith?

Sophie: Just from existing, I feel like I’ve had kind of an identity crisis. A peer of mine once said to my face that they forgot I was Black, and as I began to get more questions from people — “What is that? What are you?” — I looked at myself and was like, “Well, what am I?”

Yvette: As a parent, I’ll say this: I’ve always encouraged my daughter to be what she is, but to be aware that the part of her that is Black is a special part, even though it’s going to be seen by the outside world as maybe not-so-good all the time. Yes, she’s had the identity crisis of wondering, Am I Black? Am I white? But I just remind her, “You are Sophie, and that is a special, special person.”


Sophie: There are so many things that she has done, both basic parenting things and also explicit lessons. Like the time we went through the special edition of Essence magazine and she had me learn all the names of these important Black figures in entertainment so that I could feel more connected to Black culture. Even telling me to be myself, it’s something that a lot of parents do, but with her it touches beyond my personality. It’s about knowing that I’m a valuable person who can do so many things, and that I’m beautiful, whatever I am.

For more in this series, go to bostonglobe.com/opinion/black-voices-now.