the week after my mother, father, sister, and I moved out of the black flatlands and into the white hills, a man was found dead in a car trunk outside our Oakland home. We had moved into a neighborhood called Kensington, where I understood my mother was different from everyone else, but I did not understand why. My father was an eccentric British man. My mother was someone to be embarrassed of; I was ashamed of her because she was different from the white people around us. But she fought for my siblings and me, for something different than what she had had. She fought for wheat bread and no TV and washed our mouths out with bars of soap when we said bad words. She fought for us to go to the best schools in the vicinity – private, Catholic, on scholarships – and she taught us from the first day of kindergarten that we were not done with school until we graduated college. Her children were Barbara’s only grandchildren to earn bachelor’s degrees. Before I started my master’s degree, a glass was raised to remind me that, on my first day of graduate school, I would become the most educated member of our family. White parents I grew up with sat around the table and I felt like my mother was presenting me to them, like her trophy.
When I was twelve years old, my parents divorced and my father moved out. And I met a new uncle. He knocked on our door when it was dark outside and introduced himself as my mother’s brother. He was tall, six-foot-four or so, and we marked his