As far as I can parse out from my maternal family history, my great-grandmother was half white. She looked it; bluish/pale eyes, shiny wavy hair that always looked wet somehow, very pale skin, though her features marked her as something other than "pure" white so she couldn't pass. She never spoke of her father, so I don't know the circumstances which produced her; I do know they were from "up the country" in Alabama, where there was a lot of mixing going on just after slavery. Some of it was consensual mixing; some of it was not.
Anyhow, she married a man who was equally pale, who could pass for white, and occasionally did. This allowed him to get a job as a merchant marine, which was a good living in those days although it took him away from the family a lot. Grandma raised the kids while keeping house for white families; they preferred light-skinned women. The family moved to the coast and built a biggish house, where my great-grandmother bore six children who all survived to adulthood, the oldest of whom was my grandmother. They were flush enough to be able to raise a grandchild too: my mother, when her mother died young of (probably) tuberculosis. Although the family was never any better than middle class, this still put them on good footing compared to most African-Americans in the area, who were rarely better than lower class. My mother, and three of her aunts and uncles, got to go to college. Just a local state HBCU, but still. Progress.
My father's family is more typical of what life was like for African-Americans in those days. They were all very dark-skinned; if there was any white in them it was far back. My grandfather was a musician; piano. I think he played jazz in various joints around the South. I don't think he ever recorded anything. His mother -- known only as "Muh'Dear" -- was half black and half some kind of Native American; my father told me which group but I don't remember. She lived as black -- but she made her living, as far as I can tell, by doing magic. People would ask her advice, predictions; ask her to help them find love or luck. My father says she could see the future in her dreams.* They paid her in sacks of vegetables and guinea fowl. I never heard of her having a husband, or any other source of income, so I imagine the family was often hungry. They didn't interact much with white people -- they lived in an all-black community within Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham was especially apartheidish in those days -- so living was pretty much hand to mouth.
My father and his brothers were "the smart ones", on whom many hopes were pinned. The brothers were killed in Korea? Vietnam? Probably Vietnam; I'll have to ask Dad. Dad went to college on an academic scholarship, where he met my mother. I get the impression he was "slumming", for her, and maybe a bit of youthful rebellion; she certainly regarded (and still does) his family as a lesser class of people. But to put things in further context, my mother was the adopted child in her family, and one of the only two definitively black-looking children in the whole batch -- this despite being fairly light-skinned herself. I imagine she took a lot of crap for being darker than everyone else. I got some of that crap, growing up; she lamented my "big nose" and "big ol' lips", and constantly complained about how tall and big-hipped I was, and so on. It was not clear to me for many years that her real problem was that I was growing into a certain kind of body type that she associated with inferiority. More suitable to a field hand than a house slave, basically -- big and strong rather than dainty. We don't talk about this, so this is purely my conjecture.
So; my childhood. My father worked hard to counter any "superior" indoctrination that I might be getting from my mother's side, constantly reminding me of how lucky I was to have two parents who'd gone to college, to have never known hunger or poverty, etc. I grew up believing all my achievements were a matter of good fortune, not my own merits; it took me awhile to get past this. I don't think Dad realized a fundamental truth about light-skinned black families (until I got older and started talking to him about my relationship with my mother): we fucking hate ourselves. Every light-skinned black person that I know is simultaneously conscious of benefitting from their looks and betraying their people by doing so. The results of this are warped self-esteem, self-punishment (e.g., getting into an abusive relationship), and a whole slew of other self-destructive behaviors that I saw in spades among my relatives. The pride and superiority that my father saw was a front -- what they show outsiders. Inside, we were all a mess.
Hmm. The psychologist in me can't help noticing here that I keep veering between referring to my mother's family as "us" and "them".
I don't want to go into the results of this on my own life in detail. I will note that I've always felt vaguely guilty for choosing to write science fiction and fantasy. The freedom to think about the future, or the fantastic, is a luxury that comes of having a materially comfortable life, emotional support (my father is supportive of my writing; my mother is not), and enough leisure time to dream. This is basic Maslow's hierarchy stuff; whenever I hear others ask why there are so few people of color writing speculative fiction, I can't help feeling confused by the question. I'm always amazed there are as many of us as there are.
There's a part of me that feels as though I should be spending my creative energy on uplifting the race, so to speak. I've always believed that we lucky ones have a responsibility to help the ones who aren't so lucky, and I often wonder whether art, specifically this kind of art, is a sufficient way to "give back". I still get questions from relatives and others about why I don't "write something black". It's taken me years to find an answer to that question, which is: I am. We have a future, just like anyone else; our imaginations are just as powerful, our myths just as profound. To not write about this would be a betrayal of everything I am. It would squander everything that my ancestors sacrificed to give me the freedom to make my dreams real.
So; back to work.
* Sometimes I can too, but it's never anything important. Useless shit like walking across the street at a particular intersection, at a particular time of day. I've always wished I could undergo some kind of training to improve the ability. And now you know where a hefty chunk of Dreamblood comes from. Thanks, Muh'Dear.