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Sept. 8, 2021

Mama Meets My White Boyfriend

Mama Meets My White Boyfriend

At least one of Wambui Bahati's husbands was a white man. In sharing her personal history, she shares this story of when she took her white boyfriend to her home in Greensboro North Carolina to meet her mother. It was the very early 1980s, however, both Wambui and her mother had lived through Jim Crow laws. Was her mother ready for interracial dating? And what about the idea of her daughter being in an interracial marriage?

"At least one of my husbands was a white man. And I remember when I wanted him to meet my mother and for my mother to meet him. OK, we're talking about the early, very early 80s. We were making a move from New Jersey to California.

And so we made a special trip before going to California, made a trip down from New Jersey to North Carolina to see my mother. Now, before we'd gotten there, I had arranged that we were probably going to visit her around noon.

I didn't want to go at night because I figured, well, I didn't want to keep her up. And I knew that my mother went to sleep early. My mother is a very social person in her own way. She's not a partier or a drinker or a clubber. She's never been one of those people that just

, you know, lived like that. Most of our social activities were centered around her church or around people who went to her church. So I thought noon would be a good time. It was a weekday. And when we got into the city, I called and I said, so we're going to come by at around noon.

Right. And she said, noon. Oh, she said, Oh, honey, I don't think that's a good time. She said, I think, hmm. She said, I have a meeting at the church at noon. So can you make it a little later?

And so I said, sure. Well, how about two? And my mother said, well, you know, I don't know if the meeting will be over. But even if it is, you know, a lot of times I give people rides home after the meeting.

And I said, OK, well, we're talking three or four. And she said, three or four. I said, OK, what about by what, about five o'clock? She said, what day is it? I told her. She said, Oh baby. Mm hmm.

How did I forget that? I have a hair appointment today. I got to go to the beauty shop at five o'clock. I said, OK, well then seven. She said. Seven. OK. OK. I just don't want you to come here and I may not be here, because when I go to the meeting at noon today . . ."

Transcript

At least one of my husbands was a white man. I remember when I wanted him to meet my mother and for my mother to meet him—we're talking about the very early 80s—we were making a move from New Jersey to California.

So we made a special trip before going to California, made a trip down from New Jersey to North Carolina to see my mother. Now, before we'd gotten there, I had arranged that we were probably going to visit her around noon. I didn't want to go at night because I didn't want to keep her up. I knew that my mother went to sleep early.

My mother is a very social person in her own way. She's not a partier or a drinker or a clubber. She's never been one of those people that lived like that. Most of her social activities were centered around her church or around people who went to her church.

I thought noon would be a good time. It was a weekday. When we got into the city, I called and I said, "So, we're going to come by at around noon, right?" 

She said, "Noon?" She said, "Oh, honey, I don't think that's a good time." She said, "I have a meeting at the church at noon. Can you make it a little later?"

I said, "Sure. Well, how about 2:00?" And my mother said, "Well, I don't know if the meeting will be over. But even if it is, a lot of times, I give people rides home after the meeting."

I said, "Okay. Well, we're talking 3:00 or 4:00?"

She said, "3:00 or 4:00...?"

I said, "Okay. What about five o'clock?"

She said, "Mmm, what day is it?" I told her. She said, "Oh, baby. How did I forget that I have a hair appointment today? I got to go to the beauty shop at five o'clock."

I said, "Okay. Well, then 7:00?"

She said, "Seven... Okay... okay... I just don't want you to come here and I may not be here. Because when I go to the meeting at noon today, one of the things we're going to talk about is whether or not we're going to go back later tonight to have a rehearsal because the fashion show is in less than a week. So we're going to have to rehearse and do last-minute things. Now, we're not sure if we're going to be meeting at 7:00, but we're going to talk about that at noon. I would hate for you to come and I'm not here because we did have that meeting."

"Okay, 9:00?"

"Oh, see, here's the thing. I can't tell you how long the meeting might run."

Then I just said, "Okay. How about midnight?"

I thought I was being funny, but my mother said, "Oh, yes! Okay. Midnight! Midnight, that is good. That is a good time for me. Midnight. Y'all come at midnight."

I said, "Mommy, you're going to be asleep at midnight."

"Oh, no, I'm going to be up. I'm going to be up at midnight. That's a good time.

Come at midnight."

So, at midnight, we went to my mother's house. Now, this is the house where I grew up in. It's a small house: two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, a living room, and then on top of an unfinished basement, an attic. A small house; very small, though, small rooms.

I get to the house and it's totally dark. Now, I see her car in the driveway, so I'm assuming she's there, but it's very dark. Usually, when my mother is expecting someone, she'd leave the porch light on. But there was no light.

So I went to the door and I rang the doorbell. Nothing. I'm thinking, "I think she's asleep." I said to him, "I bet you she just fell asleep." Then I hear moving around inside so I start knocking on the door.

Now, there's a screen door on the outside, and then there's an inner door. But both doors are locked. I can hear motion. I can hear someone moving, but they're moving really slow. It's taking a really long time for them to get to the door.

Now, as I said, it is a really small house. It's not like somebody has to come from another wing to get to the front door. But it's taking a really long time. Then I see her pull the curtains aside and she's kind of looking around. And I'm waving, but I don't know if she can see me because it's dark. There are no lights inside or outside.

Then I hear her fumbling with the locks on the door and she opens the doors and says, "Come on in!" We walk in and it's totally dark inside. My mother closes the door and she locks the doors. Then she turns the lights on.

I turn around and look at the table. My mother has a whole spread. She must have been cooking all day. You would have thought it was Thanksgiving. She had fried chicken. She had collard greens. She had rice. She had string beans. She had sweet potatoes and sweet potato pie.

She says, "Come on, y'all! Come on and get you something to eat." She was saying, "Let me give you some food. I made everything myself. I made this fresh. In fact, a lot of these things that you're eating right here, I grew them myself right in my backyard."

Now, let me tell you something about my mother. Well, let me put it like this: you know there are some people who will make a lot of money writing self-help books and touring, giving speeches, inspiring people? And one of the things that you hear over and over again is that you must learn to be your own cheerleader. Well, my mother had that down pat.

My mother didn't have to learn that. My mother was born being her own cheerleader. My mother didn't wait for anyone to compliment her. My mother complimented herself all the time and patted her own self on the back.

So, she was saying things to him like, "That. potato salad's good, isn't it? Oh, I know it is because I made that myself." Then she said to him, "Let me ask you something. Have you ever had a sweet potato pie made by somebody who lives in North Carolina?"

He said, "No, ma'am."

She said, "I didn't think you had. Well, what you got right there is a sweet potato pie made by somebody who lives in North Carolina, who knows how to make a sweet potato pie."

Soon, it got to be around two o'clock and we were wrapping up. It had been a very gracious, a very beautiful meeting. My mother was so cordial and he was so cordial, and it seemed like they got along just fine. And she said, "I think you are a real nice fella. I want to thank you for coming here. I don't want y'all to be strangers now. I want you to come often."

We said we would.

She said, "And when you get to California, I hope I'm invited out to visit."

We said, "Of course you are."

She said, "Okay. Y'all have a nice trip. Be safe going home back to your hotel. Have a nice trip to California."

Then my mother turned out the lights and then opened the door and said,  "All right, y'all, good night now. Have a good night!" And she watched us walk out the door in the dark. Then she closed the door.

By then, I had finally gotten it. You see, she didn't want her neighbors to see us leaving any more than she wanted her neighbors to see us coming.