I have two kids. They are mixed race. They get their Greek and Italian roots from me and their African American, Laotian and American Indian roots from their father. Consequently, people say a lot of weird things to us.
To be fair, people may very well say weird things to all mothers. But these are some things that strangers or casual acquaintances have said to me that I have found to be pretty problematic. My friends can say whatever the hell they want – I have no problem with that. But strangers annoy me when they say the following things.
1. “What color do you think he’ll be?”
This was asked of me several times when I was pregnant. I always found it very odd. I guess I have heard people say things like, I wonder if he’ll get his father’s red hair? before and never thought it was too strange. I just really never knew how to respond to this question. It’s not like my husband and I spent hours in front of the Sherman-Williams paint palette sheets at Home Depot, pontificating about which shade of beige, tan, or brown our child would be. I was usually just the asshole that said, skin color.
2. “You should do (insert hairstyle here) to his hair.”
Oh, the amount of unsolicited advice a white mother with mixed race children gets about their kid’s hair is unbelievable. I’ve had women stop me on the street and recommend a variety of products to tame my child’s frizz. I had a woman at a restaurant actually put olive oil on my child’s head. I’m not kidding. It somehow doesn’t occur to anyone that I actually like the way my child’s hair looks. I’m not blind.
3. “I thought he would be darker!”
Um, okay. I never know how to respond to this. This one is right up there with He’s so cute! He looks nothing like you! I’m sure all parents can relate to that one.
4. “Are you the nanny?”
This has never happened to me, but it happened to a close friend of mine, who also has a mixed race child, all of the time. She would constantly have women come up to her at the park, asking if she had time to take on another charge because she interacted with the child in her care so well. She told me she would just look at them, shake her head and walk away.
5. “Mixed babies are the cutest!”
Aren’t all babies cute? Well, maybe not. Obviously I agree that my child is ridiculously adorable, but something about having to point out that he is mixed is a little strange to me. I’m not sure that I would ever say, Asian babies are the cutest! to an Asian mother. Those words just wouldn’t feel right coming out of my mouth.
6. “How is he going to identify?”
Hmm. This is the nosiest question, ever. I even get angry at forms that ask me this question. I’m hoping we raise our children with enough knowledge and pride about all of their backgrounds that they want to identify with all of them. Will they call themselves “black” or “white” or “mixed race?” I have no idea.
7. “Is he yours?”
This only happens when my husband and I are together. He’s clearly black, I’m clearly white. There is always a pause and a quizzical look when I introduce him or he introduces me. Now, this could be just because of the different family dynamics that exist in our world today – maybe it has nothing to do with the fact that we are different races. But I can’t help but think that it does. I think we look like a family and I’m not quite sure why this confuses people sometimes.
8. “What is he?”
What? When I heard this I was confused, because I thought she was asking about the sex. Then I realized she said what is he.
What do you mean?
Is he black? Or Puerto Rican? What is he?
This is weird because then I have to go into the whole breakdown of our family dynamics. African American, Laotian, Greek, Italian and Native American doesn’t necessarily roll right off the tongue. I decided to do a little test and see what my son would say if I asked him that.
Lucien, what are you? I asked.
Iron Man, he said.
9. “Do you think she’ll be darker?”
My daughter was born six weeks ago and she’s a couple shades darker than my son. This has caused a lot of confusion and questions, as people scramble to figure our whether she’ll “look blacker” than my son.
I’ve heard the color of the ears tells you how dark your baby will be. Do you think she’ll be as dark as her ears? She’s definitely going to be darker than your son.
For someone I barely know, it seems like you’ve put a lot of thought into this. I don’t know how dark she’ll be. Since you seem to think she’s like a mood ring and is destined to change some day – your guess is as good as mine.
10. “Can I touch his hair?”
People randomly come up and run their hands through my son’s hair; they fluff it out, they pick at it like it’s cotton candy. It’s the weirdest thing. Don’t touch a child that you don’t know. It’s strange. I don’t touch a stranger’s child – ever. No, you can not touch my son’s hair.