Yes, She is my Real Mother

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In light of recent events in the news (here, here, and here), the topic of race in America has been heavy on my mind. Please bear with me as I deviate a bit from the norm.

When I was in first grade, I had a conversation with my mother that ended with both of us in tears. I came home from school, convinced by my peers that I had been adopted. I told my mother that the kids at school had explained that she couldn’t be my real mom because her skin was white and mine was brown. My mother tried to explain that I was, in fact, her daughter, and that my skin was brown because my father (who lived almost 2000 miles away) was black. I refused to believe her, insisted that I was adopted, and told her that I would like to meet my real mother. Around and around we went until we were both reduced to tears.

The next day, my mother combined blobs of white and brown Play-Doh to show me how my skin color was a mix of both hers and my father’s. She taught me the meaning of the word biracial, and I proudly taught the word to my classmates.

But it was never easy to be biracial in a community that was predominantly white. My mother and stepfather were both white, and all of my friends were white. It didn’t take me long to realize that people felt differently about black people than they did about white people. The handful of black students in my class seemed to be punished more severely than the white students (a black girl was made to sit in the corner for saying libary instead of library), and my friends’ mothers would lock the doors of their cars when we drove through the black neighborhoods of our town. Still, I always felt I was treated the same as my white peers.

And then, one day in my 6th grade math class, the teacher accused me of cheating on a test. When I tried to explain that I had done my own work, she screamed at me and called me the n-word in front of everyone. I was completely mortified, but I was way too embarrassed to tell my mother. That night after I went to bed, the phone began ringing off the hook. I may not have told my mother what happened but every other kid in the class did, and all their mothers were calling to find out how I was holding up. And that night, I wasn’t the only one trying to stifle cries under the covers.

The next day, my mother took me to school early to talk with the principal about what had happened. The math teacher was brought in, and she apologized to me. But my mother insisted that she apologize again in front of the class- she’d sworn at me in front of my peers, and I deserved an apology in front of my peers. The principal was there to witness the apology and reported back to my mother. I never had trouble with that teacher again, but the damage was already done. Understanding and accepting my racial identity was something I would struggle with for years.

baby girl 16mo.So, how does this relate to me raising twins? Well, when my twins were about 9 months old, my husband and I took our daughter to Children’s Hospital for an appointment. The receptionist who checked us in asked a series of questions, including, “What is the child’s race?” I told the woman, “She’s biracial- Caucasian and African American.” then turned to my husband, who nodded his head in confirmation. The woman gave me a look that seemed to say she looks white to me then continued on with her questions.

And that experience has made me wonder if race has more to do with how other people see us- our skin colors and facial features- than our genetic make up. Is Obama the first black president because black is what people see when they look at him? Or is he the first black president because he identifies himself as a black man? (I’ve never heard anyone, except my 11 year old niece, refer to him as the first biracial president.)

buba 16My children are roughly 75% Caucasian and 25% African American, so they’re pretty fair skinned. Does that mean they’ll be spared some of the discrimination that I’ve experienced and witnessed? Does it mean that they’ll have to explain their brown-skinned mother the way I had to explain about my mother’s white skin? How do I prepare them for that? How do I prepare myself for that?

Fortunately, this is not a topic that consumes my mind on a daily basis. Their experiences are already far different from mine. At the young age of just 16 months, their small circle of “friends” already includes several children of various racial backgrounds. Of course, they don’t care. Because to them, kids are just kids. And I hope that they’ll see it that way for a long, long time.

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9 thoughts on “Yes, She is my Real Mother”

  1. thank you for sharing your story. I too hope that your twins and mine and all kids see people just as people for the rest of their lives!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story.
    My children will deal this issue similarly to yours. Our entire family looks caucasian; however my husband is 100% hispanic.
    It makes you wonder if there will ever be a day when we (all people) really don’t see color.
    .-= Heidi´s last blog ..My Favorite Friend =-.

  3. Wow! Your story about your classroom experience made me cry. In my office. I’m grateful that my officemates aren’t here yet.

    I have a similar experience of people not believing that I am my daughters’ biological mother. Even in this day and age, people are surprised by interracial relationships and mixed race children. I’ve noticed that I get fewer comments in the summer, when my girls are more tanned. I’m South Asian, my husband half Caucasian, half Mexican.

    Race and colour have been on my mind recently too, not because of the news, but because my daughters have started commenting on the fact that people have different skin tones. I’m delighted that they have no value judgments attached to those differences, and that we know a large enough variety of people that I don’t think they’d be surprised if they saw someone with fluorescent orange skin!
    .-= Sadia´s last blog ..Weekend observations =-.

  4. Wow, this is such a timely post and is something that I think about often. My husband is Asian and I am Caucasian and my twins looks much more like my husband than they do like me. I have had people ask me if I am their nanny when we are out together. I have also had people tell me that I will never be able to relate to discrimination they might face. And that just makes me so sad.

    I too hope that their ethnicity will never be a source of negative issues for them, but you just never know. I think as parents we just have to explain to them that they are a mix of their parents and while they may physically look more like one parent or another, they have characteristics of both parents and both cultures. All we can do is teach our kids to be loving and accepting individuals and hope that other parents are doing the same thing.
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..The Numbers =-.

  5. Dang. That classroom story made me MAD! I just don’t get how people have such closed minds. I also don’t get how they can get to be in positions of influence either. You’d think that teachers would have open minds and just be accepting of PEOPLE.

    I’m seriously hoping that my kids keep viewing all kids as friends … and I’m super happy that they have friends of all different skin colors.

    We could all learn a thing or two from the very young. :)
    .-= Nancy´s last blog ..Keeping Busy =-.

  6. A friend of mine from high school is the child of parents from India. She married a Caucasian man with sandy hair and light eyes. Their son has sandy hair and light eyes. Recently she told us that, at least once, she’s been mistaken for her son’s nanny. Presumably this is simply because she’s brown and he’s not.

    She seemed to take this in stride and even find it a little funny. At least that was the outward impression she was giving.

  7. PROFOUND! Thank you for sharing. I am 100% hispanic was raised in an environment that was 98% white. it was HAAAARRRD at times. But ‘easier’ on me because I “looked white”. Not so for my cousins. I saw the difference in how people treated one another early on.

    We used a caucasian (anonymous) donor so my kids are 50%/50%, but we intend to help them cultivate pride and respect for all ethnicities.
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..A Change Is Gonna Come =-.

  8. I’m also Hispanic and was lucky to grow up in a part of the country where I never really felt that much of a difference or divide among ethnic lines. While Hispanics were not the majority it was probably a 60/40 split. I never got the sense that I was an outsider and continued to have a similar “color blind” attitude towards life into college and as I entered the work force.

    Strangely for me it’s been in moving to other parts of the country as an adult that I’ve had a taste of the us vs. them dynamic. A handful of times I’ve been the only hispanic in a group among good friends when a comment about “those mexicans such and such” or “You know how they are” has popped up. Almost instantly (upon remembering that I’m there.. and, gasp, mexican) it’s usually followed up with “Oh, well not you! You know what I mean, right?”.

    Regrettably those experiences have made me wonder how the world really views me and my brown baby boys. Up until fairly recently that particular question would have never crossed my mine.
    .-= Cristal´s last blog ..A Proud Parenting Moment PLUS an Homage to One of My Favorite Bloggers =-.

  9. I’ve been thinking about your post all day. I’ve tried to get my friends to talk about the fact that Obama is biracial, but there seems to be a nationwide mental block at the idea that someone with dark skin can be White. I don’t understand it. Even my husband, who’s biracial himself and considers himself culturally mostly White although strangers perceive him as Mexican, glosses over the President’s mixed heritage.
    .-= Sadia´s last blog ..What colour? =-.

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