"You are pink and him is brown."

June 5, 2006

The funniest thing about the fact that my son is biracial is how often I forget about it.  Like when strangers at the grocery store ask me some version of “what ethnicity is his father?”  For a moment, the question gives me a visceral, intruded-upon sense of shock – how do they know?  

Because, of course, he doesn’t look different from me, to me.  He looks like my Isaiah, my boy, like the wiggleworm I bonded with when he was still in utero, like my heart’s center and my home.  But to the rest of the world, he looks like “a mixed kid with a white mom.”  The latest reminder came from an adorable little girl at the park, who asked if he was my baby.  When I said yes, she considered this carefully and then informed me in a very serious tone, “You are pink and him is brown.”  (I managed to avoid cracking up before confirming her colorful observation.)

Of course, the converse of these startling moments are the moments when I am deeply, painfully aware of the fact that his life will be very different from mine.
Like when I read about the black male in our society – the bare statistics, what is typical, what is perceived – and I remember that every time Isaiah leaves my sight and wanders out into the world alone, that is how people will categorize him hin their minds.  What will that mean for him?

Or when I consider my options for school, starting in two years.  Our local public schools are not good, so much that there have been numerous recent articles in the local paper about the low-morale, test-focused, racially-polarized mess that is our county school system.  Because I save rigorously, I will be able to afford to send him to the private elementary school that I attended and loved as a child – but what will that mean in terms of diversity?  Do I want him to be the token diversity in a sea of white faces?  But if not, is it worth risking his education to avoid it?

Or when I fear the consequences of remarriage by his father or myself.  What if his father marries a black woman and they decide he must live with them so that he can better experience his culture?  What if I were to remarry and have a white child?  (It would break my heart to think he might feel left out in such a situation, so much so that I almost want to put a moratorium on ever dating anyone who is the same race as me.)  

Or when the local news does a story on the black suburban family who moved into their new home to find it decorated with hate speech and vandalized.  Just 30 minutes up the road – even though it seems to be a story belonging in another century, another world.  

Or even when I run my fingers through his hair.  His gorgeous, soft ringlets of curl that are browner at the roots but shine gold in the sunlight.  I condition it daily, wash it once a week, taking care of his “mixed” hair more attentively than I do my own plain brown hair.  And I have never cut it, not since his birth.  But one day he will decide what to do with his hair, how to shape his image, how to declare his racial identity.  Of course, I want him to do that . . . the job of a good parent, after all, is to teach a child to grow up and be his own person.  But I fear losing him, and I think I fear it more than I otherwise would, because of this possible divide lurking in the history between our skin tones.    

I know that the ranks of the children like my son are swelling, that he will never be as alone as the kids I knew in his position twenty years ago.  And I know, too, that there are a million ways to answer all of the questions raised by race, and none of them are the right way or the only way.  

Most days, I have faith that we will find our way together, me pink and him brown, mother and son.  Most days.