The First Race Conversation

I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how it went down.

Bug ran up to me and said, “We’re all the same and you’re different. But you’re still my mama.”

And even though I knew what he was talking about, I was so shocked that I ended up playing dumb. I mean, I had envisioned some gentle questions about skin color, not an out-and-out division along color lines. “Different? Why am I different?”

“Daddy and Lady Bug and I are the same. You’re a different color.”

Anyone who knows me well knows that this is actually a sore spot with me. I was pretty bummed to have kids that can easily pass for white. There are a lot of reasons for why this bugs me and most are beyond the scope of this post. The least of which, though, is that having grown up the only brown person in a white family and a white neighborhood, I was kind of looking forward to blending in with my own family. Big Guy is as white as white can be so it wasn’t a surprised that my biracial pigment wasn’t enough to turn the kids brown, but I was still disappointed in the end.

“We’re all a different color, honey. Everyone is a little bit different.” Bug actually has an olive complexion. He tans well and looks like he may be Portuguese or Italian. LadyBug got my hair, but is more fair than even Bug.

“NO! Daddy and I are the same, but you’re not. You’re the same color as U (our cat).” As if I wasn’t already feeling saddened by the conversation, Bug seemed to be denying his black heritage. Plus, I got lumped in with our devil of a cat.

“You’re a bit darker than Daddy, honey. Go put your hand next to his and see.” At this point, I silently cursed out my husband for not joining in on the conversation. He doesn’t really understand, and I get that, but I was certainly in need of some support on this one. Out loud I strongly suggested that this was a conversation he might like to be a part of.

In the end, we managed to convince Bug that he was, indeed, his own color. It did not, however, take away the sting of having my three-year-old try to convince me that I am, once again, the minority in my own family. Or getting lumped in with the cat. The hardest part is knowing that this is just the beginning of years of difficult questions and conversations that are going to push all of my buttons. And then, as a parent, knowing that I have to leave most of my own baggage aside and allow my kids to self-identify just as I choose to do. After all, I have been fighting for years for my own right to identify as African American and Caucasian. It would be hypocritical not to allow my kids the same freedom. Even if it breaks my heart.

One Response to The First Race Conversation
  1. Boston Mamas
    August 3, 2009 | 8:09 am

    These convos can be hard and bring up lots of baggage for us, but it’s critically important to keep having them — in an open, calm way that doesn’t feel loaded or taboo. Since Laurel is biracial and since we live in a very diverse community, we talk a lot about where people come from — we make it fun and bring it up as relevant; for example, when we’re working on map puzzles or whatever.

    It’s funny, I’ve never thought of how Laurel will self-identify; I guess I always assumed Caucasian since she looks that way but she’s constantly surprising me.

    -Christine

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