The Upside of Being Different

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Black like Mom?

I was drawing Baby’s bath one tranquil evening this past summer, watching the water pool in the tub, when I glanced at her. She was sitting on a high stool in the bathroom, swinging her chubby legs, and ad libbing the lyrics to ‘ Happy Birthday’. She paused, leaned her head back thoughtfully and said:

“I’m not Black. I’m not white. I’m different.”

I turned the tap to silence the torrent of water, then knelt in front of her.

“Sweet pea, who told you that?” She didn’t answer me. She simply started fiddling with her earlobe, the way she does when she is exhausted, and which is usually a signal for us to ask the waiter for the check, wrap up shopping and drop what we are doing to get her home before her meltdown. She was obviously too tired to explain how she had come up with that. She wanted to sleep. But a throbbing started in my chest and continued for the next couple of days.

Baby’s outbursts became more puzzling. While I was fastening her shoes in the morning, she cheerfully chirped:

“I’m not Black,” she smiled and shook her head. Then she pointed at me and said: “You’re black. I’m white.

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How do I explain myself to the other kids?

 

Baby seemed so pleased with herself, for having sorted out and declared her racial identity. Well, I wasn’t pleased. There was Baby, in the car on the way to daycare, chirping and pointing: “You’re black. I’m white. Daddy’s white.” Over and over. It took me a while to stop fuming to Hubby about it.  He agreed that Baby’s declarations were a little strange.  I was secretly nervous that she would say something like: “I’m white!” at a family cookout or something. People would think we were nuts, and neglecting to teach Baby about who she really is. They’d think we were pouring crazy delusions into her head and setting up Baby for an ugly and painful realization later in life. I just know it!

Someone, some ignorant meddlesome nitwit, was putting all kinds of nonsense into my child’s head, and I needed to find out who. No one else, except maybe her father, I thought, should be telling Baby who she is and what she is not. Certainly, others should not impose their bozo ideas about race on a biracial child. Who in their right mind would look at mixed little girl, whose mother is Black, and tell her, or lead her to believe, that she is white?

Well, I got nowhere. I couldn’t find out where Baby was getting these messages. Luckily, she eventually stopped blurting them out. Thank God! I, however, kept thinking about this whole issue, about how to properly teach Baby about her skin color and where she falls in the whole spectrum. She’ll need to know that so that no on else, whether through ignorant thinking or well-meaning meddling, can persuade her to believe something about herself that is not true.

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With Mom and Dad's help, I can take any plunge!

Personally, I don’t have a problem with Baby seeing herself as different. The term “different” delivered in the right context, can mean special or exceptional. I hope that Baby eventually strives to bring a unique and valuable perspective to the table in most situations in her life.

Meanwhile, I’m going to take some action and help her formulate ideas about race.  I’m not talking about intense, persuasive indoctrination. She’ll be told, gently and occasionally, that Mommy is black and Daddy is white. Baby is learning her colors now, so I know she’s going to process this with some skepticism. (“Okay, Mommy. You just said licorice is black. And now you’re saying we’re black. So…) I’m also going to carefully introduce black children’s books into her daily reading, thus pouring a solid foundation into her mind, which I’ll use to build a nice structure about what being black means and the many complexions represented therein. Including her own.

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