The Puerto-Rican, Chinese Baby

Perhaps I live in a bubble, readers. The type of sanitized, hermetically sealed environment where no one bats an eye at my mixed-race family. As a matter of fact, women usually coo at my curly-haired, rosy-cheeked daughter, with her impish smile and cherubic build, still a little rounded out by baby chub. Even grown men who could otherwise be disposed to be brusque and surly are known to throw their voices up an octave or two, hand her a lollipop and address her as ‘cutie.’

I only remember two occasions when people’s assumptions and off-color remarks about Baby’s looks had offended me. The most pungent offense, as it was, came from teenage girls. They were classmates of Little Sister’s, who were probably being their usual high-spirited selves when they looked at the latest picture of Baby that Little Sister had brought to school and declared: “It’s the Puerto-Rican, Chinese baby.”   I wanted to box their ears for that, because it seemed to impertinent, at least through Little Sister’s retelling.  When I thought about it, though, she did look vaguely Asian with her fatty, droopy eyelids and round face. Her mop of curly hair and light-mocha complexion lend themselves to a Puerto Rican look. OK, so the cheeky teenage girls got a pass.

But readers, I was straight up offended by what I read in The New York Times, from its October 12, 2011 edition. It’s about how a mixed-race family in New Jersey deals with its multi-racial makeup.  The nerve of that twit in the story’s opening! I won’t drop too many spoilers, but if a ninny questions me aggressively about how such a light-skinned child like mine could descend from a woman like me, with such a dark complexion, she will get a dose of something! Doesn’t she know anything about mixed kids?

One has to exercise patience with strangers when they fail to use discretion. Like the woman congregant I met at a church cookout. This was, still is, Aunt Mary’s church and I went there to see her and my cousins (as a bonus, I packed a plate of some wicked jerk chicken for Hubby). I showed up with Baby on my hip and at the time her eyelids were still a bit droopy. She still looked a touch Asian. When the woman saw us, she looked at the light-skinned, black-haired, round-faced child in my arms and blurted out: “She Chinese?!”

“Uh, no, ” I forced a cheerful grin, then told her that Baby’ father was white, not Chinese. I could tell that she didn’t mean any harm, wasn’t trying to be rude or aggressive, like that woman in the Times article. She quickly moved on to the real business at hand, which was cooing and playing with Baby just like all the other women who come under my daughter’s spell. In any case, she was almost as light as Baby. You want to tell me that she doesn’t have a white ancestor somewhere in her family tree? Wouldn’t it be a touch crazy for her to come at me about where such a light-skinned child came from? Thought so.

It sounds like the mixed couple in that story encounter a lot of foolishness from strangers, and I feel for them. People in the Northeast, especially, can come across as aggressive, callous and disdainful of others’ feelings in their drive to find something out or make a point. That’s the way over-achievers and big-city types can be at times, and you’ll run into plenty of people who make you think they should be under close supervision, with drugs, by a clinical psychologist. Add racial dynamics to the mix, and run-ins can be emotionally explosive.

Still, the people in that article are a family, not a side-show exhibit. They should be able to enjoy the beaches, parks and run errands without any hassles from undisciplined people and their unguarded remarks. Hopefully, people will learn to give them the respect and courtesy they deserve, as they learn the basics of how  genes and melanin are passed from a black mom to a biracial child.


The Upside of Being Different


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.


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.


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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New Poll: The Looks of Strangers

“You have a beautiful family,” the young girl told me quietly as we watched Hubby wrangle Baby in his arms. We were visiting the Pleasant Valley Lavender farm in New Jersey, when our visit had crossed over into her naptime. Hubby and Baby had been running—him chasing her, mostly—through the farm’s lush and sprawling front yard as she succumbed to the frenzy that precedes delicious sleep in kids her age. I thanked my hostess/lavender farmer, hoping that my heretofore playful toddler wouldn’t collapse into insanity and shatter the image of that dimpled, charming cherub that we had arrived with.

Reader, you have probably guessed correctly that the young lady was Caucasian. We didn’t have the kind of friendly history or time to start talking about modern family life in New Jersey. She just gave me a compliment about my family, and I took it, gratefully. When I say gratefully, I am consciously laying aside that fiercely independent Jersey attitude that doesn’t care who approves or disapproves of my personal choices. It is nice to be able do that, honestly. I don’t like to dwell on the angst of being different. Of being a Black woman whose schoolmates scorned her for ‘acting white,’ whatever that means. Blogs that wring their hands over the complexities of identity and belonging—and pick through the minutiae over matters like having servants—make my eyes glaze over with the same disenchantment that some bring to learning about mutual funds. I understand and respect why a blog that thoroughly explores such feelings might appeal to a certain market, but I do not always have the time or patience for such musings.

Just an hour before that young lady spoke to me, the women who ran the operation made Baby and I feel completely comfortable as Hubby went scouting for lunch further into town. They let us into their house to use their bathroom. They freely offered to let Baby play on the swing set in the back yard, and Baby got acquainted with the koi fish (I believe) that glubbed and glided through the  pond out back. When Hubby got back, we felt completely free to sit at the table on the far end of their yard and eat our food—all before we even bought anything. There must be many other great people, white people, in the world who hold nothing but benevolent curiosity about mixed families. It could stem from anything: a great-grandfather who worked as a missionary or in an oil field in Africa; an interest in family genealogy; an interfaith marriage that carries the same emotional stakes as an interracial one. It was a truly relaxing afternoon and was a credit to the open, friendly ways that you can still find amidst the sharp-elbowed striving so acquainted with living in the Northeast.

New Jersey, and the Northern part of the state, particularly, is a colorful jumble of cultures, languages, cuisines, fashions and creeds from many parts of the world. Differences ought to be celebrated, especially when they don’t cross over into dysfunctional. These days, when onlookers rest their eyes on Hubby, Baby and me for longer than a few seconds, I don’t reflexively feel uneasy about it. One day we will come across some oddball jerk who wants to make us feel strange and “unusual.” And when that day comes, believe me, I will spread on that special Jersey sauce. Thick.

Right now we’re moving through life like a kayak on a glass-smooth lake. No one bothers us, and if anyone glares at us as we make our way, I rarely notice.

Now the Law Professors Say ‘Marry Out’

This blog will never proselytize Black women to marry interacially. It is purely for entrainment purposes, and I Have no interest in getting into overly political discussions about who people should marry. It would be bad enough for me to come across like I defaulted to men outside my race because there weren’t enough Black guys to go around, however true or untrue that may be. Other patterns I’ve seen out there almost arrange guys into some kind of hierarchy where white guys are big hunting game.

Some bloggers, though, are all about it. Right now, they are probably feeling quite vindicated and gleefully tapping away about news of an upcoming book by Stanford Law School professor Ralph Richard Banks, which ultimately suggests that black women should shift the relationship power balance by considering interracial marriage. It’s titled: “Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone.” Banks’ book comes out in September, so I haven’t read a copy. (The Latte Cafe is not an official, accredited news/opinion outlet with a book review staff. Sorry.) The Root is a big enough organization for that, and you can find the review here.

This is an important development, whatever your views are about interracial relationships. It’s one thing for a clumsily worded blog to evangelize Black women to the ranks of interracial couples. But when a Stanford Law School professor puts his seal of approval on the idea? Well, now the concept has more credibility, a chance to go mainstream. Maybe Black women might finally listen. All the same, I’ll keep away from telling Black women to consider  marrying interracially like I have. As we all know, there are lots of examples of successful intra-racial marriages and long-term relationships. And if hordes of Black women would rather remain single than intermarry, what it is to me or anyone else?

Of course, Banks’ book has already stirred up a catfight on comment boards. But that’s probably only going to work in his favor and rack up hearty pre-order sales on Amazon. Good for him, I say. His ideas pose no real harm to anyone, and some people might even expand their minds. Plus, the older I get the more I love the idea of generating income independent of full-time job slavery.

Aside from the usual scenario playing out here—Black racial purists and Black men who feel slighted (for some odd reason) will complain about the book—I can’t envision any major social or cultural shift stemming from it. Most Black women want to marry Black men and that’s that. I’m sure Banks’ book is well-researched and well-written, but our general dating preferences will ensure that most of us stay single.


Product Review: Like—Don’t Love—Shea Moisture

Is there an unscented version?

I like this cream for from Shea Moisture, the Baby Head-to-Toe Ointment. I found it while strolling the aisles at Target for Pull-Ups and other Baby supplies for you-know-who.  😉  The cream is very rich, and when you do work it into little elbows, knees, heels and wintry eczema trouble spots, it does keep dry, ashy and scaly skin at bay. Moisture is very important for all skin types in the winter, not just on biracial and African-American kids.

I don’t love it, though, because I think the scent is too strong. Although Baby is all of 37 inches tall, it took more than a small amount to get it into her trouble spots, by the time I was finished applying it, she scent was almost overwhelming. I almost washed some off of her. And believe me, I didn’t slather it on her, either. Just a golden dollar piece sized amount, at the most. Also, even if I wanted to use more, I would be hard pressed. The cream itself is very thick, which is what you would expect from shea butter, and I just managed to wring a modest amount out of the tube as Baby skipped here and tottered there, waiting for me.

I wrote to the company, complimenting them on the product, and asking about an unscented version, but I got no reply. That was at least three weeks ago. Well, I went on their Web site, searching for an unscented alternative, and came up empty.  I did notice, after exploring their Web site, that Shea Moisture loads up almost all of its products with very richly scented exotic ingredients, like myrrh and frankincense. I didn’t do a thorough analysis, but I bet it’s safe to say that each product has no less than three very aromatic, pricey herbal ingredients.

Well, I need to keep Baby’s routine simple, for all of our sakes. She is a busy-body, two-year-old child who can’t sit still (I love it!) I have a demanding full-time job and long commute, and Hubby … he doesn’t care very much about this stuff. If I need to work late and leave Baby’s hair-and-skin care routine to him for the night, it needs to be simple, or it won’t get done. For now, I dilute the Shea Moisture Baby Head-to-Toe Ointment with an unscented baby cream from Aveeno. That combination works well, along with skipping a day or two of the Shea Moisture.

There you have it. I like it. I might try other Shea Moisture products, especially if commit to a strategy for going natural again, or at least texturizing.

Bussing on Valentine’s Day

A buss is still a kiss ...

I remember being a brash youngster in the 1980s. Wherever my friends I gathered—be it in our parents’ living rooms or in the church’s fellowship hall—we would engage in raucous sessions when we took light-hearted jabs at each other. They were like roasts, and we called the whole thing “bussing.”  I think it’s spelled that way, but who’s really the authority on urban slang from the 1980s?

Decades later, my inner literary geek took a much larger role in my life, thankfully, and I’ve taken to checking the Web site frequently, for the word of the day. (I even have the app on my iPod touch.) Wouldn’t you know it, but Sunday’s word was “buss,” as in “to kiss.”

The word bridges cultures in an interesting way, I think. First the word “buss” develops somewhere along the line in the English language and then falls out of popular use. Then a bunch of Black kids from north Jersey resurrect it, only they use it to express the way they sometimes rag on each other.

When I explained the word to Hubby this morning, we had to share a smooch in honor of our favorite noun of the moment. (OK, so we are both word geeks. There are worse things to be in life!) It is also perfect for St. Valentine’s Day. For all of today, therefore, and maybe a while afterward, Hubby and I won’t kiss like almost everyone else. We’ll buss instead.

Happy New Year!

I hope all you visitors had a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas and holiday season, and that the new year is off to a great start. This podcast is a departure from my normal way of doing things, but that’s OK. This is a simple way for me to do a quick blog update and I’ve done at least one before, on Nov. 14.

Honestly, I needed to take a break from the intense, on-the-grind pace I’ve been on for the past few weeks. We hosted Christmas, then we hosted a New Year brunch. We had two snowstorms here in the Garden State, and work has been as busy as ever.

Activity on the site dropped off a sheer cliff last month, because of my busy schedule. I’ll be happy to get back into a consistent blogging rhythm again. Aside from all of that, I like to think the podcasts keep visitors entertained and interested!

Here is a quick rundown of what I talk about in the next five minutes:

• Christmas at our house

• quick recaps of party discussions on race and interracial experiences

• a new Duncan & Paulette installment. If you’re not reading these contraband emails, you’re missing out. These people are leading interesting lives, and I’m trying to post as many messages as I can to catch up. All names have been changed to protect the innocent—and the notorious. To find the new installment, just look/scroll down. It’s called “Taking Shots.”

Happy New Year!

Enjoy the Mistletoe

One particularly enjoyable Christmas tradition involves hanging mistletoe. Apparently, English farmers gathered mistletoe in bunches and hung them up in doorways, or other spots, to give guys permission to kiss gals whenever they found themselves under it. Every time a couple kissed, the guy had to pick off one of the berries. Once the berries had all been plucked off, the kissing had to stop.

Wherever people find themselves this year, I hope all those loving Latte Cafe couples out there enjoy the perks of mistletoe this Christmas.

As for the rest of the calendar, and throughout next year, I hope they make time to give each other all the little smooches, hugs, kind words, encouragement and anything else that will keep their spirit of mistletoe ever blooming.

The Dinner Party

In about 24 hours, a lot of you will be gathering at the homes of family and friends for well-deserved long weekends, and an onslaught of richly prepared foods. If you are like my family, you’ll launch into a rollicking good time, loud enough for the neighbors to consider filing a noise complaint with the local authorities.

Perhaps someone should have called the Emily Post enforcement division many years ago after an early spring dinner party that Hubby and I attended when we were still dating. Hubby’s friends, Hannah and Anwar, invited four couples to their charming duplex in an old Brooklyn brownstone to eat and mingle. The place was splendid, with its fireplaces, beautifully maintained woodwork, original pocket doors, and very high ceilings.

They were gracious hosts, but some of their guests were … they were … oddballs. Aside from us, three other couples showed up: Athena and her French husband Etienne.  There was also Lois, a NUT, with her mellow Dutch husband Peter. Hannah and Anwar served a yummy mix of Moroccan and American food (Anwar is from Morocco). I think about that dinner party occasionally, but not always fondly. The fact that this was a very diverse group of people, with every couple being mixed across cultural, racial or religious lines was a big plus. It meant we might be able to talk about our common experiences and just have a good time being around others like us. Except for Hannah’s marriage, every other couple was an interracial one involving a European or white American man and a black woman. I was the only “fully” black woman, as Athena and Lois were both biracial. I think that in Athena’s case, her mother was Haitian and her father Greek.

Oddball behavior overshadowed the obvious opportunity for us to “swap notes,” on our experiences.
As we all know, strange behavior afflicts individuals of all creeds, races and cultures. 
Let’s talk about Lois.  I forgot her real name, and it’s probably for the best, because she is one of those irksome women who turn motherhood into a blood sport. At one point I said that I saw the movie “Boys Don’t Cry,” and that I liked it. To which she replied: “Well, obviously you don’t have any kids.” That was true. I had no kids at the time, but that’s because I chose not to be a single mother. If someone can please show me the connection between having a child and enjoying a movie for grown-ups, I’ll take back every dirty look I shot that woman and every insult I muttered about her that evening.  I repent of the fantasies about keying her car and her longsuffering husband dragging her out the door by her hair. Poor man.

Aside from Hannah, Athena saved the party.  She seemed very down to earth, did not carry on and on about the glories and agonies of parenthood that only someone who has been pregnant could possibly understand.  She just made witty conversation. Her husband also seemed nice, not puffed up or standoffish in any way. In fact, of all the couples there, I wish we could have carved out Hannah and Anwar and Athena and Etienne and ditched the others.

Sorry ladies. Life is long, and interracial and cross-cultural marriages sometimes come fraught with complications. My thinking is that unless you make the journey a more comfortable one for me, you’ve got to go.

I hope everyone out there has a great time this Thanksgiving, and that my story amused you. Make the best of the families you have, choose your friends very carefully and enjoy the rest.