When my son was born, he came out looking more like a bird than anything else. Then the questions began, “Who did he look like?”, “Whose features did he have?” For me, as long as he had my brain then I was satisfied. But, little did I know this 5-pound preemie would constantly remind me of how color-driven our world is.
It didn’t matter that I was Black and he was half White. He was my child and he would be a testament to how far we have come as a nation. Well, so I thought.
And, then it happened…
I was standing in line with my 1-year-old on my hip when a lady passing by stopped and stared. I could feel her eyes on us, and I nervously smiled. After an intense five second staredown, she excused herself for gawking and commented, “He’s so cute! Are you the nanny?”
At that moment, I didn’t know how to feel. I had readied my mouth to say thank you. But, then her question hit me, and I didn’t know what to think or say. I suddenly felt like I had to justify my son’s genetics to a random stranger and even worse explain to her why I was not the nanny. A mix of random emotions started to build within me, but she, on the other hand, calmly waited for my response. As I mounted my comeback, laughter, anger, sadness, and a heap of sarcasm started to creep in. So, to spare her the colorful response I was mounting, I just smiled and nodded “Yes”. Then walked out of the line and out of the store.
That was the first time my son, and I were “confronted” about our differences, and it wouldn’t be the last.
The more my son grew, the more we did look different. His hair is curly, mine much more coarse. I’m three shades darker, with black hair and dark brown eyes. He’s a caramel shade with brown hair that glistens with streaks of red in the sun. What the world doesn’t see is how we laugh in synchrony at silly faces, or how our personalities are uncannily similar.
Instead, what the world sees is the color mismatch. A discrepancy that they have to rationalize as me being the hired help.
The race issue hit an unusual and unfortunate high last summer.
I registered my son for a science-based summer camp in a very posh, affluent suburb of DC. The first day, I quickly dropped him off, signed the necessary paperwork and went to work. But, the pickup was a moment I’ll never forget. My son was in an intense conversation with another camper and didn’t see me approach the sign-out table. I signed next to his name, looked at my phone to check the time, and looked up to see a boy being pushed in my direction. The boy smiled, I smiled, and we both stood there for an awkward moment. The counselor had color matched us. And, the boy standing next to me, in her mind, was my son. He was as confused as I was and turned with tears welling up in his eyes. “She’s not my mom!”
Immediately embarrassed, the counselor, quickly asked me, “Which one is yours?” To which I responded, “The one with the curly hair.”
And, at that moment, I realized that human beings innately look for similarities. I couldn’t fault the lady in the store, or the camp counselor, or the other dozen people who have questioned my maternity. They did what we’ve all done, at some time or another — they tried to color match.
But, as biracial kids like my son grow up and redefine what skin colors parents and their kids “should” have, it is important for us to remember that it is possible for a mother and her child not to share any physical traits. This doesn’t mean that they’re not related, instead it points to the unshakable bond that goes well beyond any color match our eyes can perceive. At the end of the day, I’m proud to be his mom. And, if that means people stop and stare, contemplate for a bit, and then work up the courage to ask me if I am the nanny, then that’s okay. Now, I just make sure my response is neither apologetic or confrontational but always with a tinge of sarcasm when I say, “I’m his mom, and I have a cool scar to prove it!”
About the Author
Llacey Simmons is a proud mom of a multilingual preschooler. She spends her days as an academic tutor and her nights researching the latest tools to help her some conquer the Chinese and Arabic languages. She runs the informative blog, Our 21st Century Kids to give other monolingual parents support throughout their language learning journey.