My Son Thinks I'm White


Being ethnically ambiguous in 2011 is not as easy as it looks. Living in what some have deemed a “post-racial” society, it seems a mixed person would have it made. Technically I was born post-racial, right? Except our society is, of course, not post-racial. There are more mixed people and multi-racial families than ever yet systematic racism and ethnic insensitivity are still painfully prevalent in this country and beyond. As someone who is not easily identified as one particular race, the world is sometimes like a raging sea of unspoken assumptions, judgments, and misunderstandings. Some days I enjoy it, surfing on the waves of all this subconscious chaos—carried by my racial anonymity and nuanced cultural understanding. Other times I just need a rest from it all. What’s a mixed girl to do?

While I struggle to maintain a delicate balance, straddling the unwavering color lines, there is one person who is crystal clear about my identity. That person is my son. He is certain that I am white. I found this out a few years ago. He was six and watching the power rangers on television. The conversation started like this:

“Mommy, I wonder what color the power rangers are underneath their suits. I bet they are brown like me.”
“You mean brown like us?” I asked
” No, brown like me,” he laughed, “you are white!”
“What?? No, I’m not and this is why…” I began.

I am not sure what startled me the most, the fact that he was convinced that I was white, or the fact that he had thought this through so thoroughly. As it turns out, he had independently developed his own system for the categorization of brown people in his environment. He also considers light complected black people such as himself to be “brown” a mix black of and white. Those who are brown-skinned and darker he considers “black”. My color and lighter? White.

When I was a kid, my parents could have told me they were actually green, of Martian descent, and I would have believed them. This is despite them not actually being green and Martians not actually existing. I thought of my grandmother, the subject of James McBride’s book The Color of Water. Although she was a Polish immigrant, she told her 12 biracial children that she was merely “light-skinned”. They believed her. Heck, I assumed she was black until I was twelve. Yet here I am, mixed for real, with a son who had already written his own racial narrative for me. I even tried to break down the whole one-drop rule, the history of slavery and civil rights just to give him a better understanding. He was not hearing it. His answer:

“Listen, mom. Just because your dad is black, and your brother is black, and you have black family doesn’t mean you’re not white, mom. I mean look at you. White.”
Then he held his forearm next to mine and said, “See? Not the same.”‘

Yes, he is a few shades darker, just a few though! At this point I was little bit stunned that my child had been keeping tabs on the slight variance in our skin color.

What is the moral of this story? Apparently children don’t play that one drop stuff, at least not mine. No matter what complex cultural theory or reality I present him with, as a child it is all just skin deep to him, and there is no convincing him otherwise. I suppose it is somewhat normal, I mean, all mothers debate the politics of their racial identity with their six-year-olds right? No? Ok, perhaps this might be unique to the ambi experience. There is something to be said for this child-like minimalism. If only it were that simple. Perhaps one day it will be, but until then I will remain, just another ambi girl in this clear-cut world. The struggle continues.

Follow Lauren McBride on Twitter.

Image via WilleeCole/

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