Biracial Stories: She's the Mom, Not the Nanny

A funny thing happened on the way to the Starbucks a couple of weeks ago.  How could a woman, the mother of a five-month-old baby, be mistaken for that child's nanny? It's a colorful tale.

Several months ago, when my wife was pregnant, I was concerned by the comment an African-American co-worker made that even though I'm white and my wife is black, our child will be black.  This comment, and my subsequent post discussing it (, drew numerous comments regarding mixed-race children, raising multi-ethnic children in America, and the so-called One Drop Rule.

I read what I could on the various subjects and, at least, began to consider things that I had not even contemplated before.  Yes, I was naive to the "consequences" of having a mixed-race child, but the amount of research and writing on the subject somewhat overwhelmed me.  So, as we made our way through the pregnancy and the birth, and now almost five months into the child's life, nothing much significant has happened on the racial front quite yet...Unless, you consider somewhat comical comments and reactions people have when they see the baby and us or some combination of the three of us together.

To understand the comedy, you have to appreciate the importance of skin color.  Both my wife and I discussed and wondered what "color" this biracial baby's skin would be.  I am not what some would consider pasty white - I'd say I'm more Mediterranean and darker than some white people; and she is kind of medium brown - or as she describes herself, "mocha latte."

As for the baby's skin color after five months of her life, people say (yes, "people" know these things) that a biracial child's skin tone will have taken root.  However, as of now, you wouldn't know that this was a biracial kid.  She's as white as Dick Cheney.  Judge for yourself:

  "What a cute baby...What is she?"

Well, maybe some olive tones are in there, but you get my point.

A couple of weeks ago, a lady stopped me in the parking lot of my dry cleaners (Mister Swifty - I love the name of that place) as I was carrying Sasha inside and said, "What a cute baby, what is she?"  I truly thought she meant boy or girl.  I wanted to say, "Hey, idiot, do you think I'd dress a boy in a pink hoodie?"  But, rather, I just answered straight and polite, "She's a girl."  

The lady's response was, "No, I meant is she Irish or Italian?"  I didn't tell her she's a mixture of Jewish/Russian and black - I didn't think she'd be able to handle such a jolt early on a Saturday morning on the south side.  Nor did I feel like getting into that discussion with this woman, but you get the idea.

Recently, a relative saw the baby at a family function and said, for the third time over the past three consecutive months, "Boy, her coloring is really coming in now."  Again, what I want to say and what I actually say are inconsistent.  My audible, "Yeah, it sure is" didn't match my thought of "What color and what baby are you talking about exactly?  Her pink cheeks or the off-white color of her fingers?"  Let her think what she wants I suppose.

The take-the-cake example so far involves the question my wife was asked the other day as she rolled Sasha up to the Starbucks in her stroller.  (As an aside, mothers seem so proud when they walk with a new baby in the stroller, while dads seem kind of slumped over, eyes darting around to make sure no one who knows them catches a glimpse.)

A couple approached my wife in the Starbucks parking lot and the woman aked, "We've seen you in here a few times recently, do the baby's parents live in the neighborhood?" 

"I'm the mom."  Women can be cold and much scarier than men when crossed, especially when it involves family. It doesn't take a lot of words to make a point.

"Oh my God, I'm so sorry, I just thought ..."

"Mmmmm hmmmm."

And then they were gone up the street.  I think they're getting their coffee at another Starbucks these days.  But, my wife and I will still be there, along with our white/black/mixed/Italian/Irish/Russian/Jewish/Christian/African/ baby. 



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  • not surprised. Did you read my blog about when me and niece(who's Mexican) were at McDonald's when some guy walked up to her I asked her if she was okay. I know..people are so god damn stupid.

  • In reply to Evan Moore:

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I read most of your stuff, but don't recall that one. Liked your "pussification of America" comments. Stupid or not, we roll with the punches.


  • In reply to Evan Moore:

    Am i allowed to cross-reference threads or tell stories in another person's thread? Mr. Moore your story reminds me of when I, as a youth use to attend Black Hawks game in the old stadium. I would jump on the Madison street bus, my transistor Radio in tow, climb those stairs to see my beloved Hawks play at least 5-10 times a year. BOY, the stares I would get. Believe it or not I never had any real problem BECAUSE I Could always see security within 30 feet of me- All the time. 1- Black guy amongst thousands of white People, Yeah I was a threat-NOT!
    I eventually(through marriage) gained a cousin who's enthusiasm for the game, matched mines. 1-game we got a chance to go see the Montreal Canadiens! and we (actually had seats) often times my view of games were standing room only tickets. BUT- my Cousin lost the tickets, somewhere between the John and our seats. We were rousted by the Andy Frain for not having tickets. (DESPITE our Protestations), we were forced to stand and watch our seats go empty the entire game.

    As I got older, my love for the Hawks did not "Wane". I used to work for a Man who son had season tickets and I would often go to games with him. He was a bit of a jokester and once said- "You really stick-out", "aren't you worried about someone starting a fight with you"?
    I said-NOPE. I've been to Hawk games since I was old enough to come by myself and never had a problem, he said why? I said look over to our left(there was a Green Jacket Security). Then look over to our right- (another Green-Jacketed Security), then Look behind us(ANOTHER Green-Jacketed Security Person). And he couldn't help but LHAO! I said I've gotten this since I was a kid, coming here. You'd think I was wanted in 20 states...

    OH, I have a "mixed" niece. Whenever someone ask me-
    "what is she"? I say- "Pomeranian-Mix". They get that "Quizzical " look and I walk away...

  • Nice story thanks for reading my blog through John's blog. Yeah I do get some weird looks when I wear my hawks stuff. I've never received any bad comments about being a black man at a game. Minorities go to the games more than ever. I love it when people assume I know nothing about the game and I shock them by with my knowledge of the game.

  • Jon is right about the looks a child of mixed couple gets. When we were in Saugatuck Michigan, we stood out in a sea of white people. As we pushed our son around in a stroller, locals peered in to see the child. Some people lost there manners are were intrusive. I would say to them, "Don't worry, he is not striped."

    But Jon, being considered the nanny is not the worst. When my wife and I were in Bogata, people thought I was a pimp and she the call-girl (and said so). The worst we have experienced here was at a Target where a black woman chided my wife for marrying outside her color and scoffed at our baby. The cashier overhead the comment and called for security. We didn't feel the comment needed a retort because so many other shoppers were astounded by the woman's statement.

    Oh, Evan, I know how you feel. I used to wear a t-shirt that stated: Rodney King -An AmeriKKKan Injustice. I used to get plenty of comments about that. I would reply "You do realize your civil liberties are won and lost in cases like these." This statement usually went over their heads.

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    Women of color who are married to colorless men (er, white men) have unique situations with which they must contend on a frequent basis. From going shopping with their light-skinned children and being mistaken as their children’s nannies to disapproval or outright castigation when seen holding hands with their husbands, these women walk a path that is the fulcrum of societal evolution. We are at the tipping point that may lead us to greater understanding and acceptance of one another. Let’s take a closer look at this development in our culture.

  • In reply to Annie Nanny:

    Thank you for reading and thank you for the comment.

  • In some ways I think it's worse when the racial pairing goes the other way. I'm white, my husband is black and our daughter (especially the younger) are almost as lily white as I am. I've never been mistaken for the nanny, but I do worry about the day my husband is mistaken for a child abductor.

    BTW, your daughter is not a Christian, at least not yet. That's something she gets to decide for herself when she's old enough to understand what it means and the implications thereof.

  • In reply to Dienne:

    Thank you for your comments and for reading the blog. The religion aspect is a whole different discussion.

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    I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me. My daughter is biracial and I am very white (think Irish and German) I get questions all the time. What is worse--I am an older first time mother (39 when she was born) so if it isn't about me being the nanny, I get questions about being her grandmother. People need to think before they speak.

  • In reply to Jazzy Kat:

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree.

  • When my son was an infant, I had him in the stroller when a neighbor came up to ooh! and aah!. My son looked up with his clear blue eyes and there was a stunned "Mira sus ojos!" Yup, even people in the Latino community would wonder where I got the "white boy"?

  • In reply to LourdesSGuerrero:

    Thank you for reading and commenting. People say some crazy things no matter what the language.

  • It's strange how we have to classify our offspring into a racial category. I'm Hispanic the classic short height, black curly hair, with dark brown eyes. I'm Mexican from my mother, but the darkness comes from the Central American side of my father. My husband is Irish/German, he's a tall, pale skinned, hazel eye guy.

    Our children are fair skinned, light brown curly hair, with grey-blue eyes. Their Hispanic friends don't consider them Hispanic; their white friends don't consider them "White." My kids fit into each group separately.

    It's funny to hear my daughter's Black and Hispanic friends not believing she's Hispanic; they want to see her mom.

    I too had many eyes targeting me when I strolled them down the streets back in the late 90's. One person asked what I charged as a nanny. I laughed and told her ... these are mine.

    One woman commented on my toddler’s gorgeous curly hair, she asked, "Where did he get it from." I pointed to myself and said, "from mom."

    The added twist I had to deal with, I was an older mom, I was often asked if I was the grandparent.

    Thank God no one asked if the children were adopted, especially in front of them.

    The biggest question I have on forms, how you classify your child when you can select one choice. Hispanic or White?

    That's my biggest mystery.

  • In reply to binezbyrnes:

    Thank you for reading and for commenting. As an older parent, I'm looking forward to the "Are you the grandfather?" questions.

  • Thanks for sharing. I don't know if we fit into the definition of Biracial, but my wife and I are European-American and we have adopted several children who are 100% African-American, so maybe we are a biracial family. One time we were at the Museum of Science and Industry on a family outing and my daughter decided to throw a fit, as tired children are want to do. I was holding her hand and puling her along though on e of their cavernous halls as her cries and screams echoed off the cavernous walls. I was trying to be a dad, but I suddenly felt in the spot light. Do others wonder if I am an abductor? Thankfully, no one confronted us and order was restored.
    Occasionally I run across someone who feels they can denigrate a whole race of people and think that I am receptive to this opinion just because we share skin color. People use assumptions and generalizations to make sense of the world and to get through life but those assumptions also get us into trouble when we do not think through the implications. Some people are so self-centered and sheltered that they are just ignorant of other possible outcomes and therefore completely insensitive to other's feelings. OMG, what idiots!

  • In reply to Montague:

    Thanks for reading and commenting. It's amazing what white people will say to white people even if they barely know you.

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    In reply to John Chatz:

    I agree! I am a product of mixed ethnicity (Dad's from India, Mom's European/Jewish) and often encounter people trying to figure out "what I am". My kids' father is from India and my youngest looks 100% Indian. When he was 2 we were in Walgreen's. A woman felt compelled to commend me for adopting a child from India. I told her he was mine and she said, "It's ok, I adopted my baby from XXX". I repeated he was mine. I'm constantly reminded how quick people are to form opinions based on their perceptions. When I lived in TX, I was often mistaken for my kids' nanny. Go figure!

  • Nearly 41 now and was raised with an absent black father and the sweetest white mother a man could ever ask for. Much of my youth I fought my racial idnetity, living in 99.5% white neighborhood. When the n-word was used, I fought, yet I didn't know why. This is how much of my childhood and young adolescence was spent. I did have other mixed race friends, we looked like a box of crayons, judging by our skin tones.

    Fortunately, I have a chosen career that is in the public eye and I speak to groups of all ages. Part of my message always allows me share stories of my youth. Like, being afraid to bring friends home because I was worried if they learned my dad was black they wouldn't want to be my friends.

    So I felt invisible for years, so my racial identity has defined my life. I wouldn't change a thing. Your daughter is beautiful!


  • In reply to MadProud:

    Thank you for the comment and your thoughtful insight.

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    My husband and I are both white, and we get comments all the time, because while we both have brown hair, our kids both have bright red hair. Ever since the first was an infant several strangers have actually asked me if my husband was the father or not because he doesn't have red hair, sometimes in front of him! Imagine having the cheek! I guess it shows that people are rude, no matter what the skin color.

  • In reply to JenLong:

    Thanks for the comment. Many of the comments here support what you're saying, people will say just about anything, largely out of ignorance and insensitivity.

  • Biracial? I think the word is mulatto.

  • In reply to Jefferson1971:

    Yes. Thank you for dropping the politically correct liberal jargon.

  • In reply to Jefferson1971:

    I looked up "biracial," it's definition is pretty broad, "biological parents of two different ethnic identities."

    How was the term biracial classified as a black/white child.
    According to it's definition, a European and Hispanic child is consider biracial as well.

    But since biracal children are commonly known as a black/white, those children who are mixed race and not black are being called multi-racial children.

  • In reply to Jefferson1971:

    mu·lat·to: the offspring of one white parent and one black parent: not in technical use.
    Yep, I guess you're right, but I just don't hear that word used too much anymore.

  • In reply to John Chatz:

    Well, I certainly would not post false information. At least not knowingly. Not sure how old you are but there are a boat load of words this 40 year old uses, Oriental is another one, because I refuse to subscribe to the p.c. non-sense. Then again, mulatto, by its Spanish-based definition is really only applicable to black/white offspring. Presumeably because at one point in time that was the combination there was in Spain.

  • A cousin of mine goes through this with her two daughters. Cecily, who is Mexican and deeply olived-skinned, married a Swedish man; both their little girls have green eyes and very blonde hair. She's constantly being asked if she's the nanny. This has always hurt her since she is their mother, but I can understand people's natural curiousity. A lot of them lack tact so it can often come off a bit offensive.

    I myself am Mexican as well (100%) but am frequently asked my ethnicity because I don't fit the stereotypical "look" of a Mexican and am usually presumed to be Greek, Portuguese or an Asian/European mix.

  • In reply to Alythia:

    Thanks for the comment and your insight.

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    I don't care what race or nationality she is, she is GORGEOUS!

  • In reply to Jill Wenzel:

    Thanks for the compliment - fortunately she has her mother's genes.

  • Yes, mixed children are beautiful.

    Maybe that's why people need racial classification ... they're curious as to where the beauty come from.

  • About a decade ago, after inheriting five children after their mother died, I was in a grocery store with the youngest, who was three months old at the time. Let me mention that all of the children are biracial -- Irish/African American -- or, African American/Irish. Anyway, I was standing in the checkout lane with my baby in the cart, and several of the other children nearby, and a woman in the next lane started to make loud comments, which I will paraphrase, as they were too crude to include here, about how "white women," including myself, were "stealing" all of the good "black men" from the "black women." I came up with a lot of good responses in my head later, but at the time was nonplussed, shrugged, and kept my mouth shut. Classifications come from all over. The people who mouth off don't know you, don't know the situation, and it's none of their business. Explain NOTHING. Let them stew in their own juices.

  • You have a beautiful baby, but you forgot one designation when describing her ethnicity. What about American?

  • Never under-estimate the rudeness people are capable of ! I had an handicapped son and often total strangers would come up to us in the grocery store or mall and ask me what was wrong with him. He was in a wheel chair so it was pretty obvious that he had some problems. After a time, I developed a pat answer when one of these ignoramuses would not mind their own business...I would say "He is handicapped but at least he isn't rude". Shut them up fast!!

  • Great post John. There are a lot of truly ignorant people among us.

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