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 (http://www.chicagonow.com/its-never-just-black-and-white/2011/11/im-a-white-man-and-my-child-will-be-black/), 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 ..."
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.