I’m sitting at work the other day and one of my co-workers calls and we start talking about my wife’s pregnancy. “How’s she feeling? Are you doing ok? How are all the kids taking it? Have you picked out names?” Etc., etc. This is a female co-worker and to me its an odd thing how women feel no hesitation to ask personal questions whether they know you well or not. Guys don’t do this. My male co-workers and friends barely bring the pregnancy subject up. When they do, it’s more in the form of sympathy for my perceived plight than anything else. They’d rather talk about the Blackhawks anyway, and so would I.
I digress. During the female co-worker’s question and answer session with me (I’m going to call her Tricia), she asked if we had picked out names yet and I told her not yet and that I didn’t know the sex of the baby, but that we had talked about some possibilities. I do know Tricia fairly well so her questions really didn’t bother me. I remember she asked me if I liked Elliot as a boy’s name? (I actually do.) And then, when I made a joking comment to Tricia (a black woman) that Elliot is a very “white” name, she said, “You know, your baby is going to be black.”
On cue, I responded, “No way. She’s light-skinned and I’m well, you know. So black isn’t possible.”
“I’m not talking about that,” Tricia answered. “In the eyes of society, your child will be black.” In the seventh month of the pregnancy, I admit that I haven’t given this concept much thought whatsoever. Of course my wife and I have discussed having a biracial or mixed race child and we have discussed raising a child with a Jewish father and a gentile mother. We’ve talked about the best places to live and raise our child. But, we’ve never talked about having a black child.
Tricia, who is married to a black man and has two daughters, had previously explained to me, before my wife was pregnant, that she named her daughters Kate and Andrea so that when the classroom teacher is calling attendance or the admissions staff person is looking at the application, there won’t be an immediate assumption that the children are black. “Makes sense,” I thought then, but sad as well.
What happened to the concept of a biracial or mixed race child? I wondered. Tricia continued, “You can call the child biracial, but everyone will think of her as black. It’s not like how your people determine if the child is Jewish based on the fact that the mother is Jewish. If one parent is black, the child is black. That’s just how it is.”
I tried to find some clarification of this concept on a variety of websites, but I kept getting directed to forums where the topic was “White Father, Black Mother and their Children” or something similar. In all of those sites, the topic went from the color of the child’s skin – apparently the consensus is the skin will be whiter if the mother is white – to the racists who declare interracial marriage appalling and the resulting offspring as disgusting.
To me, this is not and never has been a skin tone issue, but an identification question. How will a child, raised by a black mother and white father identify him/herself? I intend to work on this question so that I’m not caught off guard in another conversation on the topic, and so that I can provide insight when necessary.
To that end, it was curious to see the position taken by the National Association of Black Social Workers which has argued that biracial children should be treated as completely black. Consistent with this view, courts and adoption agencies usually categorize biracial children as black when considering placement. The primary justification for this treatment is that, in the eyes of American society, a biracial child is black and, therefore, must identify positively with being black and must be able to cope with discrimination toward her as a black person. … As a result, the NABSW concludes that when an adoption or custody proceeding concerns a biracial child, a court or adoption agency should favor placing the child with Black parents.
The more I looked into the issue – talking to people and reading what I could find – the more it seemed that Tricia was right. And, I started to think that I must be some kind of fool to have not even considered this before my recent conversation. Perhaps my foolishness is based on the fact that race really doesn’t matter to me while it still does matter to a significant segment of our society.
I have heard President Obama refer to himself as a “biracial black man.” That is his conclusion, his characterization and, as such, should be good enough for the rest of us. But, with race and the difficulties that people have in discussing the issues and accepting each other, nothing ever seems “good enough.”
As the future parents of a biracial, multiracial, mixed, black/white, or “whack” (I made that up) child, it will be our job to create some kind of foundation and hope that the child grows up confident and secure with whatever he/she sees in the mirror and feels inside. To help that process, I intend to rely on my instincts, research, conversations, and experience. I also intend to stay off internet forums.
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