Monday, October 10, 2016

Ethnic Ambiguity

My little, tiny guy--the one who is in the 1% for length and the 2% for weight (but he started off the charts teeny so we're not worried)--is biracial. His mama is white and his dad is black. Knowing this, I always assumed that Will would be darker than he is. Oh, sure, he could get darker but all the ways I know of predicting his future tones point to him being pretty fair. I knew he'd never be as dark as Matthew whose parents are both black, but I assumed he'd look, well, blacker. I hoped he'd be darker. Being a mixed kid growing up in a white home will probably have Will identifying more with his white roots in the first place. I don't want him to blend right in and not look black because I want him to embrace all of his heritage, to celebrate everything that makes him who he is. When his straight black hair grew into soft brown curls, I rejoiced. When he got just a little darker than when he was born, I celebrated.

Troy and I have laughed over a scene from Parks and Recreation where Rashida Jones's character, Ann, is referred to as being ethnically ambiguous. Rashida, in real life, is black, Welsh, and Ashkenazi Jewish and totally one of the most beautiful people on the planet. No. Really.

On the show, I don't believe that her ethnicity is discussed. At least, not beyond her being referred to as ambiguous. It's true that Jones could probably pass for Latina, Middle Eastern, black and white, or a handful of various ethnicities. And I wonder if that will be Will.

When Matthew was born and in the seven subsequent years since, everyone asked if he was adopted. No one asks me if Will is adopted. That makes me sad. Not because I enjoy answering everyone all the time. Not because I like questions such as, "Where did he come from?" and, "What happened to his parents?" But, because I want to embrace all of who he is and that includes his birth family. I don't want people to see our family out and about and just assume that Will is white as can be. I want him to BE white AND black. Because he is.

On Saturday, I took the boys to sell popcorn for cub scouts. Will went with us and did his best to help with the sales. Here's how he looked.

At one point, my friend, Morgan, was holding Will. From across the parking lot, a black lady came walking briskly. "Does he have red hair?" she asked. "Is he a red head?" She came right up to him. Morgan and I, slightly confused by her enthusiasm, glanced at each other. 

Morgan answered, "" She ran her fingers through his hair. 

"Oh! He looked like a redhead from across the parking lot. Can I hold him?" this caught me off guard because I had literally known this woman for two seconds. 

Morgan said, "You'll have to ask mom." She pointed at me.

"Oh, YOU'RE his mom," she said and turned to me. "Where's his dad?" I must have looked confused because she followed that question up quickly with, "He's mixed. Dad is black, right?" Listen, I could have thrown my arms around this stranger right then and there.

I wanted to yell, "YES! HE IS! THANK YOU FOR NOTICING! THANK YOU FOR KNOWING. YOU HAVE JUST MADE MY DAY!" But I did not do that because, at this point I had known this woman for approximately fifteen seconds and I have boundaries. Instead I kind of stammered, "Oh. Yes, actually. We're adopting him but, yes, his dad is black and his mom is white."

"I knew it!" she said. "Look at those curls." She proceeded to tell me that her sister had placed a baby for adoption. She thanked me for stepping in and adopting him and while I appreciate the sentiment, especially coming from the aunt of a child who was placed, I always want to tell people that the pleasure and the joy is entirely mine and that, really, my kids should have some kind of trophy or medallion for putting up with me.

Matthew walked up and so I put my hand on his head and said that he was mine too. Then Garrett interjected, "So am I!" 

"This is your real son. I can tell," she said. And because she was being so nice and friendly and was probably just commenting on the fact that Garrett is my twin separated by 25 years, I simply said with a smile, "This one is biological and these two are adopted." I left out the part about how all three of them are quite real. None of them need to be plugged in at night in order to achieve the lifelike ability to move and breathe and soil a diaper. My excitement over her knowing that my kid is biracial outweighed my desire to work, in that moment, on changing the terminology and verbage surrounding adoption.

Here's a close up of Will with my parents last week. He's black and white and teeny tiny and full of life and joy and energy. He melts my heart to a pile of mush. He may be a little ethnically ambiguous but, apparently, the trained eye will rush across a parking lot to squeal over my mixed kid.


  1. Not really related at all, but everybody used to think Lucy had some red to her hair. It isn't beyond the realm of possibility I suppose, except I don't think Matt nor I have a single red-headed family member. She had a red car seat that she basically lived in, so I think the light just bounced off her her seat and made her hair seem reddish because at this point (and since she's had hair at all after that initial dark hair at birth that fell out right way thing) she's a total toe-head.

  2. Yes! The "real" thing makes me bristle so much.

    I would like a banner to wave too that says "white kids need to be adopted too". People are always so shocked that our youngest (Caucasian to her sister's bi-racial mix) is adopted.

  3. He's adorable! I think he looks like John Legend. 💙