When I imagined my daughter before she was born, I saw her with dark skin and light eyes. Instead she came out light-skinned with dark eyes. The complete opposite. I didn’t brace myself for the reality of this possibility— the possibility that my biracial children could have skin as light as my husband, who is white, and not look anything like me at first glance. I knew it could happen. I just didn’t think it would.
I grew up in the south, where racial issues were still tense and the predominant races were black and white and kids were forced to choose sides. It wasn’t as obvious as captains choosing kids for their kickball team, but it was noticeable, and people would call you out for it.
The black kids hung out with the black kids and the white kids hung out with the white kids. And if you crossed the line in the sand, you were considered a traitor of your own race. Blacks who had white friends were nicknamed “Oreos” and whites who had black friends were called “Wiggers.” The terms still disgust me.
So much in our world is black or white. The gray area is gone. This goes for race too. Especially in our country, where many are so quick to call President Obama “Black,” even though his mother is white. I’ll admit I do it. I also cop to being one of the women who was angry when Tiger Woods corrected people for calling him “the first Black golfer to be #1,” insisting he was the first Thai/Black. Why was he ashamed to be called black? I wanted to know. My husband took the opposing stance. Why should he denounce his mother’s side of the family because society says he has to choose?
Back then, there were no if ands or buts about it for me. My children would choose. And they’d choose their black side. Because that’s what they’d look like, and that’s what society would label them. This thinking fell in line with The One Drop rule I grew up hearing my parents talk about a rule created decades ago to prohibit interracial marriages. In Virginia, the Racial Integrity Act defined a person as black if the individual had any African ancestry, or one drop.
The term recently was brought to the forefront of celebrity gossip news amidst Halle Berry’s child custody case with Gabrielle Aubrey over their daughter, Nahla. In an interview, Berry told Ebony Magazine: I feel like she’s black. I’m black and I’m her mother and I believe in the one-drop theory, she said. “I’m not going to put a label on it, I had to decide for myself and that’s what she’s going to have to decide how she identifies herself in the world. And I think, largely, that will be based on how the world identifies her. That’s how I identified myself. But I feel like she’s black.”
Most gossip magazines have conveniently left out a majority of that quote, simply saying that Halle Berry insists Nahla is black, allegedly against the will of the child’s father, whom media reports say wants his daughter to be recognized as white. But I think Halle’s opinion is much more nuanced and, as the mother of a child who is both black and white, I identify and agree with what she’s saying.
I admit: I used to think that if a child of mine claimed to be “mixed” instead of black, that child would be taking a shot at me, as if it wasn’t a good thing to be called what I’m called. But then my daughter was born. Her skin as light as my husbands and eyes as dark as mine. She’s a beautiful mix of both of us. And when I look at her and consider who she is and her feelings for both her father and me, I think that making her choose one side my side seems wrong.
She’ll grow up facing questions I never had to deal with the oh-too-common “what are you?” question will come up on the playground time and time again. While I’m sure no harm will be intended, I certainly can understand how my daughter would feel embarrassed. I would think it simply rude. The more multiracial people I meet, though, the more I’m hearing they eventually got used to the questions, and would just smile and explain.
I don’t know what it’s like to be biracial, but I’ve met some who’ve told me they felt like they had to choose a side in order to fit in, or feel accepted by family members or social groups. A section of this TIME article calls this the “forced-choice dilemma.” It goes on to say that these days, mixed-raced children don’t feel the need to choose a side but share their background with pride. I’m sure that with Census Bureau stats predicting that by 2050, minorities will be the majority with the number of mixed-race children on the rise, the forced-choice problem will be a dying dilemma.
I’ve decided to squash it at my house.
I may choose my daughter’s dinners, wardrobe, and even try to choose her social circles; but today I’ve decided I won’t make her choose my race over her own. Now if she chooses her dad’s over mine on her own, there will be some problems. But I’m just going to pray we can raise her in a way that will make her proud of and claim both of her races.
On the air, Jennifer Johnson delivers the news to the great people of the Lone Star State. Off the air, she’s a new mom and wanna-be Domestic Diva. She started documenting her journey through motherhood long before the baby was in the picture and has since blogged for Conceive Magazine, Parenting.com˜s Project Pregnancy, and Bravado Design’s Breastfeeding Diaries. Her journey began and continues on her blog Baby Making Machine.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.