A Half-Breed Is a Dog: What Not To Call My Biracial Child

By Jennifer Johnson

I strolled around the grocery store with my daughter’s car seat wedged in the shopping cart. Normally I’d carry her in my wrap but she was sleeping peacefully and I didn’t want to wake her. I was going to get that rare opportunity to shop for what I needed without interruption.

I’m used to the usual reactions to traveling with a baby: longing looks. Big smiles. And the extremely intrigued, who will stop me and ask about my baby. But the reaction I got this time as I made my way back to my car after my shopping trip was a first, and, hopefully a last.

An elderly woman, much shorter than me, came closer. I had the car seat shade pulled down partly to cover my baby’s face from the sunlight, partly to shield her from people who say things like this woman was about to say to me.

“Can I see?” The woman pointed to my baby hidden below her cover.

Normally, I’m more than excited to show her off, but she was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake her. I hesitantly pulled the shade back to let her see my sleeping beauty.

“Oh, she’s a half-breed,” she said so matter-of-factly.

I couldn’t have heard her right. I must have misunderstood. “What?” I asked with a half chuckle, trying to mask my extreme shock.

“A half-breed,” she repeated.

I had heard right. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything. And she didn’t stop talking.

“Oh, it’s ok I have a couple of my own.”

While she blabbed on, I tuned out. Had to. Was she talking about people or animals? She couldn’t have been talking about my baby. Could she?

I didn’t say another word. I couldn’t find words to say to her didn’t even try. I was too offended to speak. As she continued with her one-sided conversation, I tried to wrap my brain around it as I got my groceries and baby or is she a dog to some? into the car. The words burned deeper into my memory. I was fuming. Mostly angry with myself for not having a better comeback on hand.

My husband commented to me the other day about how when we were together before our daughter came along we got some stares, but now it’s multiplied by a thousand. I don’t think they’re stares of “How could they?” as much as they are “Aw, look at that cute interracial family.” At least that’s what I tell myself.

Clearly, though, what I think  and believe isn’t necessarily going to be the same for others. I’ve run into similar nicknames like this in the past when people aren’t sure what to “call” me do they call me “Black?? “African American?” “Negro?” “Colored?” So I knew my biracial child would face the same questions even more so. But I had no idea it would start so soon. And that people would be so cavalier about it.

I told my husband what had happened when I got home and he wasn’t as upset as I had expected. As I had hoped. It made me doubt my emotions and question myself. Am I overreacting? Should I just brush it off and go on with my way? Is it just my mama bear instincts to protect my child from ignorance?

No.

I knew things wouldn’t be perfect. I thought we might run into issues from time to time. But I prayed the world had gotten better. I pray it’ll get better. And I hope I can think on my toes next time someone calls my daughter something so derogatory and base to put them in their place.

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.

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Denene Millner

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.

19 Comments

  1. I know you didn’t say anything because you feel you couldn’t come up with something, but sometimes silence will teach our children a greater lesson. I pray to God that nobody says that again, when she’s older, but unfortunately, we all know it will. People say the darnedest things. I want to teach my family to walk tall and proud–with great confidence amid the insecurities of this world. Not only are we interracial, but we are a family built through adoption so we get some of the craziest things. You are not alone.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story. First, you are not over-reacting. Tune into your inner mama bear and react when needed.

    I have two beautiful biracial little girls and folks have asked all kinds of questions, but I haven’t had anyone try to describe them for me. I, too, didn’t have a pithy comeback when people first started asking questions. I’m not sure one is needed, but I think there is a way to let people know they have overstepped their bounds.
    I have walked away from people, and I have had my children wave bye-bye to them. In this case, you were at the trunk of your car. She had you pinned. This is the way I see it. After my feelings have been hurt, I no longer have to be nice to you. It’s easy for me to say/write this now, but here’s a suggestion. Next time put your baby in her car seat, turn on the car ignition or whatever to heat or cool the car, return to your groceries. If elderly woman still hasn’t got the point, interrupt her, tell her you really want to get those groceries in the car and get home before the baby wakes, put your stuff in the trunk, slam the door and say bye.
    I have to say I wanted to know what she meant about having a “couple of my own.” I mean, was she talking about her grandchildren? If so, why does she think it’s okay to call them that? My goodness.

  3. I feel for you. What you may have thought of as a lack of pithy comeback was more likely your natural grace and strength shining through. There’s a lot to be said for teaching our kids to pick their battles. Some kinds of thoughtlessness are better left ignored in silence than dignified or validated with an actual response. Far better to go about our very ordinary but very wonderful lives.

  4. I think your lack of response was the best thing. I say that as the Black mother of 2 biracial kids, my eldest being 19. In 19 years of parenting I have received a lot of looks and heard a lot of things that have made my blood boil.

    I will say especially with older people, not that I give them a pass but I am inclined to see them as victims of their generation and either ignore them or nicely explain such language is not appropriate.

    Like another poster said you handled this with grace and strength.

  5. I don’t really think there is anything you could have said to that person, and I hope you don’t let what she said to you dim your inner light. There is so much ignorance out there – and not to mention dementia, mental illness, etc.). My grandmother is 80 and more and more has been saying strange and even offensive things about people of other races and nationalities. It is futile to dispute with her; sometimes she’s like a radio tuned into AM 1940 instead of 2011.

  6. I think I may have said, “No, she’s one of those new ‘designer’ children. We had to pay a lot of money for her,” but then again I can be a smart-ass sarcastic bitch. Saying nothing was probably best!

  7. Yes, there is something she could have said. The only way to deal with ignorance is to educate. To know better is to do better. I would have told her straight out “Refering to my child as a half-breed is a derogatory. That is used when referring to dogs. My child is no dog. And I am offended by your statement. My child is biracial. No worries, I forgive you!” And I would have ended it with a smile and told her to have a good day. Hopefully the shame that she would have felt would make her think about her ignorance.

  8. I am also the proud mother of a biracial child. My son is so much lighter than me that most people don’t even assume that he’s mine. But if some lady referred to him as a half-breed, I would have educated her right then and there. I know some people are just ignorant and not really trying to be insulting, but when it concerns protecting my son, I would have said what needed to be said. I use moments like this to educate people, because I think that is the only way things will ever change… Great post!!!

  9. Wow. The things people have the nerve to say. Of course you were not over reacting. You felt offended simply because you want to protect your child from hearing or experiencing those types of things.

  10. It is a teachable moment, especially with people from an older generation. The things that have been said about our mixed race baby have made me shake my head. The most offensive was when I was breastfeeding him in a coffee shop while hanging out with some friends and someone came over while he was on the boob to ask if he was mine. I kept my cool since I was feeding but was so angry with the insinuation that I could be his wet nurse… but you also know the “nanny” stigma of mixed racial parenting.

  11. I’m light~skinned and have a dark~skinned child and was asked by a woman, “Isn’t she too dark to be yours?” Yes, people are incredibly insensitive, some are just rude and others don’t know any better. Being angry and being silent is sometimes the best approach. No matter how good flipping out may have felt, it probably wouldn’t have accomplished anything. I’m sorry that you had to go through this and I’m sorry that your child will probably encounter more of this nonsense.

  12. I have read this article not just once, twice or three times. My blood pressure is off the wall and I can’t believe this…I had to re-write this several times to edit and censor my words ….I will say that I am proud and that I had something that has happened to me recently that I am so upset still…..

    I am so proud of these responses and the response the author gave…Sometime silence is the biggest and best response a person could ever give. Today, this day in age we have people going to the moon, people able to walk with robotic legs, blinding diseases being able to be cured, a black president, cell phones that are little computers and internet and people are still referring to person(s) as a half-breed or worse or equally bad.

    I am the most palest person you will ever meet. If you turn the light off you can use me as a night light I glow so bad and I travel in regions that may have the reputation to be rude to someone that is different…..When I am there I get so freaking mad when I see this or hear about this. It takes me so much to not scream at these people wake up….or do something like shaking them out of their narrow minded view. I know a lot of it that I have seen have come from the generation of my grandparents who were raised in this type of ignorance….But, this is not right or acceptable to me no matter what the reason or “excuse” may be….

    I live in a part of my state where majority of the population is either white or people moved the U.S. for a better life. You think having a large immigrant population that this would make the culture here more tolerant of this. It doesn’t… to the point of where I am shocked. I so miss living in a big city where I am not considered the majority or the norm….where I have witnessed less of this type of thinking.

    Okay everyone go get a cup of coffee and tissues:

    One day, my oldest son and I were having a Mommy and Me day lunch together at my son’s favorite sit down eatery …. My son and I were done eating and we went to go pay …. My son asks me a question out loud about an elderly couple sitting at a table we passed. I think the youngest was prob late 80’s. My son loudly asked me why those brownies are called Negro?” I wasn’t shocked…. I was upset and ticked off. My son said he saw me turn read immediately and said he knew he was in trouble. I stopped talking to the cashier and looked at him and said. “Hunny Brownies are a snack you eat. Negro’s is not a word, it is an ignorance that an evil group of people (who now are on the bad side of Jesus) thought was an acceptable term to call someone who they thought were beneath them. And hun…they are called Human Beings like you and I…” I knew the couple had heard his question, because everyone was looking at my son and the lady looked mortified. My son told me where he heard that term and something else and I cut him off and said “I will discuss this with you later when its the right time.” I leaned down looked right into his eyes at his level and I said. “If I ever hear you say a word that you don’t know what the meaning is or say something hurtful about anyone then you will learn what the term tanning your hide behind the shed means… I still have to pay for our meal. While I am paying I would like you to go up to that couple and you introduce yourself to them. Then you will say you are sorry ( with meaning ) for saying a naughty and hurtful word. Please ask them for their forgiveness. I want you to then ask to shake their hand like a gentleman.” And my son did it with tears in his eyes….I think he realized what he had done. The eldery couple both leaned over and gave him a huge hug and gave me a silent thank you….. Since then he has never done that and he has shown more respect to people that don’t look or act like him.

    Since then I have not been to that cafe. And my son now knows to wait to ask a question in the correct setting and to ask what a word means before he uses it. I also found out who had said that in front of my child and have told them I am upset and what had happened and I have cut ties off with this person.

    I swear to God I know he didn’t know what he was saying it and I know I shouldn’t have been so mean and explosive about it. But, I am a believer that you need to cut off the problem when it starts….or before it starts.

    Sigh….I am sorry for all the babble and spelling mistakes and grammer mistakes….

    Shannon

    • Love it! That’s how you teach a lesson. My parents would do stuff similar to me too when I was little (except I never said the word Negro I said the word bast*** at the dinner table.) I’ll never forget it either. O.o Since i was home I DID learn what tanning your hide meant. Btw I’m in a biracial relationship (have been for a year 1/2) and we know how the stares go. I’m in the middle of writing a paper about biracial relationship, and why are ppl racist against us if we make up over 7% of marriages in America so some of this is cited and out in there ^_^

  13. Im a mom of a beautiful biracial child, She is 22 now. When she was a baby i had this same fear of something like this happening to us when we are out somewhere but all we ever got were stares… i guess people in my area are more accepting of this then most others are i dont know. Everyone that i come in contact with and show pictures of her to them they always tell my i have a beautiful daughter.. shes so pretty. All i can offer you is to hold your head high and be proud of your child and try not to let other people get to you with their comments and whatnot. Love her for who she is and teach her right and she will be fine.

  14. Great post Jennifer! This is something that needs a lot more talking about and I’m so glad you shared! I’m going to share this too. What that woman said is disgusting! I’m so sorry for the ignorance that you have to deal with and I pray everyday that it will become less and less common as we shift toward more interracial families in America!

  15. Not to excuse what she did and I don’t know just how old she was (her race and where in the US she comes from) but perhaps she’s from another era where it was not such a big deal to say something like that to another person. Maybe this was a common expression of her time and wasn’t considered insulting. Obviously, in today’s world it would be considered racist and very, VERY rude. Nobody in their right mind would dare say something like that unless they had cruel intentions of hurting a person’s feelings. I think your response of not saying anything was appropriate, I mean, she’s an old lady after all and has two bi-racial children so I assume she’s not racist. Replying in anger and in the heat of the moment, you might have said something you’d later regret. After having thought it over with a cool head, next time, you’d know how to address it. But hopefully, there won’t be a next time!

  16. I too have felt the same sting of a surprise insult delivered underhandedly. Often in public with my 8-year-old biracial granddaughter (whom I have parented since she was two), we are used to getting compliments about her beauty, particularly her long, thick, wavy brown hair; so much so that it has become commonplace. Out shopping, a white woman noticing her biracial looks started a conversation with me and caught me off guard with a disparaging remark. I was expecting the usual.
    “Is she your granddaughter?” the woman asked smiling, friendly.
    “Yes, she is.” I replied.
    “Cute! She’s got a lot of hair. I’ve got one at home just like her . . . with hair just like hers, only worse.” I reacted the same way you did. I felt like I should have corrected her but did not. I wanted her to know that I don’t consider kinky or curly hair as being bad or worse. I realize that she shares a very common and ignorant view that anything authentically African in nature is less than good; bad or worse. Keep your guard up, seize the teachable moments, and have compassion for the unenlightened.

  17. I am Chinese and black. I have been called a half breed, hybrid, chinegro, blackinese, you name it I have been called it. I am not a dog or a car or a negro First of all. I have come to realize that people are very ignorant. They don’t think before they speak. The kicker for most people is that my father is Chinese, not my mother as the usual sterotype goes. I get asked all the time “how the hell did that happen” and I ask myself ” how the hell did I not just loose my cool and beat the stupid out of you?” but I think to myself man this person has a lot of nerve and they have alot of empty space in their head to say something like that *waste of time and effort getting mad* now I have a newborn baby and my husband is black but she looks like me just a little darker. I’ve already gotten hybrid and I say yes I got her from the dealer 4 weeks ago, good deal. I am not afraid to tell people to get educated because being biracial is beautiful. I am proud to have almost every country ( no kidding) in my ancestry and current family. We are a world of diversity NOT colors and it needs to be better educated to those that don’t know what their talking about

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