I read with interest a recent New York Times article about a family in New Jersey that has been fielding questions about their children’s race.

The mother is mixed and is married to a white man. Their daughter has blond hair and blue eyes. Strangers have wondered aloud how a mother who is so dark could have a child who is so light. I remember hearing similar comments when Simone and Nadia were much younger.

Like many articles about race, this one lacks the perspective of someone who can address how we develop the traits we have. From what I’ve read, no one knows or can really predict what a child will look like. If scientists can’t do that, what makes ordinary people think they can?

What has always bugged me about questions from strangers is why it matters to them whether I or anyone else is the mother, the nanny, or a family friend. If you think a child has the bluest eyes you’ve ever seen, has doll-like curls, or is well-behaved, why not pay the compliment and see where the conversation goes? What are they trying to prove?

People still ask me if Simone and Nadia are mine. It happens less often than it used to, and the question no longer stings. I think it’s obvious that I am Simone and Nadia’s mom.  They stay close to me when we’re out in public, and we look and act like a unit. When someone does ask whether the two skinny-minnies are mine and I answer in the affirmative, many try to prove to me that they never had a doubt.

“Well, they look just like you.”

The rest of the conversation goes like this:

“Are they twins?”

“No, but we get that a lot.”

How old are they?

“Six and four.”

“It’s amazing how much they look alike.”

I have no idea how I am supposed to respond to that last comment. Siblings tend to look like each other, no? Sometimes I say they look different to me. Everything about my girls is different, from the shape of their eyes, to the curl of their hair, to their distinct personalities. Or sometimes I say nothing. After all, I don’t have anything to prove.

11 thoughts to “Race Questions

  • J

    Thanks for sharing the article. My daughter makes a point to preface every sentence in public with “Mommy, Mommy!”, just so that there are no questions! Every school year she gets the same question, asked in shocked, lowered voice “that’s your mom??” And how many times have I answered the question “Why are you white and she’s black?” Hmmm, that’s just how God made us!!

    • Honeysmoke

      Good comeback.

  • Ayana

    My sister is at Ft Drum Ny which an Army upstate New York, and she gets this question too because her baby girl looks like her father who is Nigerian while my sister is on the lighter side of blackdom near the honey colors you could say, She was stop one day in Walmart, by an older white woman who ask do she babysit for others and my sister ask her why? the lady figured that my sister was watching another military member’s child rather than her own. On that note I say DNA do not make a parent, time, care, and love do. My husband is not my oldest daughter’s father yet she look more like him than her sperm donor, My daughter is proud to tell who her daddy is and its who helps with homework and be when she ill not a color or race, hair carrier.

    • Ayana

      Sorry, our lights blink out but what meant at the end we are all different colors and it they don’t get it then, smile, shake your head, hug yo babies, say”too bless, too be stress, with all the darn race mess!”

  • Keya

    Sometimes biracial siblings don’t always look a like. I’m black my husband is white. I was showing one of my patients pictures of my boys and she saw my youngest son and said “He looks different from your oldest, he has that WHITE GENE.” Everyone in my office heard and were stunned and we laughed so hard after she left.

  • Blanc2

    People in public can sometimes be so ignorant. Once my wife and I were at a large outdoor festival with another BW/WM couple we know. At one point I was walking around with the other wife. He had her son and I was holding my son, the same age. The two boys did not resemble each other at all, though both are biracial. A man came up to us: “are they twins?”

    • taliba

      Don’t be too dismayed by this kind of remark. My very best friend is multiracial and very fair skinned; we were raised in Ohio where very fair skinned African Americans are not uncommon. Anyway, I have observed that sometimes people don’t really look at “the other.” I can’t count the times that a white teacher (who should have been able to “see”), or a salesperson would mix the two of us up when her skin was as pink as theirs, and mine is brown.

      And just so you won’t think that I don’t understand this “blindness”; I used to mix up ethnically Asian people, until I gained a sister-in-law who is Philipino, a good friend who is Korean; and a nephew who looks both Asian and Black-though people only think he looks like his mom because of his eyes. Needless to say, I can clearly see the difference in Asians now, and others can see too, if they stop looking blindly according to the label/or bias they have in their heads

      • Honeysmoke

        Good point.

  • Jah

    The things people feel moved to say out loud. I don’t believe in being colorblind but I do have hope that we’re getting closer by the day when the makeup of a family or couple isn’t a cause of confusion, dismay, or anger in everyday situations.

  • Laura

    Sometimes people don’t know how their comments will affect someone. It is great that you are confident and secure to answer each question. Just the sight that your kids are happy, secure and comfortable to be with you shows how great a mother you are.

Comments are closed.