Though I’m black, I often get asked if I’m biracial. Between what my mother and father contribute to my genetic pool, I suppose I’d be considered multiracial. My ex-husband is white. When I got engaged, I was often asked, “Have you thought about your children?” What they were really trying to get at was: What race will they be considered? What race will they consider themselves? They could have asked, “Which box will they check on their standardized tests?”
Growing up, I never saw any difference between myself and the white children in Ms. Kozlove’s first grade class. That is until the day my mother met my best friend and later said something like, “I didn’t know she was white.” “Neither did I,” was my innocent response. It seems Liv, my eight-year-old daughter, takes after me in this respect.
Last year, when she was a first grader, she came home from school and explained to her stepbrothers how she was grateful that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died so she could go to school with black children. “You are a black child,” one of them told her. That came as news to Liv. Not because she had no idea that she’s half-black and half-white but because up to that point she hadn’t thought of anyone – black children, white children or herself – in terms of color. Even though Liv may not have been able to put it into words, I believe she’d already decided the same thing Michael Jackson expressed in the song “Black or White”:
I’m not going to spend my life being a color.
Another school year, another year living in this beautiful, sometimes confusing Technicolor world, and our conversations about her mixed heritage have caused Liv to be able to embrace who she is and better articulate how she views herself. We’ve had conversations about how her fair skin tans to a shade that reflects her Cherokee ancestors’. We’ve compared how my dark, thick hair turns kinky when wet versus how her fine ringlets go straight and turn blonde in the sun when she swims. And we’ve shopped, at her request, for dolls that look like her. Liv calls them tan.
Recently when her big brother referred back to her not knowing whether she was black or white, she was ready for him. “Oh, yes I do! I’m mixed,” she told him confidently. “My daddy’s white and my mommy’s everything else!” I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or weep with joy at the pride in her voice. Because that pride conveyed something else: Ownership.
As the world continues to change, Liv isn’t the only one who seems to be getting more comfortable with sharing her personal multicultural heritage. Census records and other studies show the numbers of multiracial individuals to be on the rise in the US, along with an increase in marriage across race lines. (Yes, I’m divorced from my children’s father, but race was never an issue for us. It’s important to me, and for them, that they understand that.)
I’m still not sure what box Liv’ll check on standardized tests, but I’m almost certain she’ll feel good about it. More importantly, she’ll understand that it doesn’t really matter if you’re black or white. Or “Other.”