Tuesday, May 12, 2020

My children are not biracial

I ran my miles for Ahmaud Arbery last week, like most other runners. And I didn’t post about it. I didn’t say anything at all on social media. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing. Which is such a cowardly excuse. One I need to stop using. Because it’s not about me. If I do say the wrong thing, I hope people will tell me, and that will be an opportunity for me to learn. But that’s not the reason for me to post about race. It’s not about me and my feelings and my education. I know me making a social media post isn’t something that will change things for his case, one way or the other. But I need to establish now that I will not keep quiet about injustices because I feel uncomfortable. I’ve always been someone who shies away from confrontation, but I need to push myself to break away from that when it comes to confronting racism, because before long my children will be aware of it. They need to always see me as someone who will stand up for them. 

In the spirit of doing things that make me uncomfortable, I’m going to share a story and part of an essay I wrote for a graduate class I took two years ago. I was asked to read it aloud to the class of 7 (everyone was asked to do this but we didn’t know ahead of time). This was 10 days before Remington was bored and I agonized between faking contractions and actually reading it to the class. I read it to the class. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was well received even, so I considered posting it on my blog. I’ve spent two years chickening out from doing so, because I was afraid of “messing up”. Offending family members. Not the family that I was born into, the family I married into, that has never been anything but warm and welcoming since day one. I was afraid of looking stupid. I still am, actually. I’ve had some revelations well into adulthood that things I’ve done have been racist. Unintentionally, of course, but that doesn’t change it. Things I’ve done even as recently as last year (which was seeing Gone with the Wind, which I have a whole other Ted talk type blog post in my head about). That’s hard to type. It’s going to be even harder to push publish. It’s embarrassing. Long ago, maybe even before this term was a thing, I considered myself “woke”. Now that I’m actually trying to learn what that term means, well...yikes. 

My oldest son is five and a half. When he was 3, I lost him in a children’s museum (RIP children’s museums, remember those?). I was heavily pregnant, pushing my then 1 year old in a huge double stroller, running around looking for him. There were 3 floors and I quickly realized I wouldn’t find him without help. I rushed to the service desk, where I breathlessly described what my son was wearing to the poor man unlucky enough to be assigned to the desk that day. I shoved my phone in his face, so he could see the picture on my phone background of both my boys. My husband wasn’t there that day, so this gentleman was only seeing me, my toddler, and the picture of my sons on my phone. He got on the radio and said there was a 3 year old African American boy missing. 

When I remember that day, I don’t remember the fear of losing my son. I remember the moment that I found out that to the world, my children are black. 
Of course, I know my husband is black, we’ve been married more than a decade, that’s nothing new. I had considered my children, however, biracial. They meet the definition: one Caucasian parent, one African American parent. Now, this experience suddenly opened my eyes to the fact that “biracial,” isn’t really a definition that exists beyond checking boxes on official forms. To the world, they are black. After all, the security guard was just doing his job, quite well I might add, and radio-ing his colleagues with the description that quickly helped locate my son. It was one of those eye opening moments as a parent when we realize we can’t control the way the world is going to behave toward your precious child. 

I had been clinging to that definition of “biracial”.There are a million other tiny examples of white privilege/racial injustice that lay before them, and which side of it they come down on just depends on how the world perceives them. There is no in between, they are going to experience one or the other. I’d love to pretend we are going to live in some perfect utopia before they come of age, but I’m not that out of touch. But maybe, by not shying away from speaking about it and pretending this dichotomy doesn't exist, I can do my small part in moving towards a world where it truly doesn't.
When I wrote this essay in 2018, I wrote that the reason I wanted to continue to view them as biracial was partially because I wanted to see some of myself reflected in my children. Now I realize that’s not true, I don’t have a proud white heritage I want them to experience. I want to see “myself” reflected in my children, because if they can pass for white, a life of white privilege awaits them. They don’t have to want it, or enjoy it, or accept it, but it’s there anyway, and those of us who are white, or pass for white, have it. We shouldn't have it, I hope someday we don't have it, but unfortunately today is not that day. The converse of that, well, of course one example is the tragic and heartbreaking case I mentioned at the beginning of this post. 
Going back and rereading, there isn’t really a cohesive theme. Maybe white girl pointing out truths about the world that make her uncomfortable in an effort to better understand and stand against racism? Which is just another variation on the theme of this blog, which is mostly about a mom just trying to raise her kids the best she can. This is one of many examples of how I'm just trying to figure this out, as I look to the future of trying to help my kids navigate a world of racism I haven't experienced. This post: just getting my thoughts typed and out in the world before I lose my nerve. Next post: maybe something slightly better?

 I do want to mention two Instagram accounts that have helped me learn a lot about white privilege, both within their posts and links to articles. I’m not going to try to explain because I never do well with it when I get into facebook fights, I’m just going to defer to much smarter and more eloquent people on this. I urge you to check out their accounts, they have been very eye opening for me. 
What's a revelation about race that has made you uncomfortable?


  1. I've always been really proud that I put myself through school, helped raise my sister, bought a house young, etc. That I was 'self made'. But really that's not true. White privilege made that success possible. I got to start on third base and children of color start at home plate. That's my revelation.

  2. Alyssa, reading this literally made me cry. I appreciate you opening up about these topics. It’s a very hard conversation for most and unfortunately a lot of people are not willing to think beyond the way they were raised or they do not want to get involved in things that are not affecting them personally.
    “If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.”

  3. Hola Alyssa! Thank tou for sharing. Im trying to learn more about this topic for myself and my family and I appreciate your words. I myself had an extremely difficult time filling out the census.I was a mess, I cant deal with labels. My son looks white ,my husband looks black and I am very latina looking. I will keep searching for what makes us more confortable as individuals with all the prejudices it will bring. Big hug, Carmen

  4. This is such a great post. I have also been trying to learn more about this. It's so important to understand and to ask hard questions of yourself. I read the book So You Want to Talk About Race and feel like I need to reread it. The biggest thing that struck me was the important idea that something is about race if the person of color thinks that it is. Please post more on this topic. It's important to continue conversations that may make us uncomfortable in the short term, but will hopefully help move society forward to a better place for your children.

  5. Thank you for sharing this. I am a white woman who used to consider myself "color-blind" (cringing even to remember this). I did Teach for America and taught in a school with almost all black students and I know I did a lot of harm because of how much I just didn't get. I'm trying to be better now and to keep learning.
    I'll check out the instagram accounts you posted, and if anyone is looking for other people to follow, Dr Tressie McMillan Cottom is a brilliant black sociologist and author whose twitter feed consistently makes me check myself and think more deeply about race and class (plus she is hilarious) - https://mobile.twitter.com/tressiemcphd
    Hope you and your family are doing well!


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