We attended a party over the weekend where I met a few White parents with transracially adopted children. Their children are now teens and young adults, and several of them were also at this party. The kids had all grown up in this community, attended (or are still attending) the high school here in this town. We mothers (and some of their teenage children) ended up standing together and began talking about our families and the local schools. I said something like, “We always intended to move, but now with four multiracial children getting ready to start school, we hope to move in the next year.”
The more outspoken mother said to me, “Do you have five children?”
“No, four,” I replied. (We had already run down each of our family rosters just a few minutes before.)
This mother turned towards my beautiful three-year-old Gretel (who was sitting in a swing with a friend right behind us) and pointed at her. “How is she multiracial?” she said.
I paused. I wanted to say, none of your flipping business, you rude woman. I wanted to grab my child and walk away. It was pouring rain. The party had barely started. There was nowhere to go.
Gretel kept swinging, oblivious to the conversation. I took a deep breath and tried to give half a smile. “I have Cherokee heritage, as do Gretel and my son, Rico.”
“Oh!” she said, clearly surprised. “That’s great!”
The conversation turned back to our family’s dealings with the elementary school this spring. The mothers said when their kids had been in elementary school, there were NO other children of color present. I relayed the administrators’ quotes about there ‘not being enough minority students to have a race problem.’ The outspoken mother agreed with this assessment, and said she thought it was “better” for her children [of color] to have grown up and attended school in an environment with no other people of color because “the latent racism in the local [White] people has not been activated by being exposed to people of color.” Then she turned to her child who had recently graduated from the high school and said, “You never had any race-related problems in school. Did you?”
Her child looked down, looked back up and gave half a smile; shook their head. “I had a really cool group of friends, though.”
That pointed non-question-masquerading-as-a-question made me squirm. I remember being a teen and cringing inside when my mother put me on the spot like that. I’d come up with an answer that wouldn’t contradict her totally incorrect assumptions about me and my life, while still inserting a bit of my truth as well.
The other mother looked to her child (who is still attending the high school), and I said, “How do you find the high school?”
This beautiful, precious child looked up from the floor and replied, “I just try to avoid all the people there.” Their mother sighed. My heart sank. Oh no, not my children, I thought to myself.
One of the reasons we are committed to moving to a community with more populations of color and multiracial families is because I want my children to have choices. I hope I never put my children on the spot by speaking for them about their personal experience, by speaking for them from my paradigm, my expectations, my rationalizations for the choices I made that affected them. I want my children to be knowledgeable about their options, but to be able to make their own choices.
My children will eventually each choose their own racial identity. Walking in these tight spaces in and between racial categories is almost constant work. I understand why multiracial people choose a monoracial identity–it is so much simpler. But I will not choose monoracial identities for my multiracial children. I will respect their choices when they make them (even if their self-chosen racial identity changes repeatedly).
For now, my job is to keep the doors open, to affirm their multiracial identities–along with my own.