June 15, 2008 by multiracialsky
Yesterday I had a first: I listened to my oldest daughter comfortably and clearly explain her families and her heritage, under a barrage of questions that had me uncomfortable. She was across a quiet swimming pool, so I could see (and hear) most of the conversation, but I was not part of it. It began with an acquaintance about her age (6) asking, “So, are you two related or something?” indicating Jaja and Gretel.
“We’re sisters,” Jaja replied. Without even asking Jaja’s name (or Gretel’s), this girl continued. She said that my girls couldn’t be sisters because they aren’t the same color. “We are sisters!” Jaja answered cheerfully. This girl then asked if Jaja was adopted. Jaja said yes, and then I missed a few sentences of their conversation.
The next I heard was Jaja saying proudly, “I’m biracial. One of my birthparents is Black and one is White.”
And then this girl says (more than once, so I know I wasn’t hearing things), “You’re not biracial. If one of your parents is Black, you’re Black.”
“I’m Black and White,” Jaja says, apparently unfazed (at this point, I was getting a little hot under the collar–who does this kid think she is, questioning my daughter like this?)
Then the girl says, “Well, if you’re adopted that means you’re not biracial.” What!?
“Well, I am,” Jaja kept saying, standing her ground without moving an inch. She never said ‘you’re wrong’. Instead, she just kept repeating her own truths. They played together in the pool for a while, and later I heard this girl start up with the color/race/adoption questions again.
At dinner last night, we were talking with all our kids about their favorite parts of the day, and Jaja brought up this girl. “She wanted to talk about skin color a lot,” Jaja said with a sigh.
“Yeah, like brown, tan, mixed,” Gretel chimed in.
“But I liked swimming with her,” Jaja said. She talked a bit more about their initial conversation, and all the questions the girl had asked her.
“You know,” I began, “if someone outside our family asks you a question–about anything–you don’t have to answer it.”
“I know.” Jaja said confidently. “Sometimes it’s good to answer people’s questions, though.”
“Sometimes it is,” I confirmed. “But the questions this girl was asking you were about your personal information. You do not have to share your private information with anyone. You can, if you want to. That is your choice.”
“I know,” Jaja said again.
“If someone asks you a question, you don’t have to tell them the answer–even if you know it. You can say, ‘That’s none of your business’ or ‘I don’t want to talk about that’ or ‘My mom says I don’t have to talk about that if I don’t want to’. If they keep asking you, you can just leave.” I wanted to give her specific things she could say and do.
Jaja nodded. I turned to Rico, “Same goes for you. You don’t have to answer any questions you don’t want to,” I started in.
Rico interrupted me, “I heard everything you said to Jaja. And that’s the same for me, right?”
“It’s the same for you.”
For several hours I was internally focused on my initial shock and annoyance at this child (and her parents). Where did a six year old learn that families/siblings must match? Why is adoption the only connection she can see between brown-skinned Jaja and her tan-skinned sister? And the biggies: Where did this little kid learn that if you have one Black parent and one White parent then you must be Black? And where does she get off telling my child that her racial self-identity is incorrect?
Hours later, after all the kids were in bed, I began to feel really impressed with Jaja. My sometimes shy little girl aswered this litany of invasive questions with confidence and clarity. She knew her facts and did not seem a bit rattled by this other child’s insistence that Jaja was wrong. Jaja knew she was right: she’s biracial; she’s both Black and White; she was adopted, and Gretel is her sister.
My daughter had the facts and the words and the answers at hand when she needed them. And she was so mature in the way she handled the whole situation–she made me proud.