20 Questions: The Junior Version


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.


13 thoughts on “20 Questions: The Junior Version

  1. c says:

    Good job, mom!
    And very good job, Jaja!!

  2. Cynthia/hgpig says:

    i want to hug jaja and you and your family. this is a lovely tale of a child with a clear inner strength and beauty. wow~! my landing on your blog was rather random, but now i’m ready to read more~! cynthia

  3. Kohana says:

    Wow, Jaja handled that amazingly well! How rewarding to see the fruit of all your efforts in building her strong identity. Well done to both of you!

  4. Meg Jeske says:

    I just started reading your blog last week and am really glad I found it. What a great story. I was excited to read how Jaja held her ground confidently and had words to answer these questions in ways she knew were true, even under scrutiny. WOW.

  5. FosterMommy says:

    That’s just awesome. Squeak’s only 16 months old, but I know I have to start practicing what to tell him so he has these answers at the tip of his tongue if he chooses to share them.

  6. kristine says:

    Wow! I love your site! Thanks so much for sharing your families stories. JaJa was amazing! Good for her.

    I’m Irish-German, my husband African-American and we have one 5 1/2 year old son. We are in the process of adopting from Ethiopia. Thanks so much again, I look forward to reading more.


  7. Crystal says:

    Your daughter did great. I do find it odd that a 6 year old would be so opinionated about your girl’s racial identity. We have dealt with intrusive questions, bus so far no one has argues with our answers.

  8. Darrow says:

    Great post. This example of your daughter’s intelligence and perseverance are an inspiration. I hope I can instill a similar sense in my own children.

  9. craftymommy says:

    Beautiful! She handled herself and the questions so well. That is definitely one of those proud mama moments. You both should be proud of yourselves.

  10. Terri says:

    I know my comment is a bit late but I really love your blog. 🙂

    Jaja did indeed handle it well. The other child most likely learned that behavior/mentality from her own parents. Is she black? I’m only asking this because from my own observations, it tends to be black (sometimes Latino) parents who instill this belief in their children. I had an ex-boyfriend whose family was extremely opinionated about race and tried to convince me that I was simply a “black” girl with abnormally light skin. I’ve met many other people like this throughout my life.

    It isn’t meant to be hurtful…but it IS incorrect and it is a denial of the biracial/multiracial person’s entire heritage. Jaja was right in being so assertive. My rule as a multiracial person with a European phenotype is to never allow anyone to define me. I cannot tell you how often I’ve had similar experiences to your daughter. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know how to deal with people who were obsessed with wanting to label me.

    Your daughter sounds like a happy, confident kid who is secure within herself. Her identity is as a biracial person. I hope she continues to simply be who she is….without feeling the need to explain or apologize. You’re doing a great job with her! *smiles*

  11. Sabrina says:

    GOOD for her. She sounds like an intllegent young lady. As a youngin’ (I am now 16) I would proudly procliam to be “black” and learn about “black” AMERICAN (I am Jamaican-American) history. I don’t know much of my family out side my maternal grandmother’s family, which is larely “black”, in phenotype. But I now after finding out both my parents have East-Indian, Caucasian, and East-Asian ancestry, I now term myself “Multi-ethnic”. And I am MORE than PROUD to do so! I love my African, East-Indian, Caucasian, and East-Indian! I just term myself Jamaican-American in terms of terms of nationality, but I am NOTHING more or less than HUMAN!
    I am delighted to hear, your daughter knows that. 🙂

  12. Carisa says:

    I just discovered your blog. Love this story. Having never even met your daughter, I found myself very proud of her for speaking up for herself and not letting someone talk her down.

  13. Maria says:

    This is a old post, but was just like what my daughter goes through and she is only 3. My husband is half asian, african and native indian and I am white so my daughter is not biracial, shes multiracial and explaining that to her was hard. She sees her skin color as yellow, when she tans or white in the winter and when she said she was white an african american 6 year old told her she was black and then she tells me and I tried to explain that she is mixed and daddy is mixed too. I don’t understand why parents teach there children to label at such a young age, with so much mixed heritage in the United States.

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