The other day my daughter was getting her hair cut, and the stylist suddenly turned to me and asked me, “What is she mixed with?”
And it caught me off guard. It really shouldn’t have, because my daughter’s skin tone is different than mine. She has brown eyes, and I don’t.
But it caused my jaw to drop.
Part of me wanted to say, “Why don’t you ask her? She’s sitting right there and can hear you. Let her decide how she wants to define herself.”
But instead, I just said, “Her dad is from the Dominican Republic.”
And then the stylist started acting like she knew a lot about people from the Dominican Republic since she knows ONE person from the Dominican Republic. She started talking about “Dominican hair” and suddenly I just felt like she was trying to say my daughter’s hair is so much harder to brush than other kids’, and I just wanted to tell her to shove it.
It pissed me off.
And then I realized that it’s because sometimes I’m in denial about the fact that my daughter is different from me. And that is a fault of mine—I am white and was born into a culture inundated with white privilege. I have not paused and thought, until very recently, about the numerous unspoken privileges that I, along with other white people, experience in America.
She will continue to get asked all of her life, “What ethnicity are you?” since she is not white. This is not something that I have ever been asked much at all. I have actually had the cultural and societal advantage my whole life (or the white privilege) of being immune from being asked this invasive question.
People are curious. I get that. People see someone whose race they believe is uncertain and immediately feel entitled as a complete stranger to ask that person “what” he or she is. For now, what I have heard my daughter say is that she is “half Dominican.”
At a party last year, I was talking with a good friend’s husband who is biracial. He told me “something that you and her dad will never fully understand is what it feels like to be bicultural or biracial.”
And that notion shot through me like a lightening bolt. I never “got it” until that moment. Her dad and I will never know how it feels to be her. Her dad and I will never understand how UNIQUE her experiences will be as a bicultural woman.
At the playroom in the gym the other day, a little boy came over to her and said, “Where’s your mommy?” She pointed at me. The little boy said, “That’s not your mommy.”
And then he proceeded to tell her that we looked nothing alike, and so I couldn’t possibly be her mom.
She started laughing at him and said, “My mom and I look just alike.”
Then she whispered in my ear, “He’s a weirdo,” and continued to play with him.
My takeaway from all this is that I’m going to have to educate myself on how to talk to my daughter about race. My exhusband and I prided ourselves on being a progressive, intercultural couple. However I now see that in our efforts to promote the notion that love is colorblind, we somehow have lost sight of the fact that our country is not colorblind. Our society is not colorblind.
My daughter WILL constantly be asked, “What are you?” So I damn well better prepare her for that. I damn well better educate myself on what experiences she may encounter and how to support her as she experiences them.
And until then, I will continue to cringe every time someone asks her, “What are you?”