You knew it was coming. Ok, maybe you didn’t. But I knew it was coming.
For the reader who doesn’t know me personally, I’m black. The father of my daughter is white. She therefore checks the “Other” box on forms. Or rather I do that for her, as I stand firm for her right to be not either/or but both/and or at least for giving her a chance to decide for herself.
The first time I checked “other” for her, I got a shiver as if I were participating in some revolutionary act. I wanted to go around and check “other” on “other” forms for “other” things. It was great.
I’ve found forms for her from when were in the hospital in which the nurse checked the “Black” checkbox. Presumably my husband wasn’t in the room changing the baby’s diaper at the time. They kind of make me wince, but I’ve filed them anyway as little reminders of a basic fact: She is not a white baby or a black baby, she’s a baby who’s racial category you cannot immediately determine — but that won’t stop people from trying.
In the last week or so, while out running errands, I’ve been asked a couple of times if she is mine. I looked down at the stroller, the diaper bag over my shoulder, thought about the sleepless bags under my eyes and said “Yes!” as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “She is my baby, don’t I look like a mother to you?”
After the most recent time, I asked my husband about it. We admitted that it might be a racial thing, tho we couldn’t really understand what that “thing” might be. I turned to my cadre of mothers, and the white mothers confirmed that No, no one every asked them if their child was theirs when they were out. Which has led me to the conclusion that this is a problem of racial profiling at its most base. She is several shades of brown lighter than I — what you might call wheat next to my nutmeg. Because of the obvious skin color difference she doesn’t “look” like me enough for some people to correctly identify her. This despite the fact that she looks exactly like me from the top of her head to the bottom of her nose. Or more significantly — I’m holding her, in a Starbucks, with a diaper bag and an exhausted expression as I wait for my decaf coffee. Yes, you can safely assume she’s mine.
This dented my heart. I am about as proud of my daughter as any mother. I show her off shamelessly while she’s of an age where she won’t notice. I took 10 years and a hundred conversations to decide to have this baby. Fuck yes this is my daughter!
I realize that I can’t check the “Other” box right then and there for those people (all women, so far all white). That this was the first of many, many times in which I’d be having to say “Yes, this is my daughter, is that a problem?” only to be met with the slightly awkward look and downturned eyes of “Yes, but I don’t have the guts to tell you what it is.”
This case of race checking is only made more interesting by the fact that it is always followed by a compliment. “Oh, well she’s beautiful.” Huh. Well your opinion of her appearance seems predicated on some underlying fact that I don’t understand and almost certainly don’t respect, so you can keep it. What if I say No, is she not then beautiful? What if you simply don’t know if she is my daughter or not and therefore don’t know what race she is? Would your uncertainty make her less beautiful?
People are going to be race checking her for her entire life: Who are you? Which are you? Where do you fit? And this is my little taste of that. So I’ll work on handling it with grace. And some times I’ll fail at that, which is fine. Because really, I’m not convinced that a person who has to check my child’s racial status in the supermarket while waiting at the deli counter really deserves my grace. If you’re going to carry a form around in your head, lady, don’t bother to ask me to fill it in for you. It is your form. Figure it out for yourself.