What ARE they? (Follow Up)

So Christie asked if I’d come up with any good responses to the infamous “What are they?” question, or ways to handle the zooing/petting. No pressures, she says.

When the kids (and I) were younger, I rarely hesitated to respond with a snappy comeback or snide response. Where’d my 2yo get his curly hair? I permed it. Is she yours? No, I just thought she was cute so I snatched her from a cart outside.

But as the kids are growing up, so am I. As tempting as it is to fight fire with fire (a dumb (or rude) question deserves a dumb (or rude) answer)… something about it just doesn’t quite sit right with me.

First of all, there may come a time, particularly for my son, when a smart answer *I* encouraged might come out of his mouth at an inappropriate time. And it may jeopardize his physical well-being. I can’t afford to bank on the fact that I live in a changing society… there are some situations where what my child says, and the manner in which he says it, may have a profound impact on the outcome of that situation. I’m thinking of something Tim Wise wrote about, that I’ve heard echoed from Black friends, in regards to corporal punishment, to the effect that the lesson is better taught at home by the hand that loves the child, than by the (White) establishment. This isn’t corporal punishment, but better my children learn from me that race isn’t something we can afford to be flip about, than the hands of some racist who has the power or authority to mete out their brand of justice.

That’s probably a little paranoid. God/ess willing, there will never be a time where my son or daughters is standing at the wrong end of a gun or knife, or across from a racist school official or police officer, where how they answer that question will determine what happens next. Even so, stereotypes abound… and I don’t want anything that I taught my children to reinforce any negative stereotypes someone else holds about ‘mixed’ children, their mothers, their fathers, or how they are parented.

I’m one of those mothers who has ‘gotten old’ and is appalled by the lack of manners in kids today. I was raised to respect my elders, and in a military family at that. Yes ma’am, no ma’am. Regardless how thoughtless or intrusive ‘those’ questions and compliments are, I cannot bring myself to teach my children to respond with a smart answer. I’ve also become very aware of how my children process and record my every reaction, my every word, and every opinion I voice. So that leaves me in a conundrum with the smart answer… I have to be the change I want to see in the world, right?

So I’ve actually given this topic a lot of thought, and Christie gave me just the right amount of pressure to try and organize my thoughts. I want to be able to answer, and teach my children to answer, questions and reactions from others in as graceful a manner as possible, in a manner that is respectful not only to our family and our right to privacy, but in a way that is respectful to the asker, who is usually well intentioned.

Does Anybody Else Look Like Me gives several good suggestions.

“Where did you get your (straight/curly hair, blue eyes, Asian eyes)… “From God” (godess, nature… DNA)
In response to the petting… “Thank you, but I feel uncomfortable when people touch her hair.”
In response to Where is s/he from, is s/he adopted, “This is a personal matter I don’t care to discuss.” or “WE are adopted.”

For us, I’m encouraging the kids to talk about how they see themselves, and how they feel comfortable answering. Last week at school, I peeked into Halle’s classroom, and a little boy (who was dark skinned, but I didn’t look closely enough to determine what his race might be) commented to Halle,

“But she’s white and you’re brown.”

To which Halle responded,

“So? It doesn’t matter.”

I had seen them talking just after Halle spied me by the door. Right before I left, Halle ran up to me to relay the conversation… and to confirm that she had been right in her answer. I told her,

“You’re right, it doesn’t matter. You are black AND white and loved ALL OVER.”

She asked,

“What is daddy again? just African?”

and I replied,

“Daddy is Sudanese. Mommy is American. You are Sudanese AND American.”

And she smiled.

“Violence merely increases hate… adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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  1. August 22, 2009 at 5:42 PM
  2. October 20, 2009 at 11:38 AM
  3. October 26, 2009 at 12:23 AM

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