Is That Your Baby?

Monday, March 29, 2010

I don’t think, I know I’m a polite and kind person. I respect decorum and try to support it when interacting with people, particularly strangers. However, there is something that I’ve experienced since having QB that has sent me to the edge of chucking propriety out the window and getting straight gully.

That something—the thing that pushes me thisclose to punching a person in the face—is this question: “Is that your baby?”

I’m black. My husband is white. And our son reflects this loving combination.

I’m well aware that my son will be viewed as a black man …

… no matter which decade we’re in,

… no matter how post-racial anyone claims America is,

… no matter what the U.S. census might show about multiracial Americans being one of the fastest growing demos,

… no matter who our President is,

… no matter which scholar preaches and teaches race as a social construct not a biological one,

… and no matter what QB or we have to say in the matter.

It’s a fact; he’s a black boy, whom I’m committed to nurturing into a compassionate, thinking, considerate, edified, unmistakable black man. Committed. So it bothers me down to my core, when I’m out in the park or health food market or bookstore or strolling the neighborhood, to hear, “Is that your baby?” Of course he is! No, I am not the nanny, you idiot. (There are spicier words that come to mouth, trust, but this is a family friendly blog. For now, anyway.)

It’s especially grating when I’m met with this obtuse question while out somewhere innocuous, like a 1-year-old’s birthday party. *sigh*

QB and I were at this birthday party for one of his little buddies. We didn’t know that many people, but were having fun all the same. We pulled up to the snack bar (seriously, there were various snacking goodies for babies on one table and a range of yums for the parents on another) for a little nosh. There was a mom-to-be who had walked in not too long ago with her hubby, pouring herself some soda. She said hello to us and QB sailed a smile her way.

“Aww, how old is—oh, wait, is he your baby?”

What tha ______?! Is this chick for real? Why would I be holding and kissing some other woman’s baby … at a birthday party … on a Saturday? Blood-dee ‘ell! Did she honestly think I was a nanny? True, Quinn and I were the only black people there. (I didn’t say POCs—people of color—because there was a Latina sister there and, more important, Pregnant Dummy’s husband was clearly part Asian.)

I said something like “Yup!” and turned away, dismissively, but stewed about it on the stroll home. After the fact, I had plenty choice words for her but in the moment was too stunned, infuriated and outraged to say something. Plus, to be honest, I’ve been asked, “Is that your baby?” so often in the 13 months of my young son’s life that I think I’ve become a bit numbed to this foolishness. And it’s that desensitization that, funnily enough, is lighting the fire under me. I don’t want to ignore it and chalk it up to conjecture. I don’t want to brush it off with an eye roll and a snide internal remark. I don’t want it to be a case of Their Issue, Not Mine.

Done with that. I’m coming at this brand new. I will be speaking up, loudly. Ask me that question and you will hear my roar whether it’s in the park, the health food market or the local bookstore. Because courtesy, on this matter, left the room a good while ago. And now, It. Is. On.

32 Comments
  • 1
    Julia says:

    Simply respond: Why wouldn’t he be?

    On a funnier note you could say: Only for a few hours. I gotta return him to Rent-a-Chile by the end of the day.

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mack says:

      @Julia: Ha! You know I’m going for option #2, right? Snark over simple is the way to go with some of these folks. Thanks, Jules.

      • 1.1.1
        Julia says:

        Well, you know my sister has had her share of this. I sometimes get stares when I’m out and about with my nephew and niece. I suppose I appear a little too familiar with them.

  • 2
    Tia says:

    Great post!
    I had to deal with this growing up, as my mom is black, and my dad is Italian. The thing that would make me furious, is that people often don’t realize I’m mixed, so they will say racist things right to my face. Its like A) when is that EVER okay??? and B)Hello, I’m black. Please don’t spew that shit to me!!

    Anyways, your son is adorable, and Julia’s comment is hilarious!

  • 3
    sharon says:

    Sometimes you just gotta get gully. If you’d gestured toward PD’s hubby and said “he’s his,” she’d probably think twice before asking that question again.

  • 4
    Nailah says:

    It boggles my mind that people would ask you that. So rude.

    It probably is time to get rude right back at them!

  • 5
    Sean says:

    You don’t want to be labelled “the angry black woman”, but sometimes, the angry black woman is needed.

  • 6
    Nella says:

    Just smile and say yes he is. I was nanny to a white child and he called me Mum on a subway train and you should see the stares. I loved it!!!! One lady even asked about the birth and you know i had fun with that. You have to excuse the people out there because honestly how would they know if they did not ask.

  • 7
    elise says:

    @nella – i have to respectfully disagree with you. people do not have to ask. they are only asking to satisfied their own personal curiosity and for nothing more. the only time someone should ask, “is this your child?” is if said child is doing something to hurt himself and/or others or is in some other type of need to know situation. to tell a someone that a child is cute, or smart, or really friendly does not mean you need to know if they are my offspring. give the compliment and keep it moving.

    as the mother of two mixed race children, i find it annoying and rude. if i were with two children who both had two black parents no one would ask. the fact that people feel the need to ask it because you and your child may have different skin colors or hair textures is just straight up wack. my son looks exactly like me in in a light skinned form and i still get asked that question! even my kids friends will say sometimes, “that can’t be your mother! she’s black and you’re white!” yeah, get ready for that ms. mack ;-)! but the thing is, i can accept that from children because . . . well, they are children. adults should know better! file this under the “don’t ask, i sure as hell won’t answer ’cause i don’t owe you a response” file. lol!! that question gets me just as riled up as, “is all of that your hair?” don’t get me started!!!

    • 7.1
      Ms. Mack says:

      @elise: Thanks for this comment! I, too, disagree with letting people off the hook on this. Manners have become this dusty thing from yesteryear that people no longer feel the need to use. How is asking me if the child I’m holding is mine lend to what you’re going to say about the baby? If you think he’s cute, say so. If you want to know how old he is, then ask that. The presumption, this idea that some folks have that it’s OK to step outside the lines of propriety and common courtesy, is sometimes too damn much.

    • 7.2
      Nella says:

      RELAX GIRL!!!!! I too have two daughters of mixed race. Although i have never been asked that question or maybe i was (can’t remember) i would still answer politely. Why do you think you get so angry about that question???

  • 8
    Mocha says:

    You sent me the sweetest, kindest email. I must thank you for that (and also, I read it and came straight here to read this, so I figured I’d send one big message!).

    Sadly, this happened to my dad a lot when I was a baby. Not so much to my mom because I was a blonde haired, blue-eyed child so they just thought I had a bit of a tan. (What? A baby with a tan? Pshaw.) You were right to be upset and stew on the way home because it hurts and you’re shocked, but you also were right to explore those feelings and write about it so that the next time you encounter this (and you will – people are stuck on stupid) you will have an array of options from which to choose. Mostly, I’d go with the one where the person who asks that question is shamed for doing so.

    If people will, as you just said, “step outside the lines of propriety and common courtesy” then you are entitled to put them right back in their place.

    • 8.1
      Ms. Mack says:

      Mocha! Wow, I am so delighted that you got my e-mail and actually replied. Thank you.
      And thanks for sharing these important stories. I’m adding your blog mochamomma.com to my blogroll Right. Now.

      (Oh, and I will be putting people in their place. Trust.)

      -NB

  • 9
    KW says:

    My favorite comment from a fellow parent, “when did you bring your kids to this country and at what age where they?…” Out of all the comments and assumption made in regards to my Asian Euro mixed children, I still find the later the most amusing.

  • 10
    Saada says:

    Liking the discourse on this subject. Once again, NB, great stuff.
    Despite the good intentions, it was a thoughtless question probably built on a stereotype or bigotry or ignorance or observation skills stuck in the 1920s. I would think it’s important for parents of bi/multiracial children to speak out about ridiculous and presumptuous queries like, “Is he yours?”

    We shouldn’t be afraid to school people by 1. informing them 2. advising them to think before they speak. 3. questioning their audacity. Sure, do it respectfully. Many of us feel (sub-consciously) that we have this privilege of never being accountable for our words.

    Imagine, this person uttered such a inflammatory (and loaded) question, leaving you to experience a disturbing range of emotions on your walk home. Nah, homey. Not cool. I agree that next time someone tosses that out, you hand it back so it can be seen clearly for what it is. And please, do ask how the question came to light. Let someone else take that special walk home, deep in thought. Trust me, you’re doing the person a favour.

    not a shameless plug so much as it’s relevant. check out “Teaching Kids About Stereotypes” http://x3.preview.wnetwork.com/Relationships/Family/Teaching-About-Stereotypes.aspx

  • 11
    overit says:

    seriously? isn’t part of the reason you had a child with a caucasoid is so it wouldn’t be identifiably black? stop acting all pissed because someone couldn’t tell, when that’s what you coveted to begin with. no one’s falling for this “i’m so appalled” pearl-clutching bullshit. you wanted a light-bright, got it, and now want it to be obvious that your black ass made him? please.

    • 11.1
      Ms. Mack says:

      Do you feel better now…having said all of that?
      It’s too bad you don’t have the courage to use a real name or even a real e-mail address. Instead you go the punk route. Silly coward.

  • 12
    nicetry says:

    keep censoring, brave girl. your conscience won’t let me be, huh?

    i feel GREAT. i have a BLACK child, with a BLACK dad, and no one questions my BLACK ass about whether i’m the one who gave the blood, sweat, and tears for him to exist. call me a coward all you want, but i had the guts to LOVE my blackness when all around me suggested my beauty was nonexistent. YOU, my dear, are the coward. after all your ancestors went through, you’re gonna VOLUNTARILY lay up with those who raped your foremothers? showing off that pale-skinned baby like a prize? he’s just evidence of your self-hatred, love. but carry on. call me names. i’m used to it. loving Black skin is a thing of the past, i realize. you’ll be celebrated for being post-racial, your baby more accepted than mine for being less melanin-fused, and your readers more angry because i dared suggest you were the only ones who grew up in a white-supremacist world and came out completely unscathed. fuckouttahere. you’re right. i’m a hater. but what are you? another black woman who loves a white man and wants a yellow kid? wow. so original.

    • 12.1
      Nella says:

      Oh my Gosh!!!! What a hateful person you are> Hope your children don’t lay up with any other race. My my what would you do then??? Deny them???

  • 13
    myself and i says:

    1. rape is not exclusive to one race.
    2. you are black with a black child. so are we. it’s the one drop rule.
    3. all kids should be “shown off and loved” regardless of what their race is.
    4. what about all of the black men who lay down with white and other women outside of their race? are they “f”ed up too or is it just us black women who are sell outs?
    5. there is nothing “original” under the sun including your wack opinions.

    your rhetoric is so ridiculous!! c’mon, son . . . i would expect this kind of nonsense from a teabagger!!!

  • 14
    nicetry says:

    why argue with a fool, then? if i’m soooo off-base, why waste your energy proving so? to your points:

    1. sadly, no. you’re right. but my point was directed at black women who were targeted by white men who saw them as nothing more than sexual conquests and chattel.

    2. i don’t know which “we” you speak of. on sight, i look biracial, and am lighter than both my parents. *kanyeshrug* – and?

    3. agreed. be proud. but don’t act disgusted when someone looks at your black skin and nappy – though twisted to within an inch of its life – hair, and wants to be sure their forthcoming compliment is going to the right person.

    4. what about them? nothing i said excluded the black men who believe “good” hair and light skin is superior to what they themselves were born with.

    5. my wack opinions are, again sadly, not new. people have been fighting for the right to be unquestioningly self-hating for centuries. does that mean i should shut up? and if it does, do i appear to be the type to follow trends?

    “c’mon son” and “teabagger” in the same sentence! kudos!!

  • 15
    myself and i says:

    i don’t know you, and i’m not trying to prove my points to you anymore than you have proven your points to me. i don’t engage in arguments with people i don’t know because i know i’m not going to change their minds nor do have have any interest in changing them. i don’t try to do it with the people i know . . . who the hell are you? you brought up a few points that i wanted to address. you see, the thing is conversations go both ways – you have your say and i have mine. so it’s not a waste to me to voice my ideas regardless of what the person who reads it thinks. free expression and all that jazz!
    to your rebuttals:
    2. the “we” i speak of is those of us who have mixed raced children. i don’t know what your being light skinned and “looking biracial” has to do with the price of tea in china, but some of us just actually got with people outside of our race because we fell in love. no doubt there are people out there who want a child with a certain look, but to make a blanket statement that the only reason a person would have a child with someone outside of their race just to have a light skinned “prize” and because they have self hatred is just wrong – period. kanye shrug back at cha!
    3. “nappy – though twisted to within an inch of its life – hair,” now who’s practicing black self hatred? oh, but you “look biracial” so i guess the whole nappy hair thing is not an issue for you. never mind.
    4. “after all your ancestors went through, you’re gonna VOLUNTARILY lay up with those who raped your fore mothers?” that is not inclusive of black men.
    5. do your thing. i don’t know what you appear to be because again i don’t know you. but know that you don’t have to be insulting to do it.
    thanks for the kudos. good night!

  • 16
    nicetry says:

    only hit dogs bark.

    if you can comfortably speak on behalf of all the women with biracial children, then i can comfortably speak for all of us with friends, relatives, colleagues, neighbors, etc, who have biracial children, and have otherwise shown evidence of their black self-hatred.

    regarding hair, i have natural locks. not twisted. very kinky. very nappy. people insist i’m biracial because of my complexion and eye color.

    black men have foremothers who were raped so, no, they aren’t excluded. why you need me to give them a pass, i dunno.

    i’m not insulting anyone. just tired of this raggedy assed “they had the GALL to ask if finnegan was mine!” shit.

    and guess what? i’ve loved white dudes, too. never let one inside me – uh, eww? – but have plenty who i adore as friends. i’m a racist, just as they are. i don’t believe in equality. who the fuck are they to be equal to? you dumb broads itchin’ to crawl back on the plantation to get some of massa’s little dick created the likes of me. black self-love is a revolutionary act. choosing to love and procreate with a black partner was a choice. do you know how many white boys have wanted me? and they LOVE that i’d never mix my seed. respect me far more than your white boys do you, i bet. or did you link up with the cats who love the “sistahs”. blecch.

    and if it didn’t apply to you, you wouldn’t reply. let me stand out there on my own, loud and wrong.

    but i’m not. and you know it. people will always think people like me are prettier than this blogger simply because we’re lighter. that’s fucked up. they’ll look at her son, with his very african nose and all, and assume his intellectual superiority over another black child’s. that’s fucked up. and his name is quinn – so she’s making sure no one mistakes his resume for that of a “colored”. my son has an african name, a GORGEOUS senegalese dad, and stands to inherit a successful business so no one ever has to judge him by name alone, because i’m raising a mogul, not an employee. then again, BARACK OBAMA did okay with his name, eh?

    i’m done playing with you chicks. salute yourselves for being daring enough to love a white boy. tell your children how all the black kids are jealous of them for being lighter. convince yourselves that your love has nothing to do with the political history that you were socialized under.

    i’ll be the bad guy. the evil, black hater chick who *gasp* loves black men and her black baby.

  • 17
    From a Black man named Sean says:

    From what you’ve been writing, I gather that you have a deep-seated hatred of your ancestry – either being the product of a mixed-race relationship, or, at least, looking like one. So, you’ve tried to compensate for this by finding the blackest mandingo on the planet. You are doing exactly what you are accusing this blogger of – choosing a mate purely for how light or dark he is.

    However, this is the 21st century, and there is a concept called love. And some people even espouse the radical idea that you should love a person for who they truly are, not what they look like or what colour their skin happens to be.

    In case you don’t get argument, using your racist logic: take your high-yella, octoroon ass back to the 1940’s.

  • 18
    Yvette says:

    The only hate being spewed is the hate by you Nicetry , I as well as everyone else could feel the self hatred in your emails, I feel very sad for you! Get some help boo!

  • 19
    Ru Freeman says:

    Nicole –

    My life as a journalist began when I was finally fed up with being asked this question, the killer being the woman who, in response to my answer, “I’m not her nanny, I’m her mother,” “I thought maybe, maybe not.” Well, what the heck, lets choose the most offensive possibility then why don’t ya? I wrote to the local paper about this and it began my career as a political writer. Some silver lining there. The thing that I found most egregious was the fact (which I pointed out), that none of my White friends were ever asked if their babies who did not favor their coloring were not theirs. The assumption there was alway, if people even stopped to ask, that they were adopted. So what was it about the color of my skin that makes me a nanny and my White friends mothers? Therein lies the tale.

    Thanks for this post. It is too bad that this appears to be one of those issues that never dies.

  • 20
    Ru Freeman says:

    Oh, yes, and ignore the cowards who hide behind anonymity. Isn’t it strange that hatred always requires a mask?

  • 21
    Saada says:

    I won’t presume to know “nicetry” but ironically everything this anonymous person has said, and the manner it’s being presented screams deep-seated anger and self-hatred. And that is not what this wonderful blog space is about. As a black woman of black loving parents I’m disassociating myself from the rhetoric and ignorant comments made by “nicetry.”

    I don’t agree with any of “nicetry’s” myopic and inaccurate conclusions. I’m not interested in someone who takes such a cowardly approach to dump her personal unresolved, toxic, hang-ups in a positive space — one that encourages constructive discourse. I’m offended but mostly I’m feeling “nicetry” needs a hug and professional assistance in moving forward. That said, I appreciate the diversity of this blog space and the informative perspectives of everyone NB features.

    And “nicetry”:
    Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
    – Buddhist quote

    And NB: Continue to walk far, unscathed.

  • 22
    KW says:

    I want to know why one would even ask the question “Is that your baby?” Isn’t that the point here? People make assumptions based on outward appearance and then feel the need to ask. The assumption is the tragedy, but the horror is the need to ask.

    I disagree with Ru Freeman that white mother’s with children of a different coloring are never asked -that the assumption is always adoption and we are never accused of being the nanny.

    I have had numerous public experiences (too many to tell) where I am with my brown eyed, black haired, olive skinned children -and people have asked. Not just the question of “at what age did your children come to this county”, but worse. “Are their parents coming to this event or do they have to work late?” I never answer these questions, because they are too rude. And, because I love to see the look of embarrassment and surprise on their face when one of my kids yell out.. “Yeah Mom, look at this…” or when my ex-husband (Korean American) shows up and they come running.. “Daddy, daddy..” In fact, in my case even that is an assumption!

    Alone with my children -people look at me (blond, blue eyed and fair skinned) and make all kinds of assumptions. Yes, I must be the nanny, a family friend -I couldn’t possibly be the mother… Then the ex shows up -and it all makes sense. But it doesn’t really. The truth of the matter is that the Korean American ex husband isn’t really their biological daddy.

    Remarried now with extended family -the assumptions continue. Oh the little blond girl must be her’s and those other two children are friends. When in fact, the little blond girl is my step-daughter and the other two mine.

    As a child my best friend had flaming red hair as did my brother. When my mom would take us to the pool, people automatically assumed I was the guest. In turn, when I was with her family everyone thought she was the guest -as her sisters were all blond. We used to think it was funny and made a game out it to fool other kids.

    But it really wasn’t funny…

    When will the need to assume end and the acceptance of each person as they are begin? That’s what I want to know.

  • 23
    Erin says:

    I am in the same boat as you. I am black and my husband is white and our baby boy is a beautiful mix of both of us. I am actually shocked that I have not heard this question yet. But I am prepared for the day when it comes. I love seeing multiracial families out and about because I see it as a reminder to people that families come in all shades and color combinations.