During Gus’s first year, I cannot count the number of times someone said to me, “Your baby is so tan!”
Or “You must spend a lot of time outside”
And my favorite, “Wow! How’d your baby get so tan?”
You’re probably thinking, “Where does she live that people would say this?”
Well, you might be surprised to find out I live in Los Angeles, one of the largest melting pots in this country. It’s one of the reasons I love it so much. There’s not a definitive normal or what some would consider a majority. You can find any culture represented. Given this, you would think comments like this would be unheard of. Unfortunately, this isn’t so.
To be fair, Gus’s racial identify was very ambiguous when he was a baby. I don’t think the women in the Target aisles or in the Starbucks line were intentionally being rude or disrespectful when making these comments. Like most things, I think their insensitivity stemmed from a lack of awareness. I don’t think people know how to respond to children whose racial identity is unclear. I think there is an assumption that if you ask about race, you will be labeled a racist. And most people don’t want to be labelled a racist. Instead, they end up making comments that aren’t racist, just ridiculous.
This morning another woman stumbled her way through trying to ask me about Gus’s racial identity. In an effort to promote awareness and understanding about describing biracial children, I’ve provided a list of the most common inappropriate questions I get regarding my son’s racial identity. More importantly, I’ve also provided better alternatives to the questions I think people are really trying to ask, but are not sure if it is okay to ask or the politically correct way to do so.
1. What is your son?
Take a moment to think about how this question sounds and its implications. It implies that my son is something other than a little boy. This question is clearly about his race, but not the appropriate way to do so.
It is perfectly acceptable to simply ask: What is your son’s race?
I will not be offended. It’s a legitimate question. It is fine to be curious.
2. What is his dad?
This is the same question as number one, but targeted at his dad. I get asked it over and over again. Imagine if I turned the question around and asked you, “What are you?” How would you answer this question?
I have to bite my tongue not to give a sarcastic response like he’s an elephant.
Again, it is perfectly acceptable to ask: What is his dad’s race?
I promise that I will not think it is some sort of racial attack.
3. Is he yours?
This question is a bit hurtful. Don’t ask it. Frankly, you shouldn’t ask this question of any parent/child dyad that you see. Always assume that a child is with their parent or primary caregiver unless you are told differently.
I understand why the question gets asked because Gus doesn’t physically resemble me that much. He’s a miniature version of his dad. You don’t see much of me in his physical appearance unless you look closely. But I’ve never given this much thought. I don’t think about our physical differences anymore than another parent who has a child whose looks favor the other parent.
Oh, and there is not an acceptable alternative to this question. You shouldn’t ask this question or any version of this question.
Look closely. You see that big head? That’s all me.