From the day he was born, my baby was judged by the color of his skin.
After spending a day and a night in intensive care, Bonnie had met me for only a few hours when a woman poked her head in the door to ask me what I would like for breakfast.
Before I could answer, he asked: “Is that your baby?”
I anticipated that the next thing he would say would be a compliment: “He’s adorable!” or “His cheeks are so plump!”
Instead, he repeated, “Is that really your baby?”
His tone was one of surprise, with slight dismay. His use of the word “really” worried me.
“It looks so white. Look at her hair, it’s so straight. It’s so white, ”he continued.
And that’s when it all started: people who didn’t know me felt free to ask if I was the mother from Bonnie or commenting on her skin color.
It happened in the hospital where she had just given birth. It would happen again later when I was out shopping, sitting in restaurants, and visiting friends.
I have brown skin. My partner is white. Bonnie is mixed race.
From the maternity ward, I sent photos of Bonnie to the people I loved and some responded with one-line sentences, unsweetened as a new mom might expect.
“It’s really white.”
“I prefer the photo that looks more African.”
“She is very pale isn’t she?“.
Someone felt the need to capitalize their message: “It’s STILL white.”
(A mixed-breed baby may be born with skin one or two shades lighter in color than it will be later.)
It hurted me.
Bonnie and I spent five days alone in the hospital. It was during the first wave of covid-19, in which visits were not allowed. My partner could only see us through the WhatsApp video, and this meant that he had a lot of time to search the internet and worry about people’s comments.
Would people assume that I was not Bonnie’s mother? Would Bonnie have to explain who I was all the time? Would they always think I was the babysitter?
I was not prepared to deal with this.
Five weeks after we left the hospital, a beautiful walk turned unpleasant. A man appeared screaming aggressively, “Why is your baby so white? He surrounded us very furious.
“Why is she so white? Did you get yourself a white man? That’s what happens when you hit a target! Look at her, look at her, look at her Why is it so white?“.
I was shocked, scared, and embarrassed by the audience I had attracted. I couldn’t understand why this man, who was the same color as me, was so offended.
In fact, all the negative comments about my baby’s skin color were made by people of the same colorr of skin than me. I didn’t understand it. I had never imagined that mestizo families would have to go through this.
My most regret is not having defended my family. I said nothing. I walked away from this angry stranger, holding back my tears until I reached the safety of my own home.
I never spoke about the impact it had on me, until I met Wendy.
Wendy lopez She is 60 years old, lives in South London and tries not to take life too seriously.
28 years ago she gave birth to Olivia. Her friend called the maternity ward in Guyana, South America, to check if her baby was black or white.
Wendy laughs as she tells the story. This is how she handles things.
Olivia had brown hair, but with “big blonde curls” in the front.
“It was like she went to the salon and someone had put rollers in her hair,” says Wendy.
A doctor asked Wendy if there were “whites in the family”, and she explained that Olivia’s father was white.
But he said, “No, no, no, there are whites in your family and that’s why Olivia is so pale.”
“I was like, ‘Why are you telling me all this?’” Recalls Wendy. “Are you going to see all the moms and tell them about your son’s color? I bet not“.
Wendy admits that her mother did not approve of her granddaughter’s skin color and occasionally referred to her as “the white girl,” but she felt she could deal with it. It was more difficult when the comments came from strangers.
She recalls an incident that was particularly disturbing. Wendy was doing her weekly shopping in Deptford, South London, with Olivia in the pram, when she passed three black men standing outside a pub.
“One of them came towards me. He looked at Olivia and asked, ‘Is this your daughter?’
“I said, ‘No.’
“Basically, rI epudied my sonto, but in that situation I would do it again ”.
“I do not regret. I felt threatened. I was scared. I could smell that he had been drinking. I thought he might beat us up, ”says Wendy.
“In those days it didn’t look good for black women to be with white men.”
Today, people often show their disapproval in other ways, and Wendy won’t keep quiet, in part because Olivia has a learning disability and can’t defend herself.
“I went to get the covid vaccine a few months ago and the nurse asked me if I was Olivia’s caregiver, and when I told her I was her mother, she asked if I really gave birth to her,” says Wendy.
“I can’t let people get away with telling me these things.”
She considers comments like this an attack on who Olivia is, and that if her daughter could, “she would be telling people to leave her alone” and saying, “My father is white, my mother is black, period“.
I told Wendy something that has been bothering me for a while. Are we – am I – too sensitive?
“Well,” he says, clasping his hands, “that’s what everyone who’s not in this situation will say, ‘Oh, you’re too sensitive. Come on, we didn’t mean anything by that. You have an attitude problem. ‘
But after 14 months I’m tired of having to constantly confirm that this beautiful being that I hold in my arms is my daughter.
“We are in the 21st century. You would think that people have advanced a bit, but they haven’t, ”says Fariba Soetan, who writes a blog about raising mestizo children.
Fariba is 41 years old and half Iranian, half English. Her husband is Nigerian and they have three daughters aged 10, 8 and 6.
“I was really terrified of the comments they would make to us for having three girls who have different skin tones “says Fariba.
“I can already see the different experiences my daughters will have depending on how they are perceived in society.”
An incident last year really bothered her. Fariba was picking up her seven-year-old daughter from a class in North London.
“I gave her a hug and then one of the girls said, ‘Is that your daughter?’
“I said, ‘Yes.’ And she answered, ‘Do you still love her even if she’s that color?‘.
“My daughter had to hear that,” says Fariba, trying not to cry.
But writing about it helps. “It makes me feel like I’m having an impact. I’m not just suffering from it, I’m doing something about it. “
I want Fariba to assure me that this is all just a phase and that people’s curiosity will stop.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
“There are often comments after vacation, especially with my oldest daughter, who is the darkest,” says Fariba.
“‘Oh… She’s pretty tanned’ or ‘She looks pretty dark.’ There are often underlying shades of ‘Do you want to be that skin color?’
“Certainly some of this has affected her. He doesn’t want to get too dark because there is something negative associated with it. “
Then Asha, who we are talking about, crosses the garden towards us. She has just returned from gymnastics and is still full of energy. She wants to show me her favorite books, about curly hair and being a star black ballerina.
“Sometimes I look at people on the street and wonder if they think we are from the same family,” says Asha.
She has found a solution.
“I dI write to my family like ice cream flavors. I am candy. Mom is vanilla. Dad is chocolate. She is dulce de leche and my younger sister is café con leche ”.
“It is better to think of them that way, rather than saying that you are lighter or much darker than me.”
“I want to compare ourselves using delicious things. Things that people love, like ice cream. We are a family and you should not judge us ”.
When Asha leaves, dancing, Fariba tells me that she hopes people like Meghan Markle and the Vice President of the United States, Kamala harris, encourage people to reexamine biases about color, whether they may claim the black identity or question the belief from the colonial era that being white is better.
“I hope something is changing. I think we should hold onto that hope. ”
A few weeks after meeting Wendy, she texted me to follow up on our conversation.
“I hope everything goes well,” he wrote. “I forgot to say: just be happy with your daughter, because these precious years will just fly by.”
It is advice that I am completely happy to follow.
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