Black Like Mommy, White Like Me

Race in America is wonderfully complex, unless of course, you're 3.

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"Nah, she is the spitting image of Ken, like he went, 'puh.'"

"Grandma, don't you think she will have curly hair like mine?"

"What does her hair look like now?"

I knew I couldn't win this argument. "It's straight," I said.

"There you go."

Grandma was wrong about one thing: Simone's hair is curly. When I comb it in the morning, she often wants to look in the mirror and see how many ponytails I have given her and to make sure the ponytail holders match her outfit. "I'm pretty," she says. "You sure are," I say.

I see something else when I look at her in the mirror. I see my late mother, a light-skinned black woman. The truth is, I always figured Simone would look black to herself and to society. I even thought that would be easier for her and for me.

I, for example, know what to say when—not if—the first time someone refers to her using a racial epithet or says something else insensitive. Simone would belong to one, not both worlds.

Now I know better. My job as her black mother is to help her navigate a race-conscious world, and I can't take the easy route. I can't simply explain to my daughter where she came from. I must show her, teach her about her background and how to embrace its significance, and I can't wait until she's old enough to understand.

That means I will buy that American Girl doll with the curly hair and light skin. I will make sure my husband tells her about her white great-grandfather's days as the drum major for the Louisiana State University marching band, and I'll tell her stories about how her black grandfather picked cotton as a child. Together, we will expose her to people who look like her and take her to faraway lands so that she can see people of every color. When we can't do that, we will turn to culture, music and art. I don't want her to have to choose one race over the other like so many interracial children who came before her.