Black Like Mommy, White Like Me

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

Carrie Pratt

That means there are more families like mine addressing similar questions.

Back inside our Alabama home, I was uncomfortable, as if someone was watching our every move. I knew, by the way Ken and I reacted, that our latest dilemma was significant. If we flubbed this one, the one we had known was coming, how could we possibly be counted on to find the right things to say about boys, drugs, choosing the best college or any of those other tough parenting subjects?

After talking with Francis Wardle, executive director for the Center for the Study of Biracial Children and a father of four biracial children, I realized I was in better shape than I thought. Simone, it turns out, could have come to her conclusion about her race by herself. No one told her she was white.

Children between the ages of 3 and 5, he said, are becoming aware of their physical appearance and starting to make comparisons. Girls, as you would imagine, often do this before boys.

“She has two choices,” he said. “She is either the same as you or the same as her father. There isn’t a third option.” At her age, race is an abstract concept and difficult to grasp.

She’s not the only one having a tough time. I sent e-mails to my girlfriends recounting our conversation. There was no way a black woman could deliver a white child. I am her mother, her black mother, the one who carried her for 9 months.

My grandmother, though, was sure that was what had happened. Soon after Simone was born, she told me how she felt.

“You didn’t do nothing for yourself,” she said.

I didn’t dare talk back. “Well, Mom was light-skinned,” I said.

“Light-skinned? That child ain’t light-skinned. She’s Caucasian.”