‘Mixed’ Is for Cake Batter, Not People

One mother criticizes the labels given to her biracial child.

Jennifer, Gage and Shane Rogers at Fenway Park (courtesy of Jennifer Rogers)
Jennifer, Gage and Shane Rogers at Fenway Park (courtesy of Jennifer Rogers)

(The Root) — “Are you mixed?”

This question has always turned my stomach. For one, I think it’s rude for strangers to inquire about something so personal. What am I talking about — I’m not a fan of speaking to people in general! The unassuming assuming questioner has racked up one strike against himself simply by opening his mouth to speak in the first place. Yes, I have introversion issues.

Two, I’ve never been fond of the term “mixed.” Nuts are mixed. Brownie batter is mixed. Despite others’ comfort with this label, I just can’t imagine that a body would appreciate being categorized as “mixed.”

Categorically speaking, I’m not multiracial or even biracial. Prior to my son’s birth, it was really none of my business!

Before G was born, I pondered his phenotype ad nauseam. Would he look more like me or like my husband? Pale skin or tan? Curly or straight hair? Blue eyes or brown? I wasn’t particularly concerned that he might look a certain way; I just wanted to start preparing for the questions ahead — his, ours and others’. I surveyed friends and family to determine the most politically correct, self-affirming racial categorization. What would he scribble next to that rude “other” box?

I settled on “biracial.” (In case you’re wondering where my husband was in all of this decision-making, he was living with his very pregnant wife who was on an all-consuming mission, and he had some good sense. He let me take the lead on this one.) I then shelved my crazy for a bit and decided to allow the first years of our son’s identity development to progress without my loving interruption.

When the time came to choose an elementary school, we were fortunate to have several promising options. We’re districted for a great public school, I work closely with two phenomenal private schools and Durham, N.C., is home to many strong magnet and charter schools. We chose to forgo the private schools in order to place G in a more racially and socioeconomically diverse setting. Let’s be honest — we would also prefer to spend $20,000 on a year of college, not kindergarten.

The diversity of G’s school provides a perfect platform for observing and discussing all sorts of human variation. So, of course, I do. Give me an inch …

After months of nonchalantly posing and answering questions about similarities and differences in skin color, I decide it’s time to add the next element: vocabulary. By early elementary school, children typically have the cognitive maturity and awareness to understand the constancy of skin color and to begin to associate racial groups based on language, physical characteristics and cultural traditions. Still egocentric, they become interested in knowing more about groups in which they belong.