I Am His Mother Even If You Think I Am Just The Nanny
When I gave birth to my son, my entire world changed. He has helped me learn more about the world around me, and because of him, I continually make big changes in my life. I know that his future depends on the actions I take today.
I have changed the way I eat to be healthier and stay in this world a little longer with him. I have changed my waste habits because he will inherit whatever trash I leave behind. Each day I continue to push myself to be a better person so that he can have a better tomorrow.
However, I never expected that he would also teach me about racism albeit inadvertently. My son was born prematurely, and when he was born, his skin and hair color were still developing. He looked dark-skin with black hair “he looks just like you,” some would tell me. Nevertheless, as he has continued to develop, his skin color turned white, his hair blond, and his eyes gray.
People do not think he looks like me anymore, which is okay because he does not. However, strangers ask me about the whereabouts of his mother. “I am his mom,” I reply, and they often look confused, “Oh, really? I thought you were his nanny,” feeling a little embarrassed. Yet, when I tell them it happens often, they suddenly feel relieved. What has surprised me the most, though, is that it is not just adults who think this way. Often innocent children ask me the same question “where is his mom?”
I never thought this was a thing in a world increasingly mixed. I was shocked, and a bit confused the first time I was asked about my son’s mother's whereabouts.
I began to inquire about this on social media and was surprised to find out it frequently happens across the country. Some people even told me stories about where the police were involved. I was flabbergasted. Then I came across a news story that gave me the creeps.
Torrance police say officers responded to the 700 block of Border Avenue Sunday afternoon regarding a suspicious circumstances call — a possible abduction involving an older Hispanic man walking with a small child.
Abel Mata says he was shocked when he learned he was the center of attention.
Mata spends as much time as possible with his 2-year-old grandson Milo Walker. He says they were together when police showed up outside his Torrance home and asked him about a young child.
“Torrance grandfather says he was accused of abducting his grandson because of their different skin tones.” abc7, September 2, 2020.
Ethnicity is not just a word. It is intimately tied to culture, language, traditions, and history that a group of people share. For thousands of years, our ancestors spent their lives thinking that the world was filled with people who looked just like them.
Unless your ancestors lived in the Mediterranean, they were most likely surrounded exclusively by their own ethnic group their whole lives. Many societies remained tribal until Europeans colonized other parts of the world. And to this day, many of us still hold tribal views even as we have been detribalized.
I used to get upset when people mistook me for a nanny. My son was born when Covid-19 was making his way to the United States. We have barely taken him out, and we have already experienced this rather uncomfortable situation. I cannot imagine what will happen when masks come off and even worse when he begins to understand language and questions me for being questioned by strangers.
We make assumptions based on appearance. We identify with others based on how they look, the language they speak, etc., and I understand that very well because I do it too. That is just how we are.
Therefore, people's assumption about my son and me does not offend me. What does offend me is that they are bold enough to ask just to confirm their doubts. Most people mean no harm, and they think is no big deal, but for my son, it’s harmful, and for him, it’s a big deal. That’s the problem.
I feel grief that my son will grow into a world that questions his relationship to me as though it was a choice he could have made. Children do not have the capacity to process a lot of the information we feed them. I wish I could somehow prevent people from asking me such offensive questions, but I cannot control others' behavior.
What these strangers don't understand is that they satisfy their curiosity at the expense of my son’s well-being. They go home and forget about us, but we will have to sit and talk about it as he ages.
Mixed children are often questioned about their identity and have difficulty finding a place to belong. They can be perceived as too white amongst non-white folks but not white enough amongst whites, so they find themselves stuck trying to figure out who they are. I do not want that for my son.
Because risk among mixed-race adolescents is higher for all race combinations, some across-the-board explanation must be inferred. The most common explanation in the literature is stress associated with identity conflict.
Health and Behavior Risks of Adolescents with Mixed-Race Identity J. Richard Udry, Rose Maria Li, Janet Hendrickson-Smith Am J Public Health. 2003 Nov; 93(11): 1865–1870. doi: 10.2105/ajph.93.11.1865
I can only ask people to be more mindful about how they ask things, not for my sake but for my child, who has yet to find his place in this world.