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Raising Biracial Children in America: an Eye-opening and Jaw-dropping Experience

Updated on October 26, 2012

Being the father of two biracial children has been an absolute delight. Joshua Malik and Jontae Emmanuel have given me so much to write and talk about. Folks tell me they look more like their mother than me, but that’s all right. They have my nose and ears at least.

In checkout lines

When Joshua and Jontae were babies, I used to race them around grocery stores while I stocked up on diapers, wipes, and pulverized sweet potatoes and the other kinds of liquefied goo that comes in clear jars. At the checkout, I usually heard something like this:

Cashier: Is that your baby?

In my mind, I was thinking, Hey, I have a baby in the seat of the cart that contains his diapers, wipes, pulverized sweet potatoes and the other kinds of liquefied goo that comes in glass jars. Whose other baby would he be?

Me: Yes, ma’am.

Cashier: That ain’t really your baby, is it?

Me: Yes. He’s my son.

Cashier: You leave him out in the sun too long or something?

Me: No, ma’am.

Cashier: Looks like he’s got the jaundice.

I got tired of hearing questions and comments like that, so I came up with some more creative answers:

Cashier: Is that your baby?

Me: No ma’am. I’m just renting the child today. I have to have him back by six or they’ll charge me a late fee, so could you hurry up? Thanks.

Cashier: Is that your baby?

Me: What baby? Oh, this baby. Who put this baby in my cart? It must have been an impulse buy. Oh look—he has my nose! Amazing! I love this store!

Cashier: Is that your baby?

Me: Oh yes. I found him on aisle nine next to the canned asparagus. He was the last one in stock, and he was a close-out special. I even have a coupon for him. But where’s his bar code? Will you have to do a price check?

Eventually I simply told the truth: “His mother is a beautiful black woman. He has her eyes.” That usually stopped all further conversation.

In stores

At a nameless, upscale department store that has gloriously gone out of business here in Roanoke, I ran into the strangest sales associate I have ever met. After assisting Josh and me in the purchase of a Christmas sweater for Amy, she stared at Josh:

Sales: Oh, it’s so good of you to adopt a Bosnian child.

Me: Um, ma’am, he’s my son.

Sales: Of course he is. And all the way from Bosnia, to boot.

Me: No, um, ma’am, he’s my natural son.

Sales: (blinking) That’s not possible.

Problems at school

When Josh was about four, he came home all hot and bothered about something that a classmate had said to him at pre-school.

Josh: Daddy, what am I?

Me: You’re a little boy.

Josh: No, what am I? A boy called me mixed and yellow and said that you were white.

Me: You’re Joshua Malik Murray. That’s who you are, and I’m your daddy. That’s who I am.

Josh: No, Da-ad. What am I?

Me: Well, you’re Scotch, Irish, and African with a touch of Cherokee as well.

Josh: I’m all that?

Me: Yep.

Josh then compared his arm to mine.

Josh: You’re not white, Daddy. You’re pink! And I’m beige!

My son knew his colors. We had bought him the big box of Crayolas, the one with 64 colors.

Problems with school

Later, invasive governmental, educational, and other temperamental forms began arriving from Josh’s schools. I loved filling them out. I checked all the boxes. Josh was white (not Hispanic or Latino), Hispanic or Latino, black (not Hispanic), Asian, and a Pacific Islander. They only need a box marked “human,” don’t you think? I’m sure I ruined all their demographics. My son saw me joyfully checking all the boxes.

Josh: Daddy, why’d you mark ‘em all?

Me: Because you’re all that.

Josh: I am?

Me: And a bag of chips, my son. And a bag of chips.

After a teacher at my son’s school “did me a favor” and marked “black not Hispanic” on a form so Josh could be “eligible” to attend a special “magnet school,” I wrote a poem so I could vent:

"We Are"

We are

a troublesome element

on the Periodic Table of America—

We are

mixed.


We are

gold-bronze-iron-zinc,

Scotch-Irish-Cherokee-African-

American. American. American.


We are

the melting pot.


We are

ashy-legged grandsons

with Nay-Nays and Chubbies,

Grandmas and Grandpas,

with a taste for chitterlings and greens,

milk and apple pie.


We are not yellow/half-breed/light-skinned

(we’re a rainbow)

We are not trying to act black or white

(just human)

We are not a minority

(a majority of the American Gene flows in us)

We are not searching for our roots

(they’re everywhere we look)

We are not in search of a consciousness

(we’re content with our character)

We are not out to prove ourselves to anyone

(just … everyone)


But

if you think

We are

a problem—

that’s your problem.

We’ll solve ourselves, thank you.


And today … we are … the President.

Pride

Josh is currently a freshman at the University of Richmond studying hard and playing football (in that order), and Jontae was recently elected student government treasurer for his middle school.

I know I spend too much time “away” from them writing, but they’re never far from my thoughts. I doubt I could be any prouder of my sons.

Comments

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    • Raine Law Yuen profile image

      Raine Law Yuen 3 years ago from Cape Town

      You sound like an awesome dad. I like your heartfelt poem. I have two Eurasian children which you would call Hapa in the USA. America and South Africa seem to have a lot in common in that they are both multicultural societies but yet people still seem to be focused on placing people into boxes. I see the future as one where we see each other as Human foremost and look to know each other for who we are and not what we are. My poem Spirit of Hapa is dedicated to mixed race/culture and captures what I hope the 21st century citizen should be.

    • Nicole Henley profile image

      Nicole Henley 4 years ago from San Leandro

      Wow, that was awesome. I feel you! I have almost taken up a foreign language just so I can say "I don't speak English" in Italian just to confuse the next person who asks me what my daughter is mixed with.

      I must share this! Thanks for writing it!

    • multiculturalsoul profile image
      Author

      JJ Murray 5 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

      Shouldn't all parents have tunnel vision when it comes to their kids? I always told myself I would NEVER be that parent to talk up his kids to death in front of other adults ... but I do. Pride has a way of making me talk.

    • KrisL profile image

      KrisL 5 years ago from S. Florida

      Yes!!

      I love the poem.

      As a pink American, I love your attidtude too, and I think you have two handsome sons, of whom you're clearly rightly proud.

      Clicked "awesome" and shared.

    • multiculturalsoul profile image
      Author

      JJ Murray 5 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

      Here's to all the "up" moments (and even some "down") that give us plenty to write about.

    • aimeeSF profile image

      Aimee 5 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      This is a great hub. My husband is African-American and I'm Filipina with some Spanish and Swedish in the mix. My son is only 4 months old, but I already know he'll be asking me the same questions as he grows older and I want him to know exactly who he is and be proud of it.

      I love this hub, your poem, and it's amazing to see your children grow in pictures. I look forward to my new life with my little man, with all its future ups-and-downs.

    • multiculturalsoul profile image
      Author

      JJ Murray 5 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

      Yes, I'm stuck with them. Of course, they're also stuck with me. They tend to look more like me in the winter ... :~)

    • My2GreenBeans profile image

      My2GreenBeans 5 years ago from Tennessee

      Great Hub from one mixed-up family to another! I too am the parent the children do not seem to look much like. My fair skinned Anglo-Euro heritage was no match for Daddy’s Filipino heritage. When the children are asked “what they are” I have directed them to identify themselves as “American” because that’s what they are. I do have one parting question for you… “Are those your kids?” Just kidding!

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