babies are a social construct

hey there!

I can’t believe it’s been a month (!) since I last wrote to you. Time is realllllly confusing right now. I’ve been feeling a LOT since my last post, including some tiny baby karate kicks in my belly!

Being pregnant is a W I L D ride. Some days I wake up feeling magical and filled with beautiful butterflies. Other days, I want to crawl out of my skin and melt deep into the ground and stay there…. forever. Know what I mean?


Lately, I’ve been so curious about who this baby is going to *be* when he enters the world. I realize that a lot of my anxieties around having a child are linked to my own anxieties about how the world perceives me. Now lucky baby gets to be the container of my own projections and fears. Parenthood, am I right?

The one fear I’ve been projecting onto this baby again and again is a classic for us mixed people. It has to do with how he will look racially. I’m being very intentional about not saying identify, but rather look. In an America that thrives off of making split second judgments about a person based on their phenotypical traits and how those traits “match” up to narrow dichotomous categories, one’s mixed racial identities are often collapsed and erased.

There is a very good chance that this baby may have suuuuper light skin. Like… burns after two minutes in the sun-blue eyes-blonde hair, light skin. It’s totally possible! And while my heart is urging me to say “It won’t matter if this baby comes out neon green” my mind is telling me that the way the world perceives this baby racially will matter, a lot.

In a society that is figuratively and literally organized in terms of Black and White, our thinking about racial identities becomes narrow and dull. And because race is a social construct that literally has no biological bases when you get down to it, trying to *make sense* of race and it’s pasty cousin racism can make you go bananas. And yet… it’s the social construct on which practically everything is based off of. And so, let’s just cut the crap and stop pretending like we are not suuuuuper judgmental about someone based on the ways we perceive them, racially.

When anyone even suggests to me they “really don’t see race” in 2021, I automatically know this is a person I can’t trust. Because, as Claudia Rankine puts it, if you can’t see race, can you not see racism?

And even if a person tries to suggest that well, okay fine, they can see race, but it doesn’t affect the way they treat a person, then cue the eye rolls because COME ON YOU ARE JUST LYING TO US AND TO YOURSELF. Of course you see someone’s race!!! You are likely totally off in your reading of the person based on the way you perceive them racially, but you are having a very real reaction to that person based on the way they look racially to you. We are all socialized to see in this way. Don’t tell me you’re above it. You’re not, honey.

But back to my unborn child’s skin color….

My mind is going in a million different directions when I think about this. Because on the one hand, even if this baby has the exact same skin tone as mine, he will still benefit from a ton of light skin privilege. He will likely be tokenized rather than ostracized by society. That makes me feel really sad, relieved and guilty all at once. And then on the other hand, this baby could present to the outside world as… a typical white male. Then what??? How will he celebrate his mixedness and blackness if the world doesn’t see him that way? We all know what happens when we see a white passing person taking up space meant exclusively for people of color. Will he not be accepted in BIPOC spaces if most of the people there assume he is white? Should he not even try to find community in those spaces? How does he explain that he’s not, in fact, fully white, even though he looks, in fact, fully white? Also the term “fully white” is making me feel really uncomfortable for some reason... will unpack later.

These are all questions that are impossible to answer in a world that solely thinks in terms of binaries. If the only racial choices are Black or White, and you don’t fit neatly into one of those two categories (based on how you’re perceived by others) you essentially have nowhere to go. That’s why I tend to lean towards the term “Mixt” when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Not in a kumbaya, I’m the best of both worlds type of way, but more in a “I don’t fit perfectly in any of these categories you’re making me choose from and now I’m just stressed out so Mixt it is!” But ask 10 racially mixed people how they identify racially and you’ll get 10 different responses from them.

I hate to say it, but it’s about to get even more confusing for this next generation of Mixt folks. That’s because, we really haven’t developed robust (any) language for those who don’t identify as “Biracial.” In the 90s Biracial became a popular term to use, even thought it’s starting to lose its edge, the way most terms from the 90s do. But Biracial was, theoretically, meant for people who identified with two races. What about those who identify with more than two races? Or those whose parents are mixed? Are they… quadracial? octaracial? Don’t know about you, but both of these terms are offending me.

Just so we’re clear about how anxious Black vs. White racial categories are making me feel, the other day I caught myself having this bizarre, troubling thought:

I was in the car with Sam listening to the Grateful Dead Radio. Just bare with me for a second. I am by no means a Dead Head (…) but I respect the music and bow down to John Mayer. All of a sudden in the middle of a *drums and space* interlude, I felt the baby starting to kick a LOT. He was, essentially, dancing around to the music. When I told Sam this, he was ecstatic, quickly placing his hand on my belly to feel the baby’s movement. It should have been such a joyous moment but all my anxiety told me was:

Oh no. This baby likes the grateful dead. Does this make him white? No way a Black baby could like this music. Does he even have rhythm? Shit, I think he’s off beat in there. Noooooo. His black card is already revoked. He’s doomed.

I couldn’t even enjoy a beautiful moment with this funky fetus for thirty seconds before feeling anxious about the racial repercussions. This is what white supremacy and racial categorizations do to a mixed person. They suck the fun out of every situation and make you want to murder John Mayer.

But it gets worse. I’ve also started feeling anticipatory panic about how people will perceive me and my son when we’re together. I’m building up my armor for the potential: “Is he yours?” question that every parent who has a different skin tone from their child gets. Or for when I go to pick him up from pre-school and the other kids ask, “Is that your nanny?” And yes, I’ll be able to laugh most of these situations off. Kids are so dumb, wowww I’ll tell myself. But I’m an adult. What about my son? What will he do? While these are far from worse-case scenarios in the grand scheme of things, they still suck. It’s exhausting constantly having to explain and justify your existence to others.

The one thing that gives me a little glimmer of hope is the fact that, like it or not (bigots), mixed people are here to stay. On the 2020 Census, the Two or More Races population (also referred to as the Multiracial population) has changed considerably since 2010. The Multiracial population was measured at 9 million people in 2010 and is now 33.8 million people in 2020. I’m horrendous at math but I’m pretty sure that is a 276% increase! That is HUGE. So while I don’t have any answers at this point, I’m confident that there will be others out there just as confused as me with little beige-white-brown babies running around who will need some support figuring out how to identify in this shitty, bland world.

If you or someone you know is as anxious about all of this as I am, please reach out so we can go down a fun anxiety spiral together. Anyone is welcome to join, as long as they can see race.

love,

Jesse