“Mamá, you and me are cream colored and Papá is brown,” observed my three-year-old this morning. There’s nothing attached to that statement. He also informs us of the color of every bus, chicken, fruit, poop…he doesn’t even have a favorite color yet—his favorite color is whichever one he happens to be looking at.
“Yes, we’re all beautiful colors,” I said. And that’s that, for now.
When I was pregnant, we assumed that our baby would be an even mix: my Mexican husband’s dark brown complexion and black hair, plus my light skin and blue eyes, would naturally produce a tan child. Coffee with milk. I imagined him clearly (well, I imagined her, actually—gender was just another thing we guessed wrong.) Though I knew that this wasn’t a genetic certainty, it seemed logical. I was prepared to parent a biracial child who looked…biracial. He wouldn’t look precisely like either of us; only the three of us together would tell the whole story, the whole equation: white plus brown equals tan. Of course.
Instead, our son has my exact coloring. Our hair is precisely the same dark blonde-and-brown; when he rests his head on my shoulder, you can’t tell where my hair ends and his begins. His eyes are gray-blue like mine, but with a light brown starburst around each pupil. Our skin is the same color, but he tans, and I burn. He looks, at a glance, like my son.
Some people look closely enough to see that he has his father’s features—the smile, the shape of the eyes, the long black lashes (which always get wasted on boys, am I right?), the heart-shaped face. He’s outgoing like his papá, too, sometimes giving his shy mother little pep talks: “It’s okay, Mamita, say ‘buenos días.’ No pasa nada.” He is who he is.
Genetics are weird. My mother-in-law was blonde as a girl, though her hair darkened to black as she matured. Her father had gray eyes; some of her half-brothers have light eyes. There’s Spanish blood mixed in there somewhere. It seems silly to even try to apply the word “biracial” to our son—what is a race, and how many of them are we talking about here? Is race the same as color? If you can’t see it, is it there?
I think I wanted and imagined a light brown child because it would have neatly avoided the drawing of uncomfortable lines: you and me are cream-colored, Mamita, and Papá is brown. How much easier to say, red and white make pink, yellow and red make orange, and white mamá and brown papá make light brown baby, end of discussion.
Of course that was silly of me. We will have to talk about race— and nationality, culture, privilege and all the rest of it—eventually, about how something with no biological reality has such a powerful, and often unjust, social reality. How mamá and son have privileges that papá doesn’t, just because we’re “cream-colored.”
And then sometimes I think that three year olds have it figured out. Red, blue, purple, brown, white, black: they’re just pretty colors.