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Caramel Kid

Jacob came home from school and asked me what color he was. Since the day he was born, I knew this day would come. I consider myself to be an honest person, and I thought that when and if Jacob ever came to me with the race/identity question, I'd tell him the truth. So what's the truth? His dad is white and I'm black. What does that make Jacob? I can't tell him he's white, because he's not, and I can't say he's black, because he's not that either. I could go with the flow and tell him he's mulatto, but is that really something you want to have to tell your child? That he's been dubbed a certain name by the world for lack of anything better? And even if you could tell your child that, what kind of word is that to call a person? I looked mulatto up in the dictionary: "Small mule; person of mixed race; mulatto, from mulo, mule, from Old Spanish, from Latin."

Are you kidding me? Small mule?! I realize mulatto's a word that he'll have to get used to, but I'll be damned if it's from my mouth he hears it first. I will tell him it is what he'll be called by other people, but I will not give "mulatto" as the answer to a question that has the potential to define how he views himself for the rest of his life!

Anyway, there we were in my bedroom, my five-year-old and I, staring at each other. I patted the bed and asked him to sit, but he was too upset to settle down. He shook his head no and asked me again. Hoping to buy myself time to find a more appropriate answer, I told him he's caramel. "Like candy?" he asked. The look of bewilderment on his face brought tears to my eyes. "Well, sort of," I answered. "But why can't I look like you...or daddy?" he asked. I sighed, and told him that he is like his dad and me. That he's got little bits of both of us in him, and that's what makes him Jacob.

My son pondered this, and I had never seen anything so endearing. His little face scrunched as he thought deeply about what I'd just said to him. After he'd digested this information, he looked at me and asked if he could ask me something. I told him he could ask me anything at all, and he asked me if Zach, a kid from his daycare, was better than him because Zach's white like daddy.

Whoa. Where was this coming from? I told Jacob that no one is better than anyone else because of his color, and I assured Jacob that Zach was NOT better than him. I put Jacob on my lap and told him that he was the smartest little boy in my book and that I could not be more proud of him. The smile he gave me was priceless; everything was right with the world.

So it begins...slowly but surely, it begins. As parents, we try to protect our kids from everything that we think might hurt them, but I guess there's only so much we can do. A couple of months ago, I went grocery shopping with Jacob. He was walking ahead of me as I chose items from the shelves. An older Caucasian woman in the aisle dropped her folder on the floor. Jacob bent to pick it up for her, and when he handed it back, she thanked him in Spanish. She asked him what his name was (also in Spanish). She apologized when I told her he wasn't Hispanic, but all the way home, Jacob wanted to know why that lady had spoken to him in Spanish. "Because she assumed you were something you're not, just because you look a certain way, honey."

I know there'll be more questions, and I know there'll be more experiences for him -- some not as easy to get over. I hope that whatever the case, I'm able to make Jacob understand that his color doesn't define him or his life.


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