Within six months of turning 23, I’ve graduated from my master’s program, gotten married, and started my first “adult job” as an instructor at a local college. I’ve also gotten pregnant. Ridiculously, full-bellied, stop-me-in-the-supermarket pregnant.
But the sudden onslaught of adulthood, pregnancy included, is nothing compared to what I’m experiencing as a biracial pregnant lady married to a white man. While I've always been aware of the challenges of being black in America, I’m now faced with the equally terrifying possibility that my son may enter the world under the veil of whiteness—an identity rife with dangers of its own.
My dilemma is one that is both increasingly common, with intermarriage in the U.S. at an all-time high, and maddeningly singular. After all, there’s no book called What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Biracial Child in a Country Still Plagued by Racial Injustice.
In true millennial fashion, my first instinct after confirming my pregnancy was to turn to the internet for guidance. Naively, I perused the slick, pastel interfaces of maternity sites for posts on “common new mom fears,” searching feverishly for the “helpful hints” I actually needed. I crossed my fingers and hoped for articles with titles like, “So, Your Baby Is Passing” or “What to Expect When Your Baby Begins to Show Signs of Internalized Anglo-Normativity.”
No such luck.
While white reproduction is discussed in terms of love and romantic union, interracial reproduction is often couched in the language of breeding. People talk about my unborn child like a litter of puppies. Between the choruses of “What a good-looking couple!” and “Can’t wait to see your kids!” are the half-formed refrains of “What an interesting mix!” and “With his eyes and your skin tone? Can you imagine!?”
What some hear as compliments, I hear as code. My husband and I joke that, perhaps, instead of hosting a “gender reveal” party in the weeks to come, we should host a “complexion reveal” party after our child is born because that trait, along with eye color, is the one with which people seem most concerned. They’re curious. And to some extent, I get it. We are not your average rom-com couple. With my nearly-black eyes, dark curls, and browner-than-bronze skin tone, juxtaposed against my husband—who, according to his students, might best be described as the doppelganger of Irish mixed martial artist Conor McGregor—we have absolutely no idea what to expect from our children in the looks department.
Most of my friends, on the other hand, will wind up marrying someone from their own race, and the finer points of their child’s appearance will be moot. Their progeny will be recognizably “theirs.” I, however, will likely share my mother’s experience of regularly being stopped by strangers desperate to know who their lighter-skinned child truly belongs to. I like to imagine that I will react to the embarrassed refrains of “Oh, those are yours?” with the same air of Zen dignity as my mother. But a larger part of me thinks I should respond with enough righteous anger (or at least bitter sarcasm) to let him or her know that this isn’t, and has never been, an appropriate question.
Much like my mother, I have found myself the unwitting target of The Well-Meaning Stranger as my belly grows. Overly familiar hands—most often white—grasp at my protruding stomach, sending the tiny yam inside my belly into a protest of kicks. In some ways, though, I am lucky: While some expectant mothers are shocked by the way their newly swollen bodies seem to draw the unwanted attentions of every busybody within a 20-mile radius, for me, this is nothing new. One of the constants throughout my 23 years of life in this country has been the sudden, unwelcome presence of manicured white fingers raking through my curls as they ooh and aah over their “surprisingly soft” texture.
I’ve gotten used to feeling that my body is not entirely my own. My yam, though, is a different story. The fact that strangers feel so comfortable pawing at my unborn child terrifies me; it reminds me that, as a person of color in a nation that claims to be “post-racial,” my body, as well as my son’s, seems to be a public possession—one that may never know true autonomy. I worry, should my son be born darker, that when he is stopped and patted down on his way home from school or work or a date he will see this not as a violation, but as a fact of life. I worry that perhaps when my son is born, he will feel the unwelcome brush of strangers’ hands against his body and recognize it from those days in the womb—as natural as the pulsations of my heartbeat or the far-off vibrations of my voice.
These are the fears I harbor for the quarter of my son that is black. For the whiteness within him, and for myself, I harbor other fears—fears of erasure that fill me with shame, because while I pray that my son will not suffer the slings and injustices of American Otherness, I also pray that his privilege, should he inherit it, will not divide us. I fear that my son—insulated for nine-odd months in the warm shelter of my womb—will burst into the world and not recognize me. I fear that he will, in the midst of latching his tiny mouth around my nipple, see its darkness against his impossibly pale skin and see not his mother, but a stranger. I fear that my son, as he grows into a teenager, will feel his pale cheeks flush with shame when I appear to check in on him and his friends, not because of my tendency to hover—helicopter parenting transcends race, after all—but because of my residency in a body whose darkness is so vastly different from his own.
As he grows bolder within me, I fear for my son, but I am not without hope. A few months from birth, I find that my He-Yam moves most palpably, most forcefully, most gleefully in response to the rhythmic pulsations of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. As I feel my unborn child’s tiny hands and feet pounding in time with Lamar’s defiant proclamations that we are, despite it all, “gon’ be alright,” I cannot help but press pause on my fears. Because even in the womb, my baby—in every sense of the word—is woke.
Xavia Dryden is a writer and teacher in Kansas, where she ponders social justice, lit crit, and hip hop with her husband and soon-to-be son.