It’s 2009 – but my biracial pregnancy still makes some people uncomfortable.
by Elizabeth G. Hines
September 28, 2009
“Why on earth would you do that to a child?”
We were riding a train from Washington DC to New York when my friend dropped it on me, this jaw-grinding punctuation to a long discussion we’d been having about life, love, and the likelihood of kids in either of our lives. I was in my twenties, far enough along the arc of life to know just a few things for sure, first among them that I wanted to parent one day; she was about to hit forty, and had made an uneasy peace with the fact that she probably never would.
In the moments before her sudden outburst, I had been sharing with her some of the challenges of having a child as a lesbian: the need to find a donor or pick a sperm bank; the financial cost; the social issues that might be raised by being the child of gay parents. None of this had fazed her remotely.
Then she asked me what my ideal donor would look like. I answered honestly that I had no pre-set “ideal” in mind, but assumed that my partner and I would pick a donor that reflected the racial background of the one of us who was not biologically related to the child. At the time, I was in an interracial relationship – which meant, she quickly deduced, that I was talking about conceiving a bi-racial child.
That, and that alone, was enough to make my fair-minded, thoughtful friend shed her liberal cool and call into question my credibility as a potential parent. Not my identity as a gay woman, mind you, which might have been an easy target. This was about race, and the perceived disadvantage I would be burdening a child with by choosing to create him or her from two different racial gene pools.
“I really can’t believe you’d do that,” she offered again. “Won’t life be difficult enough for the kid already?”
Though that conversation took place more than ten years ago, it has stayed with me all of this time – partly because her statement so shocked me, and partly because it wouldn’t be the last time someone would share a similar sentiment with me, particularly as my current relationship (which is also an interracial one) moved towards producing children. Why, they wonder, would you choose to create a mixed race child? Why wouldn’t you just stick with one race or the other?
The underlying implications of those questions, of course, reveal a great deal about how uncomfortable many people are with our nation’s increasingly multi-racial identity. My five-month-old daughter, who is indeed a mix of my African-American heritage and her other mother’s European heritage, is a member of one of this country’s fastest growing demographics: as of 2008, approximately 5.2 million Americans identified as multi-racial, a number that grew 3.4% over the course of just one year – ten times the rate of growth recorded among the white population over the same period.
If you haven’t yet felt that demographic shift in your own town, you’ve certainly seen it on TV or at the movies. Stars like Halle Berry, Tiger Woods and our own Commander-in-Chief have made multi-raciality a familiar concept to most Americans. And the fact that more than half of those who identify as multi-racial are under twenty years old indicates that, in certain pockets, ideas about interracial couplings have undergone a major overhaul in a relatively short period of time.
But familiarity with the concept does not necessarily equate to wholesale acceptance of the trend – and the various versions of the “why would you do that?” question my partner and I have encountered on our quest to become parents reveal how far we have yet to go before the term “post-racial” can be applied to the American experience without irony. Life for interracial families and their children has certainly gotten better – especially as compared to experiences like my mother’s cousin (black) and his wife (white) had when they fell in love in Alabama in the 1960s and were forced to leave the state in order to marry (Alabama only lifted its ban on interracial marriage in 2000). Still, antiquated ideas about race and racial purity (the “tragic mulatto,” anyone?) persist, despite the increasing diversity of our population.