Lowri Turner: Emotional turmoil over the colour of her child's skin
"She's getting very dark, isn't she?" This is what one of my friends recently said about my much adored - 12-week-old daughter.
She didn't mean to be rude. But it was a comment that struck me with the force of a jab to the stomach.
Immediately, I was overwhelmed by a confusion of emotions. I felt protective, insulted, worried, ashamed, guilty, all at once. The reason? My lovely, wriggly, smiley baby is mixed race.
Now, I think of myself as pretty 'right on'. My home is on the border of the London Republic of Hackney. I've been to the Notting Hill Carnival, even if I found the music a bit loud. Yet now I realise what a 'white' world I inhabit.
I am white and I have two sons from my first marriage who are both milky complexioned and golden haired. My twin sister, who I spend a lot of time with, has a Danish partner. As a consequence, she has two boys who are also pale skinned and flaxen haired.
Into this positively Scandinavian next generation, I have now injected a tiny, dark-skinned, dark-haired girl. To say she stands out is an understatement.
My colouring and that of my children has never really been an issue before. However, three years ago I met the man who became my second husband and who is the father of my daughter.
Although born in the UK, his parents came from India in the Sixties. This makes him British-Asian and our daughter mixed race.
There is another more PC term for the plump little bundle I strap to my front. She is 'dual heritage'. It's a bit trendy, but I quite like it. It implies a pride in coming from two cultures, rather than the less attractive connotations of 'mixed race'.
The usual time something is labelled 'mixed' is when it's a packet of nuts and they've bulked out the luxury cashews with cheaper peanuts. I'm not sure I want my daughter to be regarded as an adulterated version of some pure original. Still, it is the most accepted description.
The truth is, whatever the label, the fact there is a label proves that my daughter's conflicting parentage matters.
At the more frothy end of the scale, mixed-race children are regarded as pretty dolls — white kids with a nice tan.
When I was pregnant and people asked me about the child I was having, and I explained her father was Indian, they would often coo something along the lines of: "Ooh, she's going to be beautiful!" as if I was discussing a new rose, made from an exotic cross-breeding programme.
On a less benevolent level, mixed-race children can receive a hostile welcome from both white and black communities. Being neither one thing nor another may get you on the cover of Vogue, but it isn't an easy way to make friends.
Angelina Jolie with baby Zhara
But this is 2007, surely things are more enlightened than that? I hope so, but I fear not.
One reason for my fear is my own mixed reactions to my daughter. Don't get me wrong, I love her. She is the child I didn't think I'd have after my first marriage broke up. She is the only granddaughter in our family and we all dote on her.
But when I turn to the mirror in my bedroom to admire us together, I am shocked. She seems so alien. With her long, dark eyelashes and shiny, dark brown hair, she doesn't look anything like me.
I know that concentrating on how my daughter looks is shallow. She is a person in her own right, not an accessory to me. But still, I can't shake off the feeling of unease.
I didn't realise how much her looking different would matter and, on a rational level, I know it shouldn't. But it does.
Evolution demands that we have children to pass on our genes, hence the sense of pride and validation we get when we see our features reappearing in the next generation.
With my daughter, I don't have that. Do black fathers who marry white women and then have paler-skinned children feel my sense of loss? Or maybe Chinese mothers or Middle-Eastern grandparents grieve when they see a child they know to be their own, but whose features don't reflect that?
I worry that, as my daughter doesn't look like me, people will assume she is adopted. After all, it's all the rage in showbiz circles.
Madonna famously scooped up a black child when she wanted to be a mother again and Angelina Jolie appears to be assembling a 'pick 'n' mix' of kids from different countries. It's all very United Colours of Benetton, isn't it?
In the real world, I fear for my daughter's sense of self. She has a tiny foot in two cultures. How will she negotiate a path between the two? I worry that my sons will feel less of a kinship with their sister because she is different, although there is no sign of that.
As for myself, there is an inescapable status issue to address. White women who have non-white children are stigmatised as 'Tracy Towerblocks' living on benefits, most of which they spend on lager and ****.
Even if I don't fit this profile, my daughter's difference definitely points out the fact that my children come from two different fathers.
If I wanted to pass us off as a nice, neat nuclear family, she would blow my cover at once.
But it is more than that. I am frightened, frightened of others' reactions to her, as well as my own. I didn't think of myself as racist and yet my daughter has shown me a side of myself about which I feel deeply uncomfortable.
Even admitting to having mixed feelings about her not being blonde and blue eyed, I feel disloyal and incredibly guilty.
I know the obvious comment is that I must have known how a child of our union would look when I married an Indian man, but it is a wise woman who thinks that far ahead when she falls in love.
I didn't think about any of this before I got pregnant. I wanted to have a baby. Her colour and culture were immaterial then.
But self-flagellation is not useful. I have more pressing concerns. I am now the mother of a 'black' child, even if she is more the hue of weak tea than espresso.
This is a role for which I am utterly unprepared. Part of me thinks I should be playing sitar music to her in her cot, mastering pakoras and serving them dressed in a sari, but that would be fantastically fake coming from me.
When she was born, pale but with lots of dark hair, I asked the midwife if her eyes would stay blue. 'Asian genes are very strong,' she said in what I took to be an ominous tone.
No more Brady Bunch kids for me. The midwife has been proved right and every day my baby's eyes get a little darker. Even so, when she looks up at me as I feed her, my heart melts. My love may not be colour blind, but hers is, and that is truly humbling.
I think by her standards my son should be horribly alien to me. I'm a nice tan colored Indian skinned person with black hair, my son's dad looked like a darker skinned Indian also with black hair and we had a son who is very fair skinned and has brown hair! (When he was little I was the butt of many jokes about my son looking like the Australian guy who lived next door)
Funnily enough, my SO is American, of Italian heritage and son always gets mistaken for his biological kid.
this is so wrong in so many ways to the extent that I am really p...ed. if she has a problem poor little girl! and to write that in a public article, her child will read that.....
besides: my husband is middle-eastern and it pisses me off to no end, that she would suggest that both my or his parents are alienated towards my son. my mother is from eastern europe so what? bec Lori whatshername lives in an un-mixed world doesnt mean she can suggest others feel the same way?
and why did she have this child if she has a problem with it??/ cheap way to get PR, given that no one talks about her anymore. is that supposed to touch those of 'mixed' families out there?
this really struck a nerve bec my bro's family in law and wife often look at my son and go: oh, he isn't THAT dark etc or oh, how come he doens't have brown eyes?? I mean bec they are dumb and don't know that not EVERY person in the ME has dark eyes,.... my hubby is olive-skinned and I love that.
i have to say that for my bro, his wife and her family it was desperately important for their son to come out blond and blue-eyed - they are part SCANDINAVIAN... and none of that part btw, is really that blond or blue-eyed. thankfully the baby turned out to specification after a few weeks, given that they were about to return him when he came out with, SHOCK HORROR, dark hair...
sorry to go off on one - this stuff just gets to me. i am at the point of saying that I absolutely can't stand blondies but my dad is and I love him so...
What the....???? I'm Indian, my husband is caucasian, and when you look at my children, you'd never know they had a drop of Indian blood in them. I've been mistaken for their nanny quite a few times (EXTREMELY IRRITATING, btw!). And even though they look nothing like me, the look they give me that shows their pure love for me makes me melt. I don't care what color their eyes are...I can't imagine feeling alien about someone you know is your flesh and blood!
thats sad my kids are also mixed im mexican and my husband is black and white my older son looks like his dad in a way but with light brown hair and brown eyes and fair skin and my other on looks like me and i love them both the same
I'm also mixed, and I am just speechless after reading what that woman wrote, especially this quote:
When she was born, pale but with lots of dark hair, I asked the midwife if her eyes would stay blue. 'Asian genes are very strong,' she said in what I took to be an ominous tone. No more Brady Bunch kids for me. The midwife has been proved right and every day my baby's eyes get a little darker.
This part was especially infuriating. I've experienced this kind of racism before, when people make stupid and hurtful comments about how I don't conform to their idea of what I should look like or act like (such as: you're part X, why aren't you more like X stereotype or they just assume I am like the X stereotype). Why should mixed babies (or people) have to conform to anyone's ideals of beauty? I really feel bad for that woman's daughter, since she's going to have to experience that horrible racism from her own mother. Luckily, I only experience it from people outside my own family...