It was on a preschool application, of all things.
Right there on the second page, the words “Circle One Only” instructed me to pick a single ethnic origin for my mixed-race sons. I sat at the dining room table, staring at the packet of paperwork before me. Until now, my pen glided through the answers to various questions, to rote information the school needed for licensure purposes.
I shook my head, pen wavering between “black” and “white.” With a brown daddy and a white mama, my sons are equal parts brown and white, African American and Caucasian; sweetly caramel-colored to anyone who throws a glance in their direction.
But how am I supposed to choose for them? What am I supposed to pick on their behalf? And what say do they then have in choosing a side, in having to make a decision between equal parts of a whole?
I hear this is the hardest part about being a mixed-race individual: you’re always caught between two worlds. You’re forever asked to make a choice between your mother and your father, between two seemingly opposite cultures and people groups. You never quite feel at home, because what is home? Who is home? So, of whose origins that gave you life do you choose?
I, of course, say and regurgitate and repeat this as an outsider, as a white woman with Celtic roots. My father’s Scottish ancestry is clear: with the last name “MacDonald,” we have our own family plaid. We listen to the stories of family members who’ve made it back to Scotland, whose feet have walked the ancestral holy ground, under drizzly gray skies and over rocky green hills. My mother, on the other hand, stakes claim to an Irish heritage, but truthfully, a closed adoption from the 1940’s prevents any of us from ever really knowing where her auburn hair comes from. So, we claim Irish ancestry. We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like nobody’s business. We beg the world to kiss us, because, well, we’re Irish.
This is the world I came from: a culture whose white roots dug deep into the earth, whose belief systems didn’t believe that issues of race–including minor inconveniences like checking a box of ethnic origin on a form–had anything to do with us.
So, why should it matter to anyone else?
It never tripped me up. I never had to choose between various shades of white, because I fit neatly, plainly, singularly into a single box. Bubbling in the color of my white skin never gave me pause, just as thinking about how this might affect those who are forced or are asked to choose between boxes might affect them.
But it affects me now. And this is not just because I married a black man, and not just because I have honey-colored babies, and not just because over the years my eyes have been opened anew to the distinctly gorgeous world around me.
It affects me now because of how God–God the Creator of the universe, God the One who dreamt up you and me and every other human on the face of the earth, God, whose son loved and loves and will love each person unconditionally, no matter the color of their skin–values my mixed-race sons, exactly as they are.
Because when a parent values his or her child, they are not asked to choose or assimilate or decide between something they’re not.
They are simply invited to come and sit and eat at the table, no questions asked–just as we are simply invited to come and sit and eat at the table, no questions asked.
So, when it comes to the present, in deciding which box to circle on a preschool application, my inner rebel becomes emboldened for change. The scope of my pen widens, and I create an oblong circle around both “black” and “white.” For now, it’s a holy resistance all my own, but it’s a resistance nonetheless against ignorance, against racism, against belief systems that don’t see anything wrong with asking parents to “Circle One Only.”
Soon thereafter, I email the director of the preschool. I seek to understand and to educate, to put into words the thumping of my heart, the anger rising up in my bones.
I seek to be the change I wish to see in this world–the change that God first birthed within me, the change that seeks to understand and to educate, to listen and to do.
And maybe this is you: you stand not on a stage, with megaphone in hand, but you sit at your dining room table, with a primary school application before you. But even here–and especially here–we can be emboldened for change, just as we are, where we are.
So, go out and be bold for change.
Circle every option on the preschool application. Email the hell out of the primary school directory. And be the change you wish to see in your world.