My Experience As A White Mom Raising A Black Daughter

Love & Relationships

One day, my two-year-old daughter was climbing the walls in lieu of napping.

Frustrated and longing for a moment of stationery quiet, I buckled her into the car and drove the fifteen minutes into town. Usually, I will drive in the opposite direction of town, out along the country roads as the paddocks unfold around us. On this day though, I drove toward civilization, parked the car at Aldi, then walked up the main street and back, approximately a 30-minute walk. During the walk, we were stopped four times by middle-aged white women who asked if they could touch my daughter's hair.

On each occasion my daughter, herself familiar with this routine, compliantly leant her head forward whilst the stranger ran her fingers through her tight curls, always getting stuck and pulling until my daughter winced and ripped her head away. So cute, so beautiful, they'd say. So weird, I'd think. We live in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, which is a predominantly white, or anglo community, and my daughter is mixed-race. I am white (and red-headed no less) and her father is black. The last lady, who incidentally provided the impetus to write this essay, pulled her hand away and then said she looked like a toilet brush before breaking out into fits of giggles. We were standing in the line at Aldi by this stage so many other people heard it. Everyone laughed. How adorable.

This kind of scenario is not unusual in our day to day lives and in fact is nothing compared to some others we've encountered. There was the time my Dutch neighbour, a woman in her 60s, cradled my newborn after I brought her home and oohed and aahed and smelt her head and then said, "Oh my, she even smells black."

There was the woman with the strong Scottish accent at the hardware store who asked me three times in varying ways whether my daughter had actually come from my own body and the woman on the train to Sydney who asked where my child had come from. I replied, "Half of her came from me and the other half her father."

There was the person who asked me how old she was when I got her and the woman who practically chased me out of Dan Murphy's to congratulate me on what I was doing, that it was obvious my child and I had an amazing bond. She was practically crying with joy. My first instinct was to grab a bottle of the wine I'd just bought and skull it. I've overheard kids in the supermarket ask their parents why that kid's black and once when I was collecting her from crèche, a young boy ran up to me and said with the greatest astonishment, "Did you know that Frankie comes from another country?"

"No she doesn't," I replied. "Her father does.""Oh," he said shrinking back, slightly perplexed.

But what's my point? There are so many directions one could go. One thing I do notice is that these instances normally occur when I am alone with my daughter, and it is usually other white people who make these comments. I assume that when my partner is there, they realise some sort of line between themselves and him and they are not willing to cross it. Though this is an assumption, of course.

Normally, these occasions are novel and more often than not, I have a delayed reaction. It is on the way home, in the car, half an hour later that I suddenly think, Damn! I should have said that. Usually, to be honest, I just laugh it off. And this bothers me more in many ways. In doing so, I am putting their comfort ahead of mine. I don't say anything back because I don't want them to feel uncomfortable, I don't want to appear rude or combative, in spite of how I or my daughter might feel. What does that say about me?

When I was pregnant, I quite literally avoided reading anything related to pregnancy. I steered clear of other pregnant women and did not change my life a great deal in preparation. I ate shellfish, had the occasional glass of wine, and didn't attend a single prenatal class. But now that I have the child, and even more recently, as she is getting older, I find myself actively seeking out information and anecdotes from others in my situation.

Recent internet searches on my computer are "managing African hair," "caring for black hair," "products for mixed race hair". Most commonly, the comments about my daughter concern her hair. The hair is the ultimate object of fetish when it comes to the mixed-race baby. We quite literally cannot go out into public without receiving multiple comments regarding her hair.

On the whole, they are complimentary or inquisitive and made by people of all races and ethnicities, though given where we live, it is mainly other people who look and sound just like me. Twice, I have met African women who have chastised me for letting her hair grow wild--for allowing some of the curls to form dreadlocks. On both occasions, I have smiled sheepishly, blaming my lack of knowledge regarding the care of my child's hair on my own skin colour. "I only know how to comb white hair," I have said.

It is always easier to just slip back into the stereotype, I suppose.

The little I have found to read about this issue has been interesting, yet hasn't necessarily shed any light on the topic for me. Many black women equate the curiosity others have with their own mixed-race children with the misperception that white is superior to black, that being partially white is better than being not white at all.

For me, I have had the inverse response:

I feel my child is valued because she is partially black.

To me, the curiosity is representative of a more general fascination with blackness and black culture. Many times, I have wondered if people assumed she was adopted because a woman who looked like me could not possibly have given birth to so beautiful a child. And mostly, what I can find to read about it is centered on the experiences of North American people. The politics of race are different in Australia, in particular, because of our failure to address the complex relationship between the First Australians and the rest of us and the gross inequalities that have resulted in that failure for the majority of Indigenous people. I dare say that if my child were half Aboriginal, I would be dealing with a whole different set of circumstances.

You see that's the thing. When someone sees a mixed-race child, they will more often than not project their own perceptions of the politics of race and ethnicity onto that child, whether consciously or not. I have had so many people tell me that my daughter will grow up to be a singer or a model or an actress simply because of the "look" she has. This speaks to the fetishisation of mixed-race children, but it also speaks to their gender as well.

There is a very telling line in British novelist Zadie Smith's novel NW, in which the character, Nathan, tells his childhood friend Keisha that everyone loves a black man when he is a cute little boy, but as soon as he reaches physical maturity they will cross the street to avoid him. The same, I don't think, can be said for their female counterparts. Instead, the image of light-skinned black women such as Rihanna is projected onto my little girl. Already, at two, when she dances people will laugh and comment on how well she "twerks".

In the end, of course, I don't care what my child looks like or what she grows up to be, so long as she is healthy and happy and independent.

Thankfully, my daughter is willfully independent and does not take "no" lying down. So many of my own fears and concerns are assuaged simply by knowing that she will more likely than not have the strength to find her own identity and sense of self outside of what society tells her she is.

But still, in spite of all my best efforts, she is growing up in a society that still does not understand itself and in the end, this will have some affect on who she becomes and how she sees herself in the world. And I suppose the best thing we can do is to share our stories and work our way through it.

Related post: Why Fetishizing Mixed-Raced Children Can Be Dangerous

Camilla Palmer is a Postgraduate researcher in the School of Arts and Media at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Featured image by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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