“They’re mixed, aren’t they?” she says. “I can tell by the hair.”
Mom doesn’t smile, and Mom always smiles. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” she says.
Later, in the kitchen, there is a conversation.
“Children aren’t ice cream,” Mom tells us. She’s smashing chickpeas on the counter. Anna and I shove Doritos into our mouths, sensing trouble. Falafel is a classic Donnella-family tension dinner. “You’re not some chocolate-vanilla swirl cone,” Mom says. “You’re human children.”
Mixed, I now understand, is an insult. Things are mixed, not people.
For the next decade or so, I proceed to not think of myself as mixed. Fortunately, my hometown is small enough that I almost never have to explain my background — everyone knows my parents. Dad is the bearded black guy who speaks softly and coaches Little League, and Mom is the bespectacled white lady who explains things passionately and organizes the Hebrew school carpool.
When I get to college, I tack up a photo of Mom and Dad in my dorm room, show up to Office of Black Student Affairs and Hillel events in equal measure, and let my friends do the math. “Mixed” is not in my vocabulary. I hear it in passing, but shrug it off like any casual slur.
When “What are you?” does come up — via strangers at the gym, on the bus, in Taco Bell — I take a deep breath and dive in. “Well, my mother’s paternal grandmother emigrated to the U.S. from what would now be called Ukraine,” I begin, to the dismay of everyone involved.
I’m thrilled to pieces when my little boo from Degrassi makes it big and I can finally say, “You know Drake? I’m like him.”
I get through grade school and college assuming polite society agrees with my mom, that calling someone “mixed” …