we want to look related

..but sometimes we don’t.  Or we do, but people can’t see it because of that skin color, hair color, eye color thing.  I don’t think looking alike means being the same shade.  Shapes are involved too.  That we toss all of our kindergarten training aside to rely solely on hue when it comes to this kind of thing is a symptom of this disease I’ll call colorism.  A descendant of our old friend racism.  Needless to say, I like this piece because it points all of that out.

Who does your baby look like?

BY AISHA SULTAN

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

I remember glancing into a bathroom vanity a few years back and doing a double take.

In the dim light, I could have sworn I saw my mother’s face staring back at me. It was her slightly curved nose, her oval face and heavy eyelids. What could have been an unwelcome reminder of aging instead took me back to my childhood. I remember watching intently, enamored by her face, as my mother applied her makeup for parties.

A homely sort of child, no one ever told me I looked like her when I was young.

Nonetheless, I was still stunned when the doctor handed me my newborn daughter. She looked nothing like me.

Perhaps we expect to replicate ourselves, at least to some degree. Her hair was much lighter than my black locks. Her skin was considerably paler. She looks so much like her paternal grandmother, Georgia Kelley, a Midwestern woman of European descent.

This baby girl looked just like her father, a product of a biracial marriage himself.

One visitor tried to tell me that all newborns resemble their fathers initially. It’s an evolutionary adaptation to reassure dad that he’s actually the daddy.

Dr. Alan Templeton, professor of genetics at Washington University School of Medicine, says he hasn’t ever seen any scientific research supporting that theory.

“I’m actually very skeptical of it,” he said. But, there is plenty of research on organisms, including humans, showing that they rely on resemblances as part of kin recognition. And, we treat those we recognize as kin differently than nonkin, he said.

“This is evolutionarily quite old, and not unique to humans,” he said.

It made me wonder if we subconsciously favor a child who looks more like us?

My sisters joke that I look like my daughter’s Mexican nanny when we are out in public.

Like any biased parent, I think she’s beautiful. But I was tickled when our second child arrived with the exact same almond-shaped eyes as my entire family. He looks like a miniature version of my younger brothers. It’s a public display of genetic prowess: We won round two.

There must be a biological imperative involved. We are hardwired to want to pass along our own very special DNA. The crooked smile and hazel eyes are genetic affirmation.

Almost immediately after a child is born, speculation begins on who the child looks like. It’s one of the most popular topics of discussion as babies’ faces change so rapidly in those early years. And when we tell someone their child looks like them, the typical response is usually a big smile.

But in this age of increasingly biracial and multiracial families, cross-cultural adoption and fertility treatments with donor eggs or sperm, there will be more children who look strikingly different from their parents.

I’ve known a few white women who have married Pakistani men and subtly changed their appearance once their children were born. Typically, blond hair gets dyed a shade or two darker. They get tired of answering the question: “Is she really yours?”
We want to look related. We want outsiders to know we are on the same team, a family.

Parents who adopt children from another ethnicity deal with intrusive (and sometimes obnoxious) questions fairly regularly. Questions such as “How much did they cost? and “Why didn’t you adopt a white baby?” make the old jokes about the milkman seem downright charming.

One mom delights in telling the story of taking her adopted son, who shares her blue eyes and blond hair, to restaurants. She’s been told by bystanders: “Oh, there’s no mistaking he’s your son.”

She smiles and says: “You’re right.”

I’ve heard my share of awkwardly phrased questions when people see pictures of my children. Sometimes, they’ll ask: What is their father? I’m always tempted to answer by species rather than race. But, I know the subtext. Skin color, hair color, eye color — those primitive markers signify if you’re one of us or one of them.

That shorthand just doesn’t work as well in today’s world.

When people tell me my daughter looks just like me, I am secretly delighted even though I don’t buy it. But, there is a reason she frequently makes me want to pull my hair out: her stubborn personality, her passionately held opinions, the smart remarks and proclivity to collect mounds of clutter. Looks notwithstanding, she is a 7-year-old reflection of myself.

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2 thoughts on “we want to look related

  1. people say i look like my mom…but i don’t see it. although when i make certain facial expressions i feel like it would look like how my mom looks.

    i don’t like it when people use “the child won’t look like me” argument to justify not dating interracially.

    some do look like their children. its so cute how a brown child could look like a white person.

  2. My mother and I have experienced this only a few times. Otherwise, it is VERY obvious that I’m her biological daughter.

    We share the same petite frame, the same button nose, the same deep-set eyes, the same long dark hair.

    I agree with alwaysright101…it seems that some people use that line to justify their own bias toward interracial relationships.

    Who is to say that the kid won’t look like the parents?

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