We were walking out of our favorite restaurant, Chuck-A-Rama, when I heard it.
“Are you running a foster care center?”
I was confused, until the woman who asked — a complete stranger — pointed at my seven kids running around and thought they didn’t belong to me. “No, they’re all mine,” I responded. Her husband, obviously embarrassed, said, “good for you,” and I didn’t know whether to burst into tears or into laughter.
I hurried out before she could see me and exploded in laughter. Did she not see my pregnant belly? Did she not notice that the kids all had similar complexions and features? Did she not see my Black husband sitting next to me? As I laugh-cried, walking out to our 15 passenger van, I explained to Alex why I was laughing so hard.
He asked, “Well, who did she think I was? The driver?”
Now, I get it. The kids don’t look like me. She saw a white woman with seven brown kids and it didn’t add up — especially in Utah. Like many parents of mixed raced children, we’re no strangers to questions like, “Are they adopted?” or “Are they biological?” It doesn’t offend me at all. They’re just curious.
Alex reminds me of his experience at a boarding school as a boy. He sported what he calls “an amazing afro” — until the school bully grabbed him by the neck and tapped on the top of his finely combed afro, repeating, “check-check, 1-2, 1-2, check-check, is this thing on?” (as if to insinuate a microphone). Alex walked away, crying and hiding his perfect hair. We laugh about it today, but it’s just one of the many racial experiences he faced as a young Black kid, and then later as an adult.
After his mother left him for Nigeria at the age of 11, he was in foster care and had all different kinds of parents. It’s where he cultivated such a rich knowledge and love for all types of music. When he lived with white foster parents, he was exposed to artists such as Sting, Phil Collins, Barry Manilow and Queen. Then when he lived with Black foster parents, he listened to some of the greats, including Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, James Brown and Motown. He even lived with Jamaicans, who introduced him to Bob Marley and other reggae masters, and the Rastafarian culture. To this day, he still loves eating Jamaican food because of that family.
Alex has always wanted to make music for the world because he was, quite literally, surrounded by music of every culture. But as with everything, his music was met with resistance. If he sang a cover song by Train, an all white band, he was accused of not being African enough and told he wasn’t embracing his culture. He needed to make music for “his own people.” But when he did sing music from his heritage and infused pop music with an African twist, he was told he had no right to sing like that because he was too English and lived in America. And besides, what would he know about the slave trade as a Brit? And how would he ever have the nerve to sing negro spirituals if he’s not a legitimate African-American? That time, he was too African.
Let’s take it a step further and bring up the fact that he’s been told he wasn’t “Black enough” because he joined a “white church” and branded himself a sellout in the Black community. It’s clear that he must not understand the realities of racism or what it means to be a Black man in America because he’s either not black enough, not African enough, not African-American enough, too light-skinned, too dark or too “Mormon.” It never ends. But he keeps singing anyway.
I remember as a child being frustrated with Mother’s Day and asking my mom, “Well, what about kid’s day?” She replied, “Every day is kid day.” I hated that answer. But it argued the point that mothers do thankless jobs and need to be celebrated and acknowledged on a day dedicated just for them. Kids are celebrated every dang day. (I can say that as a mom to eight now).
To me, it’s a good metaphor for Black History Month. There is always someone that says, “But what about White History Month?” What I’ve learned by being in a biracial family is that it’s not about that. It’s about dedicating just one month to celebrate and focus on our Black brothers and sisters; their accomplishments, their persecution, their history and their culture — because it deserves to be honored and revered. Just like moms.
I admit, I’m guilty of not teaching my kids enough about Black history, or about some of the heroes and heroines who have paved the way for my mixed race kids to have equality. I hope that if my 9-year-old son gets called “poop” again at school, or if my 11-year-old daughter takes offense to being called “Fluffy” because of her hair, that they can remember the endurance and perseverance of their ancestors and that they’ll be able to rise above and be proud of who they are.
And when I receive another anonymous letter about being a disgrace to my parents for breeding “half-mongrel monkeys,” or when Alex is told he’s “too white” to sing like a Black man, I’ll be sure to channel my inner Rosa and put up a fight to honor her legacy.
After all, like Alex sings in his universal song, “We all bleed the same” — no matter your color.
Julie Boyé and her husband, Alex, live in Sandy, Utah, with their eight kids and goldendoodle. They have a family website, theboyefamilyjewels.com. Find them on Instagram or YouTube @theboyefamilyjewels.