A simple, silly at-home conversation with my two beautiful boys led to some profound insight from my four year old. It started with a question from my seven year old, “Mommy, I’m multicultural right?” I explained that they can identify with being multicultural due to their Liberian and Scandinavian heritage, but some people might call them biracial.

Without missing a beat, my four-year-old shouted in horror, “I’m bi-what?!” He’d never heard the term biracial before. I repeated the word and my four-year-old son said, “No I’m not, I’m myself.”

I reflected on our brief conversation. Why should I put a colorist label on my child? Whether he’s biracial, multicultural, or mixed, my own children know their true identity. They’re themselves. The truth is that our society has had these labels on our mixed race children [insert label here] since the Atlantic Slave Trade. Our system(s) and need for categorization perpetuates their use.

This conversation with my boys was very powerful for me. My oldest who’s starting to understand himself and his multicultural heritage is now fielding questions from his peers like “Why don’t your parents  match?” and [cringe] “What are you?” It’s one thing for me to field those questions from moms at the hockey rink or the soccer field, but another for my seven-year-old son to get them at school.

I look back at my courtship with my husband and remember that people used to send us articles about biracial children that warned, “your kids will have no sense of identity.” People would walk up to us when I was pregnant and say, “You’re going to have the most beautiful mulatto babies,” as if it were a compliment. Newsflash – it’s horribly offensive, especially to a pregnant woman. Mulatto means mule in Spanish. You just called a pregnant woman’s unborn child a mule.

No matter how hard I try to protect my children, hard conversations about race, about how their peers perceive them, about how their peers’ families see them, and about how society sees them will be an ongoing reality. We are already living this reality, my husband and I, and we plan to face it head on.