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Seeing Family in Black and White

When my wife and I were moving to Massachusetts from the San Francisco Bay Area, we talked about the impact of raising black kids in a mostly white environment – the way my wife had grown up outside Boston. We were pleasantly surprised when we got here three years ago to see that immigration has created a fair amount of diversity.

Our church is wonderfully diverse, thanks in part to an influx of Cameroonians.

Our town, Millis, was 97 percent white in the 2000 Census, but my older son's kindergarten class included kids with parents from China, Egypt, Korea, Nigeria, and Vietnam. My younger son's best friend is Dominican and Moroccan, and his "girlfriend" is an Irish-American redhead.

We aren't even the only white male-black female couple in town.

True, soon after we got here, a family we knew picked up and moved to Newton, after incidents at school where their daughter, a thirdgrader, was called things like "chocolate" by other kids. My wife scoff ed.

"They're going to hear things on the playground," she said. "That's relatively mild." I still don't think of our sons as black. They're just my boys. When I was about to get married, my father gave me one caution. "Think of the children," he said, meaning, they will be subjected to random injustices that you will have no first-hand experience of and that will cause strain in your family. "It's not the '60s anymore, Dad," I said, then spent the early years of my marriage trying to find proof that Dad was wrong: Tiger Woods, for instance, or the change at the Census Bureau, which now lets people self-identify as biracial or belonging to multiple races.

In elementary school, race really doesn't seem to mean much. It doesn't make an impact on the soccer field or at Cub Scouts. But I have to stop expecting that my two children are some new kind of being, neither black nor white, nor even hyphenated.

I got quizzical looks recently when I read the boys a book about the Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-ins that helped start the Civil Rights movement. The other day, my wife told me that our older son, who is now 7, asked her about her skin color. We chalked that up to the high numbers of white people in town, which makes my wife seem unusual to my son. He does not yet seem to realize that he's unusual, too.

What that will mean later on, I can't say. I suspect race will really start to matter when they hit puberty – who knows how girls they like will react, let alone the girls' parents. Then there's teenage rebellion. Perhaps my kids won't just try to rebel against Dad the Authority Figure. They can also rebel against Dad the White Male Oppressor. That should be fun. But at least I won't be in denial if it happens.

Michael Fitzgerald writes regularly for the Globe Magazine.

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