But we need you to choose….

Sonni Williams
Germantown, MD

My name is Sonni, and I am 47 years old.

I have 3 sons, and all of them have white fathers. When my first two were born, it was clear to everyone that their father was white, or that they were of mixed heritage because of their fare skin and hair color and texture. My youngest son, Sammy – however – favors me and my side of the family. He has golden brown skin and fairly course but curly hair. I often tell people that he’s “my twin!”
When we were stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, my kids had to attend an elementary school in Clarksville, Tennessee because we hadn’t received on-base housing yet. The elementary school my children attended was experiencing a rapid growth in student population, and needed to split some of the classrooms into two or three classrooms to make room for all of the students.
I received a call from the school office staff asking me to clarify Sammy’s race. As I have always done, when there are no other options on a form other than one race, I write in “Biracial” and write in “Both Black and White”. The lady from the school said they needed me to ‘choose’ Sammy’s race so they would know which class to put him in. Her explanation was that they wanted to evenly divide the children up by race. I told her my son was both black and white, exactly as I had indicated on the school form. She told me that that was not an acceptable response, and that I needed to choose which race my son was.
Then I asked her, “Are you telling me that if I don’t choose a race, my son won’t be able to attend school?” She exclaimed, “Absolutely not! All kids are required to attend school. It’s just that we don’t have a category for biracial students”. I told her to either create a biracial option, or get another software program for the school that includes more than one race as an option, and hung up the phone.
I remember thinking that no one from the school ever contacted me about my two oldest sons, and I realized that the world saw my youngest child as black. Because of that, I have always been overprotective of my youngest son, and has even had to ‘educate’ his father on the realities that Sam was going to encounter as a black child as he got older.
Sam began to realize what I had been saying when he was 11 years old. He and his best friend Bryce – who was white – was playing hide-and-seek on the way home from school. A police officer came to my door, and said he had a report from a neighbor that said Sammy was trying to break in someone’s car. I called both Sam and Bryce to where I was speaking to the officer, and asked him to repeat what he just told me. I then asked the officer if the report mentioned anything about seeing a young white kid, and the officer said no. I turned to Sam and said – in front of Bryce and the officer – “The rules have changed now, son. No one sees you as a cute little mixed kid anymore. You are becoming a young man – a young black man – and now you are seen as a threat”.
As I was telling Sam this, I noticed how uncomfortable the police officer was becoming as he told Sam, “Just be careful, okay son?”, and walked back to his police car.
I constantly worry about Sam – especially since the Trayvon Martin case! Sam currently resides in Dallas, and I live in D.C. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t worry about him, and how the world perceives him.



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