And in the quite likely event that such a child does look black? He or she will have no choice about dealing with being black in America. You’ll have to prepare your child for the world that George Floyd encountered. Your child, in turn, will probably feel the need to connect with black history and culture, with a black identity — not because that comes with the genes but because it comes with the features, genetically shaped, that people in our society respond to by labeling someone black. To be sure, Americans generally have lots of ancestral lines going back in lots of directions: Your kid, for example, will have Ashkenazi ancestors. People often have choices to make about which ones to follow up on and how much weight to give them. But it remains true in this country that if you “look black,” you won’t have much choice as to whether to take that fact seriously, because it can have grave consequences.
I know that you are trying to work toward a different world. African-Americans talk sometimes of having “the talk” with their kids about how to deal with the police; and yes, to manage those conversations well, it may help to ask advice from black friends. If we make some progress in the coming years on the policing front — let’s hope the current moment means that we may — the conversation with your black child could be different when the time comes. And if that happens, we will have changed significantly, and for the better, what it means to be black in America.
But racism isn’t a reason not to have a child who is black, any more than anti-Semitism would be a reason not to have a child who is Jewish (as any child you bore, by traditional rabbinic law, would be). Nor should you worry about your child’s being alienated from paternal heritage. President Barack Obama, a person of color raised by a white mother and grandparents, turned out OK. So, choose what you like or don’t choose at all. Children are always a surprise. They’re never exactly what you expected — and that will be true whatever it says on the donor form about the racial identity of your child’s father. My guess is that any child raised by you has a good chance of being on the right side of the struggle for racial justice no matter what his or her ancestry. Thank you for that.
Where’s the ethical line for calling a nonemergency police number on a person of color? Late one night, a group was parked outside my building playing music in their car. The music was loud enough to prevent my sleeping. I don’t feel safe in my neighborhood at night, so I didn’t approach them. I contemplated calling a nonemergency police number to report the disturbance, but opted not to because of recent instances of police brutality against people of color. Though I couldn’t tell what race these people were, my neighborhood has a large proportion of people of color. Did I make the right choice? I’m a 20-something white girl, and I just couldn’t live with myself if something unthinkable happened because I was being a grouch. What are your thoughts? Ali Eckburg, Iowa City
It speaks to the deplorable record many police departments have in dealing with communities of color that reasonable people of all races worry, as you do, about what will happen if they call the cops. On this score, there are wide differences among police departments, and it’s often possible to find out more about your local police from local branches of the N.A.A.C.P. or the A.C.L.U. It may be significant that nobody else seems to have made the call.