‘Oh my God,’ I heard when he was born. His hair is RED!’ I took a breather. ‘No, just wash him a few times,’ says the narrator. He was cleansed three times by the nurse. ‘No, mama, you’ve got a ginger on your hands.’ The crimson hair of her newborn son astounded his African-American mother.

“I believed joining the US Navy was the most incredible thing that had ever occurred to me.” Then I gave birth to a child. It didn’t seem possible that things could get any better. That is, until Matthew, my son, was born. When one turned into two. Throughout the pregnancy, everything was perfect. What else is there to say? My sister-in-law took the ultrasound photos, which revealed a healthy and adorable baby boy with a great deal of hair. We had no idea that her hair was RED! Yes, you read that correctly. The colour of your hair is red. I couldn’t believe it, and the nurses couldn’t believe it too. That was the furthest thing from my mind as an African-American woman!

‘Oh my God,’ was the first thing I heard when he was born. ‘Oh my god,’ is the absolute last thing any woman wants to hear, especially one who has just spent 11 hours delivering a baby. I know Naval Medical Center Portsmouth is a teaching hospital, but the nurse continued, ‘he has RED HAIR!’ before I could fear. I had a 10-second wait before responding, ‘no, just wash him a few times.’ ‘No mama, y, you’ve got a little ginger,’ the nurse said after cleaning him three times.

Courtesy of Ebony Lumpkin

Everyone was stunned by him. Partly because he was charming, but mainly because an African American lady had just given birth to a white redheaded kid. I was astounded as well. I’d forgotten about the hair colour after they’d placed him in my arms until someone mentioned it. I still do, although he is now six years old. He was visited by nurses and doctors from all around the OB floor. It was unlike anything they’d ever seen before.

Courtesy of Ebony Lumpkin

There was, of course, speculation. I can’t tell you how often I had to explain that he wasn’t adopted, my stepson, or albino that I was his mother rather than his aunt, Godmother, or nanny. No one believes he’s my son. Or, if they don’t, the following presumption is, ‘Oh, he must have inherited his father’s red hair.’ For a child to have the MC1R gene, both parents must have it.

Courtesy of Ebony Lumpkin

The feedback has been largely positive. His hair usually astounds people, especially when we’re together. Normally, every stranger I encounter tells me about their redheaded ancestors. Their siblings, uncles, cousins, and brother all had red hair. I grin and pay attention. I don’t mind it most of the time, except when I’m in a rush or when I’m stuck in the middle of the grocery store. Everyone enjoys stroking his hair. It used to irritate me because who walks up to someone’s child and touches them? But I’ve come to the point where I gently request that they don’t. ‘They just can’t help themselves,’ said the majority of them. And, to be honest, Matthew enjoys the attention.

Courtesy of Ebony Lumpkin
Photo by Dora Breaux

However, there will always be harmful and disrespectful people. One day, my two boys and I were in line for pizza when a lady asked if I enjoyed being the nanny. ‘I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it before,’ I said because what she said didn’t register with me first. ‘Well, aren’t you their nanny?’ she asked. ‘No, they’re my boys,’ I informed her. ‘Maybe him, but not the little white guy,’ she added, looking at Adam, who had olive skin and dark brown hair. It enraged me greatly. I inhaled deeply and remarked, ‘I don’t have to explain myself to you, ma’am,’ before placing my order for pizza. She became enraged, grabbed her pizza, and rushed out. I received cheers from the people in the lobby after she left. One woman approached me and remarked, ‘I wouldn’t have handled it that way.’ ‘Way to go.’

Courtesy of Ebony Lumpkin

However, there was a period when I was mistreated. At Walmart, I was removing Matthew’s shoe from the front of the cart when it slipped off. I tried to put it back on, but he thought it was a game, as small boys do. I couldn’t get it back on because he started kicking his feet. Another girl my age noticed and offered assistance. Of course, I was grateful. I thanked her after we were able to get his shoe back on. I went away with my son as she turned around to talk to her buddy. When an elderly white woman saw me walking away with him, she dialled 911. She mistook me for the mother of that woman’s child. The police interrogated me. I had just returned from the doctor’s office and had brought his birth certificate with me. The cop didn’t believe me at all. When the young lady who had assisted me realised what was going on, he was preparing to call child services and arrest me. I’m not sure what would have occurred if she hadn’t been there to assist! It was the most horrifying event I’ve ever had.

Photo by Tatem Spearman

The time when Matthew came home crying because the kids on his bus told him I wasn’t his actual mother since I was black and didn’t have red hair was the most painful. To a 5-year-old, no less! He questioned every red-haired woman whether she was his mother for almost a week. It was the most painful and humiliating experience of my life. I was at a loss for what to do. My mother advised me to wait and pray. Also, to sit him down and gave him the best explanation I could. Not to become enraged. To take a deep breath. That’s precisely what I did. Even if it worked, it was still painful. My eldest kid had a brilliant idea. ‘How about we dye our hair the same colour as Matthew’s?!’ Instead of saying, “Let’s change Matthew’s hair to look like ours,” he said, “Let’s change our hair to look like his!” It struck my heart. Coming from a 7-year-old, that was such a noble effort! ‘Now you look like me!’ Matthew exclaimed as soon as he saw the unveiling. It made me feel better than I had in a long time. One of the biggest thrills of my life was seeing something so simple make him so happy!

Courtesy of Ebony Lumpkin
Courtesy of Ebony Lumpkin

We have tried to trace our family’s lineage back five generations on both sides and have come up empty-handed. On neither side of our family, no one has ever had red hair. There isn’t one. My next step is to have both the boys, and I do an official Ancestry and a 23andMe test. I’m on a mission to find out so that I may finally answer the question, “Where did he acquire his red hair?!?”

Courtesy of Ebony Lumpkin
Courtesy of Ebony Lumpkin

Having interracial children is difficult. When people are constantly questioning you, take a second look. Whisper. I’m curious if my oldest son will have a more difficult life than his younger brother because of his skin tone. Matthew also attracts the most attention due to his red hair. Adam has mastered the art of making himself known. When someone says, ‘Oh my God, you have amazing red hair!’ he makes a point of saying, ‘Yep!’ And mine is black!’ he exclaims, pointing to his curls. Every time, he succeeds.

Courtesy of Ebony Lumpkin

I try to remember all of the good things and blessings that have occurred in our life. I set up an Instagram account for them and am trying hard to get them involved in modelling. They’ve only recently begun cub scouting and will begin gymnastics in the spring.

I was apprehensive about having two children within a year of one another, but it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. They’re bonded to each other at the hip. The best of pals. “My closest companions.”

Courtesy of Ebony Lumpkin
Courtesy of Ebony Lumpkin

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