DALLAS — Long blond hair and height like a model's, she stood on my front porch to ask for a name I recognized as both my husband's and first-born son's.
Struck by her good looks, I made sure she wasn't searching for the older model. "Which one?" I asked.
She laughed. "The one in middle school."
As the protective mother of a young black male, I found little comfort in her name: Destiny. My uncertain teenager tipped-toed up behind me to find out his schoolmate's bold mission - especially one that would reveal the attraction. After their brief conversation, the dangerous female cheetah left my porch.
"Who is Destiny?"
My smart-aleck son defended himself: "Mom, whoa, I know what you're going to say. 'Didn't I tell you to never come home with anything lighter than me?' " I denied the remark was anything but whimsical jargon. Truth be told, it was more serious.
White girls, historically speaking, can be trouble. I'm not the first worried black mother to warn a trusting son against interracial relationships that can start for the wrong reason. Not everyone is as open-minded about my son's smooth mahogany complexion as Destiny. Friends have shared horror stories about how their sons were approached with one face that disguised the shallow motives of another.
I soon realized that my sincere message was aimed at the wrong audience. Frustrated white parents need to understand the burgeoning interest in a hip-hop culture that is totally foreign to them. If more white people had a clue about young black men - their language, their dress, their music, and the fact that most are well-raised and law-abiding - overzealous police wouldn't treat my child like a suspicious person.
Smart black mothers have little choice but to teach their sons, especially athletes, that special treatment by girls is sometimes connected to awesome physical ability. Other times, these boys are pawns in a game of challenge. One honest 16-year-old girl in a teen flick summed up her ideal graduation gift from Daddy - "the white Trans Am with the black football player."
For decades, white beauty has been the ultimate prize a man of any color could achieve as his reward for success. Mainstream media have glamorized interracial dating, portraying black men's supposedly endless obsession with white women.
As a little colored girl, I was constantly knocked for my thick lips, nappy hair, and peanut-butter-colored skin. I found few faces like mine in the media. The message I heard over and over was "not white, not right."
White girls in school never cared how I felt. So forgive black mothers like me who find it hard to be totally comfortable that my former classmates' daughters now marry our sons in record numbers. Or vice versa. Too bad many people who so willingly explore interracial dating have almost no friends among different races.
I'd like to see my son date any girl he chooses because he finds her compatible - not because he's bombarded with messages that her race can open doors. "Driving while black" in a Mercedes takes on new meaning with a white girl in the front seat.
When my shrewd son dated a girl of mixed parentage who could almost pass for white, he jokingly threw my words back at me, "Well, Mom, she is lighter than you, but technically, she's black."
Being with the wrong person of any color can hurt enough without the added stress of a different race, which still gets a lot of negative attention in these supposedly colorblind days. If Americans are honest, none of us is colorblind. A black man with a white woman - especially an attractive one - is still the catalyst for unspoken stereotypes. Images of black male prowess kick in. One rarely thinks of how compatible the couple might be.
Today, I've grown beyond some old-school racial boundaries. Instead of telling my son not to come home with "anything lighter than me," I simply advise him to avoid racial profiling in relationships. I don't want his beautiful black skin to serve as a magnet for exploitation. Nor do I want to see any mother's daughter stripped of her dignity because she mistakenly defines a man by the myths that surround him.
Unsure what type of woman my son will fall in love with or marry, I must set the standard for what a real woman, black or white, is made of. A stranger on the car radio reminded me of that recently. Stuck in thick traffic, I heard a minister's passionate discourse: "Would Your Son Marry You?" The voice boomed: "Are you setting the example that you are the kind of woman your son will want to marry?"
The boy Destiny looked for that day is no longer in middle school. But I'm not the same person either, as life lessons shape me into the kind of woman with whom he can find true happiness.
Joyce King is a veteran journalist and mother of two sons. Her first book will be published next year.