Let’s Talk About Race

  

    A few days ago, I was speaking to someone on Twitter who shared with me that a close friend of hers had referred to her daughter using a racial epitaph.  Her daughter is biracial and her friend made the comment in jest and thought it was really funny and witty.  I would rather not repeat the comment that she made, however, I think that it is important that you see exactly what she said so you can understand why it is so shocking.  This “friend” actually referred to her daughter as a “nigglet.”  I’m sure you are as appalled as I was when I first read that she had the nerve to say this.

    I can connect to this, unfortunately.  My husband has brown skin as he is of Cuban and Jamaican descent.  My children are light skinned and have light eyes like me.  We are raising our boys not to see skin color but it is really hard when people in society are so ignorant and biased.  There have been many times when strangers have made comments about how surprised they were that my husband was my sons’ father.  Some of the comments that they have made have included:

“Is that his father?”

“How is he so light?”

    I find it more offensive that people feel that they have carte blanche to say whatever they want without any regard for propriety or political correctness.  Believe it or not, this bothers me even more than the fact that they might harbor some deep feelings of discrimination or bias.  It’s almost as if they think that they are entitled to share their thoughts and opinions despite the fact that they were not warranted whatsoever. 

    Lately, I have noticed how difficult it has become to raise my children without race or color lines.  Although we don’t place emphasis on race or differences in our home, it is becoming painfully obvious that the outside world does nothing but highlight these issues.  Most of the things that they are learning about race come from their interactions and exposures at school right now.  I know that they are being influenced by others when they question my husband about why his skin is brown and why we don’t all have the same skin color.  This could only come from the outside because we have always acted as if we don’t see color at all in this house.

    The sad part is that parents are passing their negative ideas about race and culture down to their children.  These cycles of ignorance are being passed down from generation to generation and, as a result, they are being perpetuated.  Believe me, your children are listening when you speak and they will also repeat what they have heard you say to others.  The sad part is that they will go to school and share your views with other children, thereby spreading either your words of tolerance or your words of bigotry.

    As a member of a multicultural and biracial family, I can tell you that unless you have something positive to say, keep your negativity and your comments to yourself.  It is not okay for you to make jokes about race that might be hurtful or offensive just because we are friends.  Unless you have a degree in genetics, I don’t need you to explain to me that it’s amazing how light skinned my children are when their father is so “dark.”  If you are going to make discriminatory statements don’t do it in front of your children so they can spout that hate around other children.  Nobody needs your approval or your validation.

    This advice probably doesn’t apply to most of you who know exactly what to say and when to say it.  A lot of you are parents and I know you all strive to teach your children how to be tolerant of others and to celebrate the differences in all people.  They will definitely follow these examples if you model for them how to be this kind of person.  The way you model is by setting good examples and by maintaining good communication with them.  Talk to your kids about why and how they are different from others and emphasize how wonderful it is that we are all not the same. 

    Unfortunately, I recognize that writing this post is not going to spare me from having ignorant people make comments about the dynamics of my family.  I also realize that it will not shield me from hearing stories about negative experiences that other biracial or multicultural families experience.  My hope is that it will help to raise some awareness about how these insensitive comments from others affect parents who are trying to raise children who are color blind.  After all, wouldn’t we all benefit from a world where everyone was color blind?

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Comments

  1. It does amaze me that so many people feel comfortable making rude comments about skin color or ethnicity. I grew up in a very diverse school and never judged anyone based on color. When I moved in high school to a much less diverse area, I was amazed by people’s ignorance and am still amazed today. Some things people say are things that don’t even cross my mind let alone something I would ever say.

    The fact that people act surprised that your husband is their father is troubling. Regardless of race, we are all different colors. My father is Italian and has very olive skin where as I am milky white. My daughter has blond hair and blue eyes where as my husband and I both have brown hair and eyes (I can not tell you how many people have question that one). We are all different and genes are passed down over generations. t think it’s great that you are teaching them to view the world without a focus on color and hopefully one day everyone will feel that way. I strongly believe that we should not pass our negative views to our children.

    • Kasey, it is amazing how many assumptions people make when it comes to race. I really don’t understand where they get their information with regard to how genes are supposed to be distributed from parents to their children. I’m not sure if they are just curious and they don’t know how to ask proper questions or if they really are just that ignorant. Hopefully it’s the first reason and not the latter one.

  2. I’m sorry that you’ve experienced negative or uncomfortable remarks about race and/or skin color. I am pale white as are my son and his wife. They have a DELIGHTFUL (that’s grammy talking) 3 year old foster child of Salvadorian descent. They live in DC area which is quite diverse and to my knowledge haven’t experience the kind of remarks you speak of. If I do, as long as it’s curiousity, I don’t think that will bother me but won’t know until it happens.
    Here’s my primary point and question – should the goal be to become color blind? What is wrong with noticing color (or gender-women’s issues being my “thing”) since that’s part of our heritage and pride. The stereotypes that can go along with color of skin are negative, granted, but isn’t diversity something to embrace rather than thinking we shouldn’t notice the physical diversity. I ponder this myself and wondered what you would think.

    • Cherry, I actually had a chance to read your comment during the day while I was at work. You are right, maybe completely color blind is not the answer either. After all, it is important for children to be proud of their heritage and to be aware of the qualities and characteristics that make them special and set them apart from others. I did not mean that children not know about their ethnic and cultural backgrounds when I used that term. It just seemed like the best way to describe a state where children and adults don’t attach negative connotations to skin color or ethnicity. We should definitely embrace diversity and encourage our children to be proud of who they are and where they come from.

  3. I agree that it would be amazing if we were all colour blind – but sadly, it’s not reality.
    It’s a great post and one that needs to be put out there. I have a story I’ve been holding off about race because I KNOW people will get all up in my biz when I publish it, but it will be posted, some day… and I would love to see what you think of my little “naive” perspective. lol.

    adventuresinestrogen.blogspot.com

    • Yes, Stephanie, you are right, it will never be a reality. I’m glad that you like the post and I look forward to reading your post on race. It is definitely a topic that needs to be discussed despite the fact that it is controversial.

  4. I found the comment about the friend’s child offensive, too. I am sorry you face insensitivie comments that hurt you. That is the PITS.

    I’m interested in Cherry’s comment, too, tho. My kids are very pale and blond, like me. But their father has very thick dark hair. Sometimes people ask him where they got such white hair from. People notice other people’s traits (and, granted, there is not a history of pain and discrimination relating direclty to hair), and we are not offended by them essentially saying they notice the kids are different from him. I don’t know how I’d feel if skin color were the issue.

    Our kids were raised in the Caribbean, so they grew up as racial minorities until they moved to the states. I’ll never forget my daughter asking me “Mommy, where are all the brown people?” when we were in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Now, the kids go to a racially diverse high school that is much closer to their Caribbean roots.

    One of my daughters (I have 3 daughters and 2 sons) dates a Caucasian guy, 3 aren’t currently dating, and one of my sons dates a girl who is bi-racial (Filipino and African American). She refers to herself as Blasian when describing her ethnicity. She is a darling teenage girl and an aspiring writer with a wonderful sense of self. But I wonder if it is offensive to then repeat her self-description in saying she refers to herself as Blasian? What is ok and what is not ok? Is this the same as nigglet? I don’t THINK so, because the words combined are not offensive words, but I don’t KNOW. I sure wouldn’t say to anyone else that was Asian-African bi-racial that they were Blasian, but I struggle with this issue.

    I should add that I teach classes on diversity, harassment, and discrimination and conduct workplace investigations on these issues, so I think about this all the time. I just tell my students I don’t have all the answers, because every person truly is different — different in their sensitivities and what feels respectiful or disrespectful to them, so always honor the preferences of others, get to KNOW them, and when in doubt, DON’T. “Do unto others as THEY would have done unto them.” Which brings us full circle to my answers to my own questions. If I don’t know whether I should, I don’t.

    I love that you wrote this, Maria.

    You made me think today.

    I hope you make a lot of people think.

    You rock.

    And I am sorry my comment was so long. 🙂

    • Pamela, I think you make an excellent point when you say that it is important to get to know the preferences of others. Everyone has different views on race and culture and it is important for us to be aware that what might not offend one person could definitely be offensive to another. This can be a fine line and I am not advocating that we should watch every single thing that we say lest we offend someone because, the fact of the matter is that there will always be someone that will be offended by something. What I do propose, however, is that others use common sense before they make comments that are inappropriate and blatantly offensive. Another important rule to remember is that you might not get away with saying something that members of the same race freely say to each other regularly. It’s like that old saying, “I could talk about my family but you can’t talk about my family…” At the end of the day, I don’t have all of the answers. I do think that it is important for us to have open discussions about race and culture so that we can shed light on a lot of topics that are generally taboo. I am so glad that you enjoyed this post and that it was thought provoking for you. Your feedback is invaluable to me and you are amazing!

  5. Wow! I can’t believe she refered to her child as that. To me, that is offensive. It reminds me of the scrubs episode where Turk refers to his daugher was “blaxican”. It just stuns me, ya know?

  6. Last year my daughter was asked to fill out a bubble about her ethnicity (as were all the kids in the class) and any kid that wasn’t sure was to go talk to the teacher and she’d help them.

    When the teacher told Jaeda that she was hispanic, Jaeda was offended and replied – I am not! My mom is from New York and my Dad is from Grand Junction! Then she burst into tears.

    When the teacher called to let me know, I laughed and still giggle when I think about it.

    But, the tears concerned me and we discussed ethnicity and culture and the beautiful traditions and family history that comes with it. I am not worried about my daughter, but I do wonder when exactly we are going to just be American?

    My children have a very rich heritage (insert Heinz 57 in here if you’d like). Their Dad is more than 1/4 Navajo and the rest is hispanic. His great-great-grandparents were living in New Mexico when it was ceded to the United States.

    On my side, my grandfather was born in Italy, but other than that I think the rest is hodge podge European – Scottish, Brittish, French, Irish? I don’t even know.

    So, when asked I say that I am Italian because I was raised by my father and that is the family he has the strongest ties to. But my kids are as much Navajo as they are Italian as they are Spanish or Mexican or Brittish.

    I have people comment on my daughter’s skin tone all the time, about how lovely it is – a perpetual tan – about how she and her sister are so different, one tan, one snow white. I don’t get upset, it just is part of who she is… I think the intent of the inquiry is really the heart of offense or not. You can say perfectly find words with a nasty intent and it is offensive. On the flip side, I try not to get offended if someone says offensive words with a kind intent.

    I think I am rambling at this point! Great post Maria!! You always have such great thought provoking topics that hit home for me.

    • Daria, I love that you shared this with us. I agree with you that the intent of the person making the comment is at the root of whether the comment is offensive or not. If the comment is born out of feelings of curiosity, I have no problem with that. Unfortunately, you can pretty much tell the person’s intent by the tone that they use and their facial expression while they are making the comment. I always try to maintain an open mind about what the person’s motives are until it becomes obvious that there are negative undertones to their questions.

  7. Everyone wants and expect their mother to love them NO matter what. That is sooo sad, especially coming from your mother. That mother is chipping away at her own child’s self esteem. I’m sure the Black father is not in her life and she has other issues.

    My husband is dark skinned and the funny thing is his dad is white—that’s another blog subject, lol. I am a light skinned Jamaican and when my light skinned children were younger the daycare would have to check the records and his license before I they would release my kids to him.

    I had to handle the Director the Jamaican way. lol

    Its sad that we still dealing with race after all these years. But hate is a deep seeded Demon. I had to teach my kids at 4 yrs. that everyone is not going to LIKE them just by the way they look. They will be able to feel the hate but that is fine I because WE LOVE them and some people are just mean, dumb, stupid. Hopefully, things will change when all these biracial children grow up but I’m sure by then there will be some new Hatred.

    • Unfortunately, you are so right, there will always be a reason for people to spout hate one way or another. That is why it is so important for us to maintain open lines of communication with one another so that we can learn from each other and eliminate fear that is fueled by ignorance and lack of knowledge.

  8. I look forward to the day when this is NOT a topic for discussion. But unfortunately, we are where we are. I’m as WASP as they come by birth, but I can tell you I manage an extremely diverse workforce. I am proud to say that people treat each other with respect at all times, and I wouldn’t tolerate any other type of behavior. I believe that people who speak this way today demonstrate their ignorance, and that most other people recognize it and dismiss it as just that – ignorance. The question becomes, do you invest the time to confront these people, or just write them off as stupid?

    • Penny, that is a great question. My first impulse would be to confront the person and give them a piece of my mind. Unfortunately, however, life experience has taught me that most people who behave this way have spent the vast majority of their lives being narrow minded and ignorant. It probably does not even pay to waste our time trying to change their minds when they are not receptive or open minded enough to consider changing their ways. I guess it would have to depend on the situation…

  9. Very well written Maria. I’ve been thinking about this all day. This hits close to home for me, as a mom of a multiracial family I know all too well how mean and rude comments can really hurt. I can only imagine how awful it would be to hear a friend refer to my child like that. My heart goes out to your twitter pal.

    Most times it’s not the comment from a random stranger, it’s a friend or family member…someone you are close to the hurts the most. I’ve had my share and I think I’ve dealt with each in a mature and respectful manner. Even though I wanted to slap a few people. I don’t have time to educate everyone so often times I just have to write people off.

    Talking about race is important in my home, we are often discussing culture, heritage, and even stereotypes. My 7yo nephew recently said “making every black person in the movie/show a gangster is a stereotype” We all agreed with an “Amen!” I don’t think it’s possible to raise our biracial kids color blind since we’d like them to have a since of pride and a strong foundation.

    I could go on and on and on Maria.

    • Amanda, we also teach our boys to be proud of who they are and of their heritage. Maybe, the term color blind is not the best one to describe how we wish the world would be. I guess a better way to put it is that we should notice race and cultural differences so that we could celebrate these differences. Hopefully that would help in eradicating the hurtful comments that people make because they are not educated about different races and cultures.

      • Exactly, celebrating differences! It’s heartbreaking how much ignorance is still being passed from one generation to the next. I hope parents like us are changing the future generations.

  10. My family is basically of British descent and we live in Australia, but even within our family we have found the same thing. My mother’s mother had very mixed heritage, some of which we are unsure about. So my mother is quite dark skinned especially when she was younger and spent a lot of time in the sun and has black hair. I am pale with reddish brown hair, but it was snow white when I was a baby. People would ask my mother if I was adopted all the time. She would say no, that my father is Scottish. Not that it matters if you are adopted, but it is a private family matter for you to choose if you want to discuss.
    Anyway, when I had a darker skinned child and a fairer child, I got asked the same questions. People are very ignorant. I never ask people questions about this or marriage status or anything unless they want to bring it up. I am always shocked when people think it is okay to discuss personal matters. To me – not being ashamed of something such as gender,race or creed – doesn’t mean people can just talk about you like it is their business.

    • Kat, that is the part that really gets to me too, the fact that people feel that they have the right to you about your personal business. They are not entitled to any explanations about the ethnic background of our children and the fact that they think they are entitled is a way for them to publicize their ignorance.

  11. This is a very eye opening post for all parents. Like Daria, sometimes I wonder when will we just be Americans? My husbands family is Irish and African American. My daughter’s are both light skinned, with curly hair. My husband’s family has a lot of issues with race, and I really try to shelter them from all the negativity. They’re going to grow up one day, and then we’ll have to decide how we handle their questions. Until then, I’m raising my girls to love their skin color, to love their hair, to embrace their heritage, to never feel ashamed.

  12. *Shaking Head* I have a biracial niece, and I would really be hurt for her if she ever encountered racial comments.

    I would like do a series on my blog about mothers around the world and different cultures and heritages….if you’re interested, let me know.

  13. Eric Hutchins says

    Its a little intimidating to post comments when your wife is @pameloth 🙂 but I wanted to jump in on this one. I will not be able to do all my thoughts justice now so I will probably be back. Its a subject that I have very strong feeling on.

    First of all person that would make a comment like the one you refer to is AN IDIOT, cant be certain if that is a racially motivated comment or not but, its stunning that someone could actually be that ignorant, and yet I know well they are out there.

    i’m white, grew up in the Virgin Islands where my race represents about 25-30% of the population and feel qualified by experience to talk about racism from a number of different perspectives.

    To me it boils down to a few simple facts.

    1. There are good people of all races that will treat others with dignity and respect regardless of race or position.
    2. There are ignorant, and/or awful people, OF ALL RACES, that do not.
    3. The best you can do is to seek first to LEARN about others, and how the wish to be treated. And then treat them as THEY would like to be treated.

    Celebrate the differences in people don’t try to mix them all into one pot, or wish that they all could be the same. They are not. They should not be. Their differences are part of what makes life great.

    Nice job on the blog, my brain is spinning on the subject.
    I will be back!

    • Eric, it is so great to see you here! I always love to hear Pamela’s feedback and I’m sure you have some great ideas too or else she would not have married you. 🙂 I completely agree with you, people are going to be who they are no matter what. Since writing the post I have changed my mind about hoping for a color blind world. I have realized through the discourse around this post that it is more important to recognize the differences among us and to celebrate these differences as you say. The way that we can equip our children to deal with the ignorance of others is by teaching them how to be proud of who they are and where they come from. It is this confidence and pride that will serve to deflect the daggers of racism. Please come back and join our discussions anytime!

  14. I’m also part of a multicultural, multiracial family and it infuriates me to no end when I hear people making ignorant comments, especially to children! I think you hit the nail on the head with this sentence: “Talk to your kids about why and how they are different from others and emphasize how wonderful it is that we are all not the same.”

    I think a lot of well-meaning people teach their kids “not to see” differences and quite frankly, that’s impossible. Of course we see differences. The question is what we make of those differences. When we pretend differences don’t exist, the lesson kids take away is that there is something wrong or bad about being different. Instead, they should be taught to appreciate and celebrate differences. That is the only way we’ll ever get to a society where race and color don’t matter.

    • Chela, it would be wonderful to finally get to a point in society where race and color don’t matter. I sometimes wonder if this will ever be possible considering how closed minded some members of society continue to be even in these modern times. Celebrating and embracing our differences is definitely a step in the right direction.

  15. Great post Maria! This really hits home with me too and I am beyond tired of explaining everything to everyone that chooses to live a segregated lifestyle. Tired of the stereotypes and of the inquisitive stares. It just seems that people should be over it by now…interracial relationships and biracial kids are everywhere! But, I guess it all boils down to how much you are willing to ignore. Thanks for sharing your story…that slur makes me wanna tell her off!

  16. Great post Maria! This really hits home with me too and I am beyond tired of explaining everything to everyone that chooses to live a segregated lifestyle. Tired of the stereotypes and of the inquisitive stares. It just seems that people should be over it by now…interracial relationships and biracial kids are everywhere! But, I guess it all boils down to how much you are willing to ignore. Thanks for sharing your story…that slur makes me wanna tell her off!

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