June 3, 2007 by multiracialsky
I keep getting tricked. It happened again the other day at the Co-op. The kids and I sit down at a table for a quick snack beside a woman and a little girl. The woman and I chat for a couple minutes and she tells me she has just moved to a nearby town. My kids are passing an Odwalla around and interrupt repeatedly with, “Mom. Mom! Can I have another cookie?” The woman introduces me to her daughter who is the same age as Gretel.
Then this woman says to me, “So . . . do you run a daycare?”
“These are my children,” I reply.
“All of them?” she says, not a bit shy.
“Yes,” I say, turning away from her towards my kids, who thankfully are arguing over the juice and not paying attention to the how-can-you-be-a-family-when-you-don’t-look-alike interrogation.
“Oh!” she says brightly.
I am annoyed. I am trapped in a back corner with our double baby jogger wedging us in. Teri has skipped her morning nap and wants to nurse. I don’t want to talk to this woman any more. When we first walked in, I was excited to sit next to this woman–I wanted to meet her. I thought she might be a new friend, an ally.
Why? Because this woman has Asian ancestry and her daughter is multiracial.
I made some (positive) assumptions about this mother. I assumed she would be a safe neighbor while we ate our snack. I assumed she wouldn’t ask insensitive questions about our multiracial family because–after all–she is part of a multiracial family too. I was wrong.
I have been wrong in this same way several times in the last few weeks, most recently with our neighbors who raised a transracially adopted daughter here and are now raising their two grand-daughters. When we met out on the street last week, I tried to ask them about the racial atmosphere at the elementary school; they left mid-sentence and practically ran home.
I bumped into an acquaintance a couple weeks ago. She is biracial and her husband is White. I told her about our concerns regarding the elementary school because her son will be eligible for kindergarten at this same school next year. We stood there on the sidewalk and she let me go on and on. She seemed interested. Our kids were getting restless so I said, in parting, “I’ll keep you posted. Hopefully the school staff will get multicultural training so when your son comes in next year it will be easier for your family.”
This mother said, “All this race stuff is not really an issue for our family. My son is basically White.”
If this little guy is not taught by his family to identify as multiracial, that is his family’s choice. If his parents teach him that he is basically White, will he have any sensitivity to the racism and issues that people of color deal with in this country? Will his only racial or ethnic group identity be White American identity? Do his three White grandparents cancel out his one grandparent of color? I thought of all these questions as we walked away, but I didn’t challenge this mother because I don’t know her very well.
I am slowly coming to understand something about the majority of the families in my community. They really like it here. They feel comfortable here. They plan to stay and raise their families here. Many of these parent-friends of mine were also raised around here. To a large degree, they have accepted the racial and cultural climate of this community. It is acceptable to them that their children will grow up in a predominantly White community that is inexperienced with people of color and uneducated about racism. They don’t want to hear about the problems I am having with the school staff or with people around town because what my friends hear is, There is something wrong with this town.
I can count on one hand the number of people we casually (and not-so-casually) know here who didn’t say something inappropriate or strange after our youngest child was born. What gets me is that this is a college town, a town with a lot of money and a well-educated population. What I’ve realized is that most of the people here (educated or not) have not had much–or any–personal experience with people of color.
I have found allies in unexpected places: one of the guys who helped renovate our house three years ago, a mother I barely know who screamed with laughter when I described the kindergarten’s Africa unit, two pierced punks who work at the video store, a neighbor-dad who said to my husband, “When the principal told you her training dollars are precious, I hope you said to her, ‘my children are precious to me’!”
They are. So I hold on to these few allies, and I keep on looking.