I’ve written this post and rewritten it and started it over at least three times now, until finally I resolved to just write it! And I realized that trying to capture the experience of being in an interracial marriage and part of a multiracial family is too complicated and personal to do justice to in a single post. I will have to do it in bits and pieces, so that maybe eventually it all fits together like a puzzle and I can step back and say, Yes, that is the picture, more or less.
I’d like to say that race doesn’t figure into my thoughts or perceptions. I’m married to a black man and my sons are biracial. So it seems like I should be color-blind myself, thinking of race only when the outside world brings it up or when considering how to raise my children to be proud and at-ease with their racial identities. It seems like I should hold no stereotypes of my own about race, no doubts or insecurities. That would be wonderful. But it’s not the truth.
The truth is this.
The truth is that I thought about race before I decided to date my husband and race made me hesitate. I didn’t worry how my family would feel, but I worried what my friends would say. I went to college in the south and I knew, without a doubt, that some of my friends weren’t down with interracial dating. I was scared that someone would react negatively and I would be disappointed and hurt by that. I didn’t want to be disappointed and hurt by my friends.
Fortunately, my husband’s charms are irresistible and I ultimately decided that, friends be damned, this was the guy for me. And, fortunately, I had underestimated my friends, none of whom batted an eye when they found out Hubby was black. (At least, if they did, they hid it very well.)
The truth is that when we finished grad school and moved to a new town, I was aware that the fact my partner was black would affect how people saw me. By that point in my life, I was aware of racial stereotypes. Plus, let’s face it – people have certain stereotypes about white girls who date black guys, and those stereotypes aren’t very flattering. Ugh.
The truth is, I’m more concerned than I’d like to be with how people perceive me, so I developed this tendency to mention – sooooo off-handedly – that my husband and I met in grad school and that he works at Impressive Employer and that we’re married. You know, clearly he is an upstanding black man and I am not that white girl. If we were out at a restaurant and I noticed someone looking at us, I might find a way to “casually” make sure my wedding ring was in view. At some point, something about what I was doing felt wrong, but I couldn’t quite explain it. The one day after Zippy was born, while walking across the parking lot of the grocery store, it dawned on me what I was doing and why, and it became disturbingly evident to me that I was feeding into racism myself. I was buying into the notion that to be respected and accepted my husband needed to be a certain “kind” of black man and I was selling out the whole black community – including my children – in the process.
The more I’ve thought about this, the more the bottom line of all this has become clear: Every single person deserves respect and consideration. Every. Single. Person. And while I truly believe this in my heart, it wasn’t being reflected by my behavior, which was suggesting that my husband needed to be a certain kind of black guy to be respected and accepted in the white community.
After this realization – that I was making these points about my husband because I was aware of the stereotypes and because I cared so much what others thought – I was able to back off. Yes, thankfully, awareness gives us the power to change.
A couple of months ago I came across this fantastic post by Jennifer Shewmaker that helped explain I was experiencing: Identity contingencies. As Jennifer explains:
“These are those things about our identities … that we know will lead others to believe certain things about us. What’s interesting about identity contingencies, is that they are based on our social identity, not what we think of ourselves but what we believe others think about us. Many of these contingencies are based on stereotypes. We ourselves don’t have to believe or accept the stereotype to be forced to deal with the contingencies; it’s enough for others to believe it. Or, in the case of stereotype threat, it’s enough for us to even be aware that someone else might believe a certain stereotype about us.”
Being a white person in an interracial relationship or being parent to children of color creates a whole new part of our social identity.
The truth is, it is one thing to be outraged as a white person at racism. But being personally affected, knowing that people may (mis)perceive me because of my family’s racial make-up, threw me into new territory. I don’t want to be seen in a negative light and I sure don’t want my kids to be subject to any negative perceptions, so sometimes I try to ward off others’ potential stereotyping. But this doesn’t address the real issue, which is that those stereotypes and prejudices shouldn’t shape how we perceive and treat people in the first place.
The truth is having children has motivated me in a major way to examine my own perceptions and subconscious reactions, because I want my kids to feel proud of who they are and their community(s), and that means recognizing and fighting my own stereotypes, however ashamed and embarrassed I am of them. As I think about raising my sons to be healthy, responsible, caring individuals, I realize how much the stereotypes and racism inherent in our culture have infiltrated my own psyche, like some stealthy virus.
The truth is, we all must be honest about how living in a race-conscious world affects our own attitudes and assumptions. I hope that the fact I am aware and trying to change how I think about certain situations counts for something. Sometimes I see or read about other parents of biracial kids who just seem so perfectly at ease with the race thing, but then I think that most of us are probably fighting the internal fight to see every person as an individual, to keep at bay those negative associations that our culture and media infiltrate us with.
The truth is, it’s a work in progress, an evolution, to be sure. I find myself wondering if other white people in interracial relationships and multiracial families go through similar stages. The pause before making the choice to date someone of a different race. The sudden awareness that all of those negative stereotypes now affect YOU very directly. Realizing upon the birth of your children that you need to fight those stereotypes tooth and nail – fight your own stereotypes – so that your kids can grow up in a world that sees them as nothing but the shining stars they are. Realizing that fighting this fight for your family and your child means fighting it for every person of color.