“Who’s the momma?” a washing machine repairman asked me years ago. Looking up from his work, he noticed my swarthy children standing in stark contrast of my almost translucent skin. In his mind, I’m sure the image didn’t jive – blonde, blue-eyed lady surrounded by an entirely brown brood. My interracial family – which is comprised of my Indian husband and our three biracial kids – admittedly looks like they are all cut from the same stone, while I, however, appear to be the odd one out. And it’s not a big deal…until strangers make it weird!
Over the years, I have been asked questions regarding our visual disparity ranging from confusing [“Do you want separate checks,” said the waiter at a restaurant] to audacious [“How long have you been the nanny,” probed an unfiltered Lulu-mom at an upscale park]. Either way, such trivial and thoughtless queries have weaseled their way into my mind and caused me to ruminate (even now) over their assuming presence. I mean, seriously, folks…what the heck?!
But I get it, I guess. It’s totally normal to have questions when you see something new. And it’s OKAY to be uninformed regarding the details of something you’ve never encountered. What’s not okay, though, is assumption. There is an adage about it, and I’m sure everyone knows it well!
Even though current Pew Research shows that 17% of all marriages in the United States are interracial, there is still a lag in how people process multiracial families. After all, it wasn’t that long ago – 1967, to be exact – that marrying outside of one’s race was first considered to be legal. Prior to that time, a marriage such as ours was a felony in many states (and, sadly, Texas was one of them).
Today, though it is more common, it is still rooted in primarily metropolitan areas with scant occurrences happening outside of these locales. For instance, in heavily traveled cities, like Honolulu or New York, roughly 42% and 18% of couples, respectively, have taken part in intermarriage, meanwhile in Jackson, Mississippi or Youngstown, Ohio the percentage is closer to 3%.
In Houston – thanks to our city’s great sense of diversity – 19% of couples are interracial. As a result, one out of every ten little Houstonians can be considered two or more races. Such a development is wonderful when contemplating the many, varied types of families that are sure to be represented here in the future! Of course, I still can’t help but think of the flip side in terms of how the other, larger percentage of the country still views a family like ours.
A couple of years ago, a mother was detained by authorities after a Southwest Airlines flight attendant accused her of trafficking her own child. The issue hinged on only one fact: the mother and daughter were not the same race. Because of that, the airline employee made a bad assumption based on limited personal experience. Even though we’ve become a culture of “see something, say something,” one should not immediately dive into thoughts of wrongdoing solely because a picture doesn’t look the way one’s used to seeing it. Such events make me wonder, if I were to take my children on a similar flight, would I also be asked “Who’s the momma”…or worse?
Although I am well aware of how mismatched I look when I’m with my tribe, I want to beg, plead, and urge everyone to keep in mind that families can (and do!) come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, and appearances. Though it’s not always clear who is a family and who is not, the best thing to do when approaching new people is just to smile…and accept that it’s not your business.
Whether parents are racially mixed, fostering, adopting, or blending families – or if parents are single, same-sex, or from different generations – the main idea is that a family is a group of people who love and care for one another. Period. And the details beyond that shouldn’t matter to anyone else – not the waiter at a restaurant, the nosy mom at the park, or even the guy coming to fix an old washing machine!
Yes, interracial families may look different on the outside, but in the end we all want the same thing: clean clothes. And maybe a little respect and human decency, too.