As we move out of the early years, through the middle years, into the teen and young adult years, I wonder how the objectification I wrote about years ago will impact my children. As they move from hearing stereotypes like “Mixed kids/babies are SOOO cute!” (I’m sorry, but they’re not all cute) to “Mixed guys/girls are so HOT” (or exotic or striking), I wonder how to prepare them for the harsh reality of interracial dating, which will be much different for them than it was for me. I think it’s obvious in “Post Racial America” how deeply stereotypes are imbedded in our subconscious; when you couple that with a pop culture that objectifies women in general, particularly women of color, and romanticizes abusive relationships (from cliques to intimate partner abuse to domestic violence), I find myself worrying more about teen dating violence than teen pregnancy.
As our children grow older, and going beyond the social interactions of elementary school, what do relationships look like from junior high through adulthood, if our children don’t feel comfortable setting boundaries?
Thinking specifically about my children’s African ancestry, I’m reminded of an article I read titled Trying to Break A ‘Culture of Silence’ on Rape: Group Part of Movement Tailoring Recovery Efforts to Minority Women where psychologist Carolyn West explains,
Going back to Does Anybody Else Look Like Me?, author Donna Nakazawa writes,
Biracial girls are often considered beautiful objects of curiosity because of their exotic looks, this attention does not necessarily translate into dating partners.
WARNING – Racial Smog Ahead
Proceed with caution. If you have a low tolerance for white guilt (stage whisper: that’s code for, if you are NOT white) or tend to have defensive reactions during conversations about white privilege (stage whisper: that’s code for, if you ARE white), I recommend some form of psychiatric medication or perhaps even the liberal use of recreational drugs before proceeding.
Know your limits. Step out of the sweat lodge as frequently as necessary. Read more…
One of the things that disturbs me about the infamous “What are they?” questions from complete strangers, or the “Oh, just look at hair hair!” exclamations, where people are not complimenting “her” so much as they are talking about her like she’s not there or can’t hear them, is not that I think the people who initiate this kind of dialogue are ill intentioned… it’s the objectification and the sense of “otherness” that comes with it. Even though the oohing and aahing is intended to be a compliment, and maybe for the parents it is… it’s an affirmation that we are accepted… a soothing balm for those of us in multiracial relationships who have experience rejection in some fashion… perhaps just from thoughtless comments made by strangers, and in some cases, rejection by friends or family members. I know people who have been the recipients of outright hostile stares to people who have been disowned from their families.
We anxiously anticipate the day our children will be subject to racism and prejudice, and at first this fawning and zooing seems like a sign that all is right with the world, that times have changed for the better, and the world will love our children as much as we do. Speaking from my racial perspective, which of course won’t apply to every white mother of biracial children… I experienced a loss of some of that white privilege when I started dating interracially. It was immediate and pronounced… so I can see how it might be tempting, after experiencing that loss and rejection, to want to bask in that acceptance.
But from the perspectives of our children, what is it like for them to be asked or to overhear their parents being asked (with whatever frequency) to justify their existence? Read more…
So Christie asked if I’d come up with any good responses to the infamous “What are they?” question, or ways to handle the zooing/petting. No pressures, she says.
When the kids (and I) were younger, I rarely hesitated to respond with a snappy comeback or snide response. Where’d my 2yo get his curly hair? I permed it. Is she yours? No, I just thought she was cute so I snatched her from a cart outside.
But as the kids are growing up, so am I. As tempting as it is to fight fire with fire (a dumb (or rude) question deserves a dumb (or rude) answer)… something about it just doesn’t quite sit right with me.
First of all, there may come a time, particularly for my son, when a smart answer *I* encouraged might come out of his mouth at an inappropriate time. And it may jeopardize his physical well-being. I can’t afford to bank on the fact that I live in a changing society… there are some situations where what my child says, and the manner in which he says it, may have a profound impact on the outcome of that situation. Read more…
“Over time, our daugther has developed a kind of public shell she retreats into when others approach. She refuses eye contact, sucks her thumb and puts her head against my side, her arm grasping mine. How much of this sudden shyness, when we are out and about, is due to innate personality, and how much of it relates to having to squirm under each stranger’s magnifying glass, we’ll never know.”
“Perhaps when people encounter a biracial child they often are compelled to look, and look again, in order to figure them (and their family situation out), yet at the same time they feel awkward staring without saying a word. In order to mask their discomfort, they may overreact, touching our child’s hair or commenting repeatedly on how beautiful our child is.Even though our child is getting the verbal message that he or she is beautiful, by being repeatedly singled out, she is also getting the nonverbal message that she is different. And whenever children receive mixed messages, it tends to cause them inner anxiety. This combination of being treated more like an object than a person and receiving mixed messages, explains psychologist Willie B. Garrett, “is so damaging to the child because over time they’re going to internalize these unpleasant feelings, which take the form of the child thinking of themselves as unattractive.” They ‘get it’ that their appearance falls outside the norm.
Oh, no she didn’t…
I couldn’t even think what to say – until she repeated her question a little louder (just in case everyone hadn’t been offended the first time, I guess)… once I got my jaw off the floor I told her that they aren’t half anything… they are children -whole, complete, beautiful children. She didn’t get a chance to say anything. If Tyler hadn’t been with me I would have let her have it, but he picks up so much that I didn’t want to call any more attention to what she said – for a change he missed her comment and just caught mine… after I made my comment he looked at her and smiled and said “yes, I’m a beautiful children”… and that’s when I walked away. I didn’t want my baby to see his mommie put somebody thru a wall, and my sister probably didn’t want to be known as the sister of the lunatic who started a fistfight at the Christmas concert… Anyway, I’m starting to calm down about it. It just really took me off guard because the lady was not white – I guess I’ve anticipated that kind of stupidity from my race… or even if an older person of any race had said it I would have just chalked it up to the era she grew up in (for example, my grandpa loves my kids, but to this day refers to black people as “colored”… like his skin is see-thru or something… last time I checked we ALL had color…). ANYWAY, back to the topic, this lady was fairly young, and I don’t know if I mentioned this, but she looked like she may have had mixed ancestry herself… I really think she may have been mentally disabled. Even so, I have never wanted to clock someone so badly in my life as I did in the moment after I heard the word half breed come out of her mouth… I’m not sure I handled that in the best way, but that was the most graceful approach I could think of at the time. I don’t have a huge problem with people asking me if my kids are biracial, but the term “half-breed” indicates something less than complete, or unnacceptable and that word seriously offends me and for me is in the same category as the n-word… now that it’s happened I’m wondering if I overreacted, but then I think that since so few people do act, it’s almost necessary for me to overreact to stupid comments like that just to make up for all the people who let it slide… This is the first time that a stranger has made an insensitive comment to me (I guess it’s never happened before because Tyler is so fair)…
I had another first last night, too… another lady came up to me and asked me if Halle was my baby – I thought that was a pretty dumb question and laughed and said “no, she was so cute I snatched her froms omeone outside”… It hit me after I got home that she might have been assuming that Halle wasn’t mine, that I was a babysitter or something, because of the difference in our skin color.