Is the fact that my kids are biracial that big a deal anymore?
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Back in 1998, my partner and I appeared on TLC's "A Baby Story," a reality show that documented pregnancy and birth, while I gave birth to my first daughter, Carrington, on camera. I was amazed that TLC continued to air our particular episode for five years. I know this because five years later, I was carrying my second newborn daughter, Jones, in public, and complete strangers would stop me and say, "Is that Carrington? I just saw her on TV."
I think the fascination with our particular episode might have been that we are a biracial family. Virgil, a classical architect, happens to have a very dark complexion, and I happen to be so Irish that I need sunblock just to take out the trash. Today, with the Obamas in the White House and Oprah, Beyonce, Magic, and Michael as moguls and worldwide icons, my mixed kids sure seem like a tired topic.
What are black and biracial children experiencing in today's progressive culture? The thing about America is that it is a diced-up culture with regional histories that still linger in some communities -- but in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Chicago, children of all sorts of gorgeous mixtures are growing up with little nod to racial identity. My children go to a public school in Los Angeles that has no racial majority. None. Every playdate that comes in my door drags in genes from some corner of the globe. I should say that these are rarely new immigrants or even first-generation immigrants. These are Americans whose families have grown up here over many generations. But the rainbow of skin color and hair texture is breathtaking.
I've only experienced racism once. But I've experienced curiosity plenty of times -- usually when I travel. Since my babies came out quite brown, I was asked a few times by strangers which country I had adopted my baby from. This was before Madonna and Angelina made it hip, but I still was tempted to look like some progressive save-the-world mom and lie. Instead, I usually gave a surprising lesson in genealogy by simply saying that I adopted her from my womb, and then pulled out my breast to nurse.
In 2006, we lived in Florence, Italy, a largely homogeneous place. The only people of color were the ubiquitous African street merchants. One day, I was accosted by one merchant while carrying 2-year-old Jones. He demanded to know where I had gotten that "black baby." I told him she was mine, and his eyes opened wide and white. Now picture this next bit of advice, given in deadpan seriousness in a strong African accent: "Lady. You cannot carry that baby on the street. If you do, people will know that you've been with a BL-AA-CK man." I laughed from the deepest part of my belly, and as I walked away, I said, "Buddy, in America, that's a cool thing!" I was wondering what he would think if he saw the lineup of beauties that I once saw outside the L.A. Laker's locker room.
Last year, we lived for a time in South Florida. My kids attended Advent Lutheran School in Boca Raton. It was 100% white, except for my two curly heads. My kids tell me that they were not treated one bit differently by any of the kids there. I felt that the parents regarded me as a bit of a curiosity, but that's it. I think our presence in their lovely school and church community was a small gift to this homogeneous group. They were the kind of non-judgmental Christians who walked their talk, and I feel so grateful that they welcomed me into their mom village.
And that one actual racist experience? Just from some nuts with no lives but for access to the Internet (you know who you are!). When an attractive video of me was posted on YouTube, those loonies Googled me and somehow connected the dots to my family. Then they went to town posting racist and obscene comments under that video. I won't even honor them by describing what they said, but they used some terms that shocked even ME. I believe in freedom of speech, so for a few months, I did nothing about this. Then my 11-year-old started surfing the Internet, and fearing that she might Google her mother and find cruel insults about herself, I had the video and comments removed.
But that's it. My kids have so much self-esteem -- I mean, maybe too much. One day when Jones was five, she came home from kindergarten with this bit of empathy. "Mommy," she said, "I feel so bad for white girls." I braced myself for what was coming next. "Why, honey?" I asked in a neutral voice. "Well," she paused, "I feel sorry for them because they are not so pretty." I sat there, blinking with my blue eyes, and wondered how to respond. I fumbled around for words and came up with this: "The world is a perfect place, sweetie. Everybody is pretty to somebody. Believe it or not, some people even think your mommy is pretty." She crinkled up her nose and looked at me curiously, as if seeing me as "white" for the first time. Then she ran off to play with her multicolored Barbies.
|Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and her area of interest is Attachment Theory, a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental health concerns including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders, and depression. Connect with Dr. Walsh on Facebook.|