I’m 35 years old and I still have moments where I feel lonely as the only non-white person in the room.
All in all, I’m pretty secure in who I am and confident about the person I have become. I’d like to believe my children are growing up in a time that is more open and accepting about race and ethnicity, but there are times I’m not sure.
Through the years and even today, I have felt the isolating effects of intentional and unintentional racism.
I know that as a mom I’m biased about my kids, but I think my biracial babies are adorable with their dark brown eyes.
My precious kindergarten son came home at the beginning of the school year a little sad because he had a classmate tell him that his hair was “too black” and that his eyes were “too dark.” We sat down and had a little heart to heart in which we talked about my hair being black and my eyes being dark too, and how he had my same hair and eyes. I think my son felt better after all of it, but I felt heartbroken for him.
I felt heartbroken because I knew exactly where he was coming from.
I have felt the isolation and embarrassment of racism dozens of times before:
- When I was in elementary school, one of my cousins introduced me as her cousin. The other kid asked how she (my cousin is white) could have an Asian cousin. I remember feeling mortified.
- When I was in middle school, a girl from my dance class asked me to be in an advertisement with her. I thought it was cool until she told me the only reason she asked me was because I was the only non-white person she knew.
- When I was in high school, I was told several times that I should date the only other Asian boy in our school. Because we were both Asian. That was the only thing we had in common.
- I attended three different colleges (I transferred to a different school after my freshman year, took summer classes at a community college, and then finished my undergrad degree at my final college). I have appeared in marketing pieces for all three schools “look at how diverse we are sitting on our campus green!”
- In my first job out of college, my boss said to me “Oh, I’m sure Kara’s eaten here before! After all, the restaurant’s called The Rice Bowl.” Side note: I had NOT eaten there before.
- I’ve had older adults say in my presence, “I don’t eat rice. We fought a war so we don’t have to eat that stuff.”
- As an adult, I loathe going to nail salons to have pedicures done. Do you know why? Because I cannot escape the inevitable conversation about where I’m from (NW Iowa) and why I can speak such good, unaccented English (because I’ve lived in America since I was three months old). It’s really no one’s business as to where I’m from.
Having this conversation with my son triggered all.the.feelings I’ve felt over and over from accidental and non-accidental racism.
But the long and the short of it, even in 2018, is that racism keeps happening.
I’m only deluding myself if I think my kids won’t experience the same isolation, embarrassment, and sadness attributed to being biracial in a world that only sees the color of their skin.
But I can help them by talking through these situations, acknowledging their feelings, and helping them to not feel embarrassed by these incidents.