Passionate About Des Moines
and the Moms Who Live Here

The Isolation of Racism

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.

racism in 2018

Image by Kelsey Opague Photography

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.

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9 Responses to The Isolation of Racism

  1. Shay April 11, 2018 at 4:13 pm #

    Oh girl, I feel you all too much on this one!! It’s something that as I’ve had kids too, I’ve wondered how I can have these conversations with them- especially my oldest who has several of my Asian characteristics. Thank you so much for sharing this!!

  2. ERICA Douglas April 17, 2018 at 2:09 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Love you and you have a beautiful family!!

    • Kara Knaack
      Kara Knaack April 25, 2018 at 3:02 pm #

      You are a peach! Love seeing your work too!

  3. Erika Stevenson April 17, 2018 at 3:23 am #

    Kara, thank you for sharing this important post. I am glad to have your perspective and desire to be teachable in these discussions.

    • Kara Knaack
      Kara Knaack April 25, 2018 at 3:01 pm #

      Thanks so much Erika for your feedback. I think it’s good to have these conversations to learn more about other people’s perspective!

  4. Sara April 24, 2018 at 2:31 pm #

    This resonates so much with me, I am of south East Asian heritage but was born and raised in England. The “so where are you really from” question never gets old….

    • Kara Knaack
      Kara Knaack April 25, 2018 at 3:00 pm #

      I’m sure you’ve had a lot of interesting conversations then!

  5. Spaiowa April 24, 2018 at 9:12 pm #

    What if you tell your kid that his darker hair, skin and eyes are actually a superpower? He is better prepared for summer fun as his skin and eyes are ‘stronger” against sun exposure! 😉

    Now about the rest of the article, as a “person of color” myself, it got me thinking how racism is not only in one head. It is not only that some people see us as different, we do see ourselves different too and, somehow, less. That is a huge problem that makes it more difficult for us to teach our kids that yes, there are differences on the outside but, so what? Some people have lighter skin, some darker, some have bigger eyes, some smaller, some round, some almond shaped, some have freckles, some blond hair, some black, some brown, some red, some are taller, some shorter, some thinner, some heavier, some have bigger feet, some smaller… SO WHAT? You should not feel lonely as the only non-white person in the room. You should not be bothered by anyone asking where you are from. You should be confident and believe that you might look different than some but that does not make you less or a different category of people. You are unique and beautiful as you are! Plus, rice is delicious, their loss if they do not eat it hahahaha

    • Kara Knaack
      Kara Knaack April 25, 2018 at 3:00 pm #

      Thanks for your feedback. I think that for me, what it comes down to, is that why do people need to know where I’m from unless we’re having a conversation about heritage? I frankly think it’s inappropriate for people to be making personal inquiries when I don’t invite them to! 🙂

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