“So your kids are mixed? They’re half Asian and half. . . .?”
The Whole Foods cashier let the question hang in the air as I tried to make sure Jaxson didn’t break the anything at the register while simultaneously watching the screen to ensure our quick takeout dinner rung up correctly.
Surely the cashier had seen my husband rushing to the register with a can of non-diet organic soda and turning around after I informed him I only wanted diet cola. Surely she noticed that he’s black. Or maybe she was too busy staring at my kids.
I glanced over quickly to see if my kids had heard. They were too busy chatting with each other.
“Yes,” I responded firmly in a way I hope would end this line of conversation. I guess in between scanning the groceries and checking out the kids, she didn’t get my hint.
“They’re so beautiful! I love their color.”
You guys, never tell anyone, especially mixed race people, that you love their color.
When I hear a stranger tell me how much they love my or my kids’ skin color, it implies several things.
First, it implies that we were able to choose the color of our skin. Believe me, growing up I would have chosen white as my skin color. If white wasn’t available, I would have chosen peach because that was the only skin color in my box of crayons. Why choose white? Even as a young child, it was obvious to me that the white people in my small Louisiana town had a privilege that I didn’t have. The privilege was obvious to me when my mother went grocery shopping that people spoke to her as if she didn’t understand a lick of English. The privilege was obvious to me when I realized that my parents were racist towards black people because they wanted to assimilate to American culture–if the whites treated the blacks as inferiors, maybe they should too. It didn’t matter to them that our yellow skin made us inferior too.
It took me many years to become comfortable in my “yellow” skin.
Second, focusing on the color of my kids’ skin only exoticizes mixed race people. I didn’t choose to marry a black man because we’d make beautifully colored babies. I didn’t flip through the mixed baby catalog to pick out the one that was the perfect mix of our skin tones. My kids aren’t dolls. My children are old enough to understand these types of conversations. Those well-meaning “Your skin color is so pretty” is sending the wrong message to my kids. You’re telling my kids that their value is tied to how light or dark their skin is. The value of my children should be determined by what’s in their hearts and what’s in their brains. Not the color of their skin.
The well-meaning cashier continued the same line of conversation about my kids’ curly hair. “Do they get that from you or from . . .?”
Why can’t she finish her sentences? Is it too hard to scan my overpriced hot bar food and talk at the same time? I really just want to swipe my debit card and feed my kids so we could make it to an author talk on time. Didn’t she know it was a school night?
“Him,” I replied. Surely one word answers is a sign that I’m not in the mood to chat. She looked up at me with doubt in her eyes. Did she not notice my stick straight Asian hair? Finally, she was done scanning our dinner! I could pay and end this conversation, if not through my body language and tone then by the mere fact that our transaction was completed.
You know what made me so sad about this encounter? My cashier is a person of color. It’s not just white people who tell me these things. I hear it from all different people.
One day I hope there are so many mixed race people in our society that skin color becomes a non-issue. The number of mixed race (or those who check multiple boxes on the census) is rising in the United States, but our society is far from a raceless society.
I hope that eventually these types of conversations with strangers about my children will stop. I could have given responses to my cashier that would educate her or make her rethink about how she phrased her questions. Heck, I should just create cards with what not to say to parents of biracial children.
But I didn’t do any of those things.
Tonight I was tired after a long day of work and playing chauffeur to my lovely children. My night wasn’t over yet because I wanted my kids to meet an author who writes diverse books–books that my daughter loved. Books that my son heard his big sister talk about. Books with racially and culturally diverse characters. Books about girls who didn’t want to just love pink and be pretty.
So I gave one word answers and tucked my activist cape into my purse. I just wanted to focus on being with my children. Not my biracial children. Not my beautifully light browned skinned children with enviable curls. Not my perfectly mixed children.
I wanted to focus my energy on my smart and loving children.
I’ll pull out my activist cape next time.