Multicultural Families & Societal Perceptions
When I am by myself at the grocery store people see a middle-aged, kind of overweight white woman who needs her roots touched up, and dresses like she has a job that pays well enough—but not enough to be considered well-to-do. Being that woman gains me some respect, some positivity, some polite interaction that is not earned, but is definitely a part of every day life. The only people who follow me around are store employees who smile and ask if I’m finding everything okay. My fellow shoppers pretty much ignore me as I move aisle to aisle pushing my cart. I smile at their kids, nod at the folks who pass me by….and the whole time I feel kind of lost, because I don’t feel like people know who I really am. They don’t really see me–they see a woman with white skin, and they make assumptions about what that means. They treat me with a respect that is unearned because of those assumptions. And it makes me uncomfortable.
What the people at the store don’t know is that I go home after shopping and my family helps me carry in the groceries. Sometimes my son’s friends help, too. Sometimes, there is a sea of gangly pre-teenaged boys eating the food I just bought before it even makes it into the cupboards. With them, I feel like myself. I am at home, both physically and spiritually. In my house, I am the only white person. The respect I get is respect that is earned–by caring for and loving the people under my own roof. They don’t see me as a white woman, and I don’t see them as people of color. They see me as mom, wife, or Mrs. Duncan their neighbor; and I see them as people I love and care about. My family. My neighborhood. My home.
While I sometimes dislike shopping with my children (somehow I always end up spending far more than I’d intended), I also really like it because I feel like the world gets a better picture of who I really am. With that better picture, though, comes a lot of attention that is not always positive. And I am not the only mom to multiracial/multicultural kids who gets that kind of attention. I read lots of stories about people who encounter rude comments at grocery stores: “Is that your child?” “Are you the nanny?” “Are they yours?” These are all questions that parents in multicultural families receive when out in public. The questions, the looks, the smirks can sometimes be so rude it’s unbelievable to imagine anyone has the gall to ask them. In those moments it is best to just breathe and remember the feelings we have when we are at home, surrounded by people who love each other and respect each other because of their shared experiences as a family. Home, where there are no faulty assumptions that have been ingrained in our brains by society.
For myself, I try to either ignore the stares and comments, or politely respond in a way that shows the love and pride I have for my family. I can only hope that my love will be evident, will spread, pollinate, and grow in the hearts of those who so rudely question it’s authenticity. Even though I don’t get any of those comments when I am by myself, I prefer to be with my family, giving the doubters and naysayers the chance to see who we really are.
How do you feel when you are out and about without your multicultural family? What questions have you been asked about your family? How do you respond to rude assumptions or questions?
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