Our Shades of Brown: Addressing Prejudice in Blended Families

This story first appeared on Florecita Growing Up

So lately we’ve been a lot more involved in community organizing and since the kids are getting older we decided to start bringing them along to make sure we are not neglecting them in the process of helping others, or creating spaces that we would like to think help others. Sometimes it’s frustrating because they are kids and when we are at a meeting that is not kid-friendly, they get bored.

Most of the time before meetings that both Isaac and I are attending, we decide whose in charge of the kids for the meeting: this includes entertainment, food and taking them out of the room if they are having a tantrum. Usually the system works well, but I have noticed that when it’s Isaac’s turn he seems to get more compassion and help. Like people literally say, “Oh can I help you!” or “I can hold him for you.” When it’s me, it’s definitely more expected, even if I’m in the middle of talking or essential to the planning process.

Sometimes I get looks, you know, the looks that say, “Aren’t you gonna get up and help this poor man?” I used to respond to these quickly and get up and take over but recently, I kinda look back and smile and continue whatever I am doing. We have a plan and being a parent isn’t easy so I know he’ll figure it out.

Addressing Prejudice in Blended Families

In this work we meet a lot of new people but we also encounter people from our past. Last week, Andrei was sad and told me: “Mom, why does everyone call my dad little Isaac? Am I little Isaac too?” I felt a little jab in my stomach, and all the times that people called baby Adrian “Little Isaac” in front of Andrei flooded into my head.  Andrei and Baby Adrian have different biological fathers but they have the same dad.  This is the explanation Andrei gives when he explains to others how our family works.

Not long ago, Andrei asked to have his head shaved so he could look more like his dad and this made me happy because he loves Isaac, but it also made me sad to see what an impact an inconsiderate person’s comments can have on my children. After he got his haircut he said, “Yes now there’s four Isaacs! Dad, me-little Isaac, Adrian-little Isaac and Alissa’s Isaac (one of our good friends)”. They all happen to be different shades of brown and I thought it was cute that he looked in the mirror and really believed he looked the same as his dad, brother and friend.

I guess a solution would be keeping them home away from the outside ignorance, but where’s the strength in that? Because let’s face it, we are a blended family and we can’t pretend we are not. Truthfully, here in our home there are no differences. But recently, I can tell the kids are starting to defy and question our family structure. I hear them asking questions based on the way they are treated by adults outside the home. Extended family, friends and community members.

A while ago, Nati told me, “Mom, why does _______ (*name removed) always say Adrian is dark?  He’s just really dark brown. I don’t care what they say, he looks like me!”  I didn’t address it at the time because I didn’t know how.

Many of the people that make these comments are family.  So here’s the challenge, how do you tell them, “Hey! Your being a jerk,” without being a jerk yourself?

So, if your reading this and you haven’t checked the language you use around children because you assume they are not smart or they don’t understand that you are being prejudiced, well guess what, kids do understand. Sometimes, they understand more than us adults understand because they are not biased or tainted by adult perceptions. They are little people that have the same thought processes, and whose adult influence affects learning structures, identity and understanding.

Anyway suggestions and comments are readily accepted. :)

Personally, I never thought our shades of brown would cause these issues in our blended family. I always assumed it would be other stuff.

*No names were mentioned because it would just be mean to call them out. But the kids know and remember and it does hurt their feelings to be treated differently because they look different or have different dads. 




  1. says

    Flor, thank you for sharing this! I only have one daughter and when she was born, she was much darker than now. There were so many people who would comment that she "looks too Mexican" and that she should look more "mixed".

    I can't even imagine having to deal with this though and having people point out the differences between my children…that would be it! So sorry that you are going through this, especially as a blended family. Your children deserve the world and it's awful that the ones who are supposed to support you most say some of the most upsetting things. Not to mention people from the past.

    Your family is so beautiful Flor and they have such passionate and strong-willed parents. I can't wait to see who they become. ♥

  2. says

    Flor, I totally understand. My kiddos are, literally, different as night and day. La Grande is muy trigueña and La Rubia Peligrosa is very fair. La Rubia gets a lot of comments about how "cute" she is, or "look at her" and it often happens when the girls are together. I can't help but feel that the reason they notice La Rubia is because she stands out so much compared to La Grande and myself. I think her coloring shocks people. And La Grande is very much aware of her skin tone. It is such a stark contrast that I know people can't help but notice it, but it doesn't make it easy when they make comments when both girls are present. I even had someone ask me if they were from the same father in the middle of the grocery store.

    Stay strong. The beauty of our American culture and La Cultura is that we are a genetic and cultural blend. As time goes on, I know that our children will think nothing of these differences. The only perspective or advice I can provide is to continue to teach them how to love and appreciate their differences and to treasure the love that binds us all together as family.

  3. Beth Ortuño says

    I am not sure if what I do is right — maybe there isn't even a way to make it "right" — but I will share it with you what I do. We have every shade somewhere in the blended family. My sister-in-law is "Tia Huera" even though I am the only (white) one in the family with skin that burns in the sun. My son has to try to figure out how his sister's other sisters on her mom's side (African-American father) are much darker but yet my stepdaughter is the one the family calls "La Morenita". I think it is good in a way when people say things out loud right in front of you. At least we get an opportunity to talk about it. Otherwise you don't know what your kids have heard from where that is sitting in their brain somewhere festering. Here is one example. My stepdaughter heard an aunt tell her she shouldn't play outside so much because she's turning into a black girl. I told my stepdaughter right there immediately that I love her thick hair. I made sure the aunt heard me say that. Seemingly out of the blue but of course it is not. So I have communicated to the aunt, although I didn't make a confrontation out of it by mentioning the skin color, but I know they get my point. And I know my stepdaughter takes away things I say and thinks about it. I also specifically remind her dad very often, and he does specifically tell her she is pretty, and not just in a general way but things like, it makes me happy looking at your eyes because they remind me of my grandmother's chocolate atole. But then even my husband can make a comment like not wanting to go to a certain playground because there are "muchos morenos" and says it in front of the kids. That again it is an opportunity for me to say something the kids will also hear, on the other side of things. It does take a lot of energy for me to think of something to say and I can't always come up with something that sounds loving. I think if I come at it guns drawn and blazing, the family member is going to shut me out and not listen. Or sometimes you just already figured out that this person doesn't care and isn't going to respond anyway. As my stepdaughter is a bit older I sometimes talk about it with her just out of the blue, just ask her what she thinks. We also go to a church which specifically affirms the right messages. So they are hearing it from a community of people. That helps I think too. At the end of the day I feel like I may not be able to change what some people think and we can't pick & choose our family, but maybe I can outdo the negatives with the positive, so the kids are swimming in the positive things, and the negatives are just bumps they learn to get around.

  4. says

    I sort of understand what you are talking about. I have a relative who brings up that my adopted Cambodian cousin is "darker" tha her light skinned Chinese sister. They are definitely a blended family, and I love them, however, the comments always make me upset. I have talked to my relative about this — that you cannot say that because it's not right. Unfortunately as far as we've come as a society, we are still being held back…