Biracial Families: Just when you thought you made a difference…
When I first started my professional career I was under the assumption that college made you more culturally sensitive, after all, didn’t everybody take Sociology 101? What I soon found out was, spending $40,000 on a degree does not guarantee that you will be able to conduct yourself professionally without still bringing your prejudices into the workplace.
For years when my colleagues would talk about biracial children in the program, they were consistently referred to as black. I would always interject, “Black? But isn’t the mom/dad white?” Some of them would roll their eyes and say, “Well yeah, but you know what I mean.” Actually, I did know what they meant. Ever since I started dating my husband in 1994 I’ve had to listen to stupid comments all the time about race and identity.
One time when I was visibly pregnant, and walking with my husband in the mall, two ignorant white folks walked past us and one of them said, “Hey look, there must be some salt and pepper going on in there!” On another occasion I had to hear a neighbor remark that I should not be so concerned with the cleanliness of his place, when I’m the one breeding “N******.”
As with anything, you learn to move on and you learn to grow a thick skin.
However, it was having to use this thick skin in a professional setting that hurt me the most. I had expected that professionals, especially those working with children of special needs, would not have the same prejudices and narrow minds as the rest of the world. I was wrong. I got into many debates about identity, the “one drop rule,” and who my children would eventually date. But with hard work and persistent dedication I was eventually able to convince them that biracial children have a right to be who they are and that multicultural parents do not deserve to be divorced from their child simply because they don’t look like them.
I’m happy to report that I have accomplished the opening of their eyes within our workplace, but just when I thought I was making a difference…something else happened…
I was at a conference in a large city with my colleagues and we were taking in an evening of fine dining and shopping. It was just the girls, talking about husbands, kids and daily life. As we were walking three young males (who happened to be black) walked by us. They had their pants hanging extremely low, and their underwear was showing. I didn’t think much of it, but my colleague remarked to me, “Hey, don’t let your boys dress like that when they get older.” She said it so simply and carefree, that I felt like she punched me in the gut.
I asked her, “Why in the world would you say that to me? You said that to me because my husband is black and my children have a black father.” To which she replied, “No, I would have said that to anyone who has boys.” I replied, “No you would not have.” I told her that she wouldn’t have given me this same warning if I was a white woman with a white husband and two boys, and she wouldn’t have.
I thought that after all these years of proving to everyone that our family is not unlike theirs, that things would be different, but I was wrong.
But my family is unlike hers.
She does not have to fight off every negative black stereotype there is. (Despite the fact that a lot of urban youth wear their pants low, it remains a black stereotype). She does not have to be hurt when someone who doesn’t know that she has a black husband, makes a racial comment to her. Her white privilege gives her the ability to simply not need to go beyond the color lines and see the three young boys for who they might be; creative and innovative scholars. Her white privilege gives her the ability to not see me as her equal. Despite the fact that we do the same job, have the same passion, and share many interest, we are not equal. My children will always have to be one step ahead of hers. They will consistently and constantly have to prove that they should not be boxed in. My family will never fit neatly into one category, and although she might see that as a negative, I will always see that as positive.
Harriett Bailey - “Harriett” is a mother of two boys. She is married to her husband of 18 years. She is an Intervention Specialist for children with special needs. She loves history, her Catholic faith and her family.