What Strangers Shouldn’t Say to My Interracial Family That Doesn’t “Match”


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By Alicia Barnes, liciabobesha.com

When I was pregnant, I felt sorry for my husband. I knew our child was going to be brown, lighter than me but still brown like me. I knew he was going to have thick curls that turned into an afro before he could even hold his own head up. I felt bad because my husband would be the fair face in all of our photos and that it would be hard for him not to have his kids look like him.

Then I gave birth, and had I not given birth at home, and had the baby not look so much like my husband, I may have doubted he was my own:

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To my complete surprise, I was the parent who didn’t look like the child, and I was right to worry it would be hard for D because when families don’t match people’s expectations, they can say awful rude things to strangers under the excuse of curiosity.

So the photos from the recently released book, A Beautiful Body Project  have been flooding my facebook wall. The project is a collection of photos focusing on the real bodies of mothers without airbrushing out the stretch marks, sagging skin, wrinkles, fat, or any perceived imperfections. A noble cause that speaks to many women, yet the comments I saw about this photo made my heart sink:

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“Adopted?”

“I don’t think any negative was meant by the adopted children comment. I too assumed they were adopted as they look a different race than the mother.”

Let me say this as clearly and directly as I can, birth is not a qualifier for motherhood. A photo essay about mothers should rightfully include adoptive mothers, or mothers as I call them.

Also, shared race is not a qualifier of being a mother to a child. In the photo in question, I saw a mother and her two daughters. When I looked at their faces, I saw the mother’s eyes and nose present in her daughters. Unfortunately, too many people never get that far.  They never look at the faces or into eyes. They never see people. They only see that the skin is different, and suddenly they are vocally in public calling into question someone’s parenthood.

Some of us birth kids who don’t look like us, and it’s hurtful for people to question our status.

It’s upsetting that people’s minds more easily go to adoption than to interracial relationship to explain a photo like that even when there’s physical resemblance.

It’s upsetting that even in 2014, it’s not even in the realm of possibility in some people’s minds that these kids are biologically hers and they automatically assign her the role as adopter while minority moms with fair kids are too often assumed to be the nanny.

I know it’s hurtful from the mom perspective. I can’t imagine it’s nice from the children’s perspective to have strangers seeming to question the validity of their families. I know people are not meaning to be malicious. I’ve had people use it as a conversation opener to tell me about their family members who don’t look like they belong, but the fact is by bringing it up, you’re telling someone you think their family doesn’t belong together, at least visually, and that’s no good.

Because I know most communities are still very segregated and homogenous, I am writing this post to say, what someone’s family looks like is not polite conversation, and while you may just be curious, your curiosity is not an excuse to tell people their families don’t match. It’s not ok to ask people where they got their kids from. It’s not ok to ask people if their kids are adopted if you’re only looking for confirmation of why their skin doesn’t match. There are ways to have kind conversations about race and adoption that aren’t based assumptions that insult people’s families. The key to me is to first realize they are people and they are families and to ground your comments and questions in that knowledge. By doing so, any simple curiosity questions of matching disappear because matching is irrelevant, and you’ll realize what you probably want to say is oh look at that beautiful family.

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I am not the only voice in this conversation. Here are other people’s stories to consider:

What Adopting a White Girl Taught One Black Family 

As a black father and adopted white daughter, Mark Riding and Katie O’Dea-Smith are a sight at best surprising, and at worst so perplexing that people feel compelled to respond.[…] And the time when well-intentioned shoppers followed Mark and Katie out of the mall to make sure she wasn’t being kidnapped. Or when would-be heroes come up to Katie in the cereal aisle and ask, “Are you OK?”—even though Terri is standing right there.
“I’ve never felt more self-consciously black than while holding our little white girl’s hand in public.” He used to write off the negative attention as innocent curiosity.

***

10 Things You Should Never Say To The Parent Of A Mixed Race Child

7. “Is he yours?”

This only happens when my husband and I are together. He’s clearly black, I’m clearly white. There is always a pause and a quizzical look when I introduce him or he introduces me. Now, this could be just because of the different family dynamics that exist in our world today – maybe it has nothing to do with the fact that we are different races. But I can’t help but think that it does. I think we look like a family and I’m not quite sure why this confuses people sometimes.

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NOPE! I’M NOT THE NANNY, JUST A BLACK MOM, THANKS

Is that your baby? The question, though not intentionally malicious, implies, of course, that I am more likely the nanny, not the mother. But it cuts deeper than that. It’s actually asking me to claim my child, to prove that I am the true owner. It is an affront to nothing short of our identities.

Some background: I’m black and my husband is white. Our little sweet potato is a clear merger of these genetic facts. On some level, this question is merely a result of a failure of imagination, the inability of others to envision our connection. But it’s also based on twisted assumptions about race, entitlement and socioeconomics.

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Talking to My Biracial Child About Why People Think She’s Adopted

“And in the grand scheme of things, getting asked all the time if you’re adopted is probably one of the less annoying/irritating things about racism. Sure, people are curious. As a curious person myself, I don’t begrudge people their questions. But I wonder, as the world becomes more and more multicultural if there will come a time when it won’t seem so unusual to see a brown child with a white mom and immediately wonder if the child is adopted.”

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No, I’m not the nanny: When you don’t look like your kids

“Walking around in Brooklyn, people just assumed I was the nanny, ” she says. “One woman actually suggested I get DNA testing done because perhaps my baby had been switched at the hospital — ‘because they can make mistakes, ‘ is what she said.”

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I’m Not the Nanny: a site for mothers who are raising multiracial kids that may not look like them:

“As the mom of biracial children, I’ve been mistaken for the nanny, depending on which DC Metro park I visit. I started this site as a way to share the challenges and joys of raising biracial children.”

Have you had any experiences with strangers saying something they shouldn’t?  How did you respond? 

Alicia lives in a small college town that often challenges her resolve to live as simply and as stress-free as possible. When she’s not working, rereading the same children’s books, cooking, or wondering how crunchy she’s become, she’s busy updating her site,  liciabobesha.com. You can follow her on facebook.

About Alicia B

Alicia lives and took a semester of photography in a small college town that often challenges her resolve to live as simply and as stress-free as possible. When she’s not working, rereading the same children’s books, cooking, or wondering how crunchy she’s become, she’s busy updating her site, liciabobesha.com. You can follow her on facebook.