When I was a little girl, I had a crush on a particular boy in my grade. I told my mom that I liked him because I felt I could tell her anything. She asked me, “Why do you like H—?”
“Because we have the same skin color,” I said in a manner-of-fact voice. Yes, at a very young age, I was concerned that I had to be with someone who looked like me, even though I inhabited a home with my parents, a dark Indian man and a white American woman. I’m ashamed to say it, but I used to be extremely embarrassed by my parents because of how they appeared in public. When we would walk in the mall or go to a restaurant, I could feel people looking at us a bit longer than for other families. I would hear other people exclaim, “You must be her mother! She looks just like you!” but it never happened for us. Growing up in Maryland in the 1990s, I rarely saw mixed families like mine, which made me feel that we were abnormal.
Once I grew up, I realized that my former perception of the world was illogical, but I was also an adolescent and had been raised on movies and television shows where the family was only one race. Even now, there’s rarely a romantic comedy with varied backgrounds for the main characters; everyone has to pair up with someone who looks like them in order to promote a homogeneous society. Since I didn’t see many families with varied backgrounds like mine, I thought we had broken some unwritten law and prolonged stares were our punishment.
I think my experience is part of the reason some people even today don’t know what to do when they see a mixed family. In the last few years, I have encountered social situations where people were surprised to meet my mother and see that she was white with light brown hair and brown eyes. One person even made a comment asking if my sister and I were adopted, which was one of the few instances where my mother became visibly angry. There’s nothing wrong with adoption, but it’s jolting to have someone basically comment that your children do not look like you and therefore you are not their biological mother.
There were many factors that helped me to embrace my diverse parents and subsequently, my own background. I lived in New York City for several years and felt love instead of scrutiny. I befriended several people who also had mixed backgrounds; we would relate on stories of cultural clashings or personal identity issues. While not everyone loves the concrete jungle, we need more shows/commercials/movies etc. that show mixed couples. The mixed couple should not be the central conflict of the story (a plot I have seen practiced a few times now) but they should just be there, accepted as another part of the group. Allowing it to be included in subtle ways through our mainstream media should help people become more inured to the wonderful mixes and relationships that can blossom regardless of color.
June will be my parents’ 32nd anniversary. A couple of decades ago, they got married in a small town in Ohio without any thought (or conflict) about interracial marriages. In fact, at the time, people from India were considered white. Race may not have been an issue, but my father had rejected hundreds of years of tradition and refused an arranged marriage because he was in love. With the prosaic issues in a marriage, my parents also had to deal with serious cultural differences and work through them together. Now when I’m with my parents at a crowded restaurant, I don’t think about what other people see. I’m immersed in the love and support of my family and I’m learning how to build my own marriage from their example. I regret that I felt embarrassment from my parents’ appearance as a child, but I hope that the growing acceptance of diversity that is happening among families will allow kids liberation from a silly shame. They should only harbor discomfiture when their parents call them a personal nickname or wipe something off their face in public.
Anita Gill is a writer and a teacher. She teaches English as a Second Language along with college level writing courses in the Washington, D.C. area.