So I was browsing Reddit today and came across the ‘awkward racist’ moments post. It brought me back to my Dad and Mom explaining racism to me. So I think I’ll share.
Now being predominantly white (with a teensie bit of Chinese from around 6 or 7 generations back) I haven’t encountered much racism. That is until people ask where I’m from. This question is problematic because my family is gigantically mixed. We are the mutts of pretty much everywhere, and we don’t really mind who knows it. The problem is everyone else wants or has to attach a label; “ah so you’re Polish!” not as much as I am French, “Ah so you’re French”, not so much as I am Scottish, “ah so you’re Scottish!’ , not so much as I am Czech… and continue until we’ve gone through everything ethnicity and country you can think of… Like I said, I’m a mongrel. Add to this I’m a third culture kid (sorta), My parents were born in one country to parents of mixed heritage, I was born in another country, and grew up in several different countries. Where do I think I come from? I come from my family, my friends and my memories, so eff you and your geographical/ethnic snobbery. This is not the Highlander- there can be MORE THAN ONE!!!!
Anyhow, my Mom is the whitest woman you will ever come across. She has Strawberry blond hair, narrow frame, freckles and blue eyes, and looks so very Nordic that people get creeped out when they realize she has no Nordic blood whatsoever. My father on the other hand is a swarthy, dark eyed, curly haired, large man who wouldn’t look out of place playing a Bond villain or terrorist character in any blockbuster movie. I should point out at this junction that despite looking like total opposites my parents have identical accents, and the same cadence to their speech, although my Dad looks like he should speak with a stereotypically Arabic accent.
His general “foreignness” has been enhanced over the years as when I was little he worked predominantly in Central and Eastern Africa, and gained the deepest, darkest tan lines which have never gone away. Added to this the neighborhood we lived in back then was mostly white, and due to my Dad’s job many Kenyan, Congolese, and Rwandan businessmen and women were in and out of our house daily. Which creeped out the neighbors, but meant that as tiny tots my brother sister and I didn’t really get the difference between my mom, very pale, my dad, brown-ish, and Uncle Amadou, black. But our neighbors were very much aware. This didn’t really bother me as there were no kids on our street, just old people so I didn’t really chit-chat with them, but I know they basically ostracized my parents until the community became less homogeneously white-bread.
Anyway enough scene setting, I remember a trip to the beach with my dad and my sister. We sat in an ice cream shop, we were about 5 and 3 at the time. The service was lousy, my Dad was chain-smoking and trying to order coffee and drinks for us. We had had a long day and the sun was particularly aggressive that day. Usually small children get served fast because they burst into tears. Not so here, the waitress was not only disinterested but positively unwelcoming to my Dad. I guess one Arab with two blond Cherubs could raise eyebrows. Bear in mind though, this was 1991/1992 so there really wasn’t that much hatred. Basically after being blanked by the waitress for 30 minutes with his two pre-school kids who were hungry, thirsty and tired, he got up and told the waitress in no uncertain terms what I gigantic pile of passive aggression she was being.
Her response was “the kids are fine, we don’t serve your kind here” the way it was said made me really sad. Even at age 5 I couldn’t work out why this lady hated my Dad so much. My Dad scooped us up and marched out of that place, we went to a 7/11 nearby and bought bottles of water, juice boxes and snacks and drove home in the sticky heat (days before cars came with air-con).
During the drive home my Dad explained to us about racism. Now I have light brown hair, my sister has deep brown hair but when we were kids we were blond, white-blond, until about ages 8 and 6. So my Dad had the difficult task of explaining that the lady thought he was from one family, and that we were from another. Well this waitress managed to make my sister and I freak out that maybe if we didn’t look like our Dad we weren’t his kids. So after a long drive home in which my Dad had to convince us we were indeed his biological children we got home, emotionally drained, close to tears, and totally confused about racism.
The next day a united front was put up by the parents to explain racism to us. It was explained that some people hate others for the color of their skin. Did we understand, “yes”, we understood, “some people hate people who have different skin color, but why?” My parents looked at each other. “Some people believe that your skin color decides how you act”.
Believe it or not my sister and I just giggled. We could not work out how adults could believe such a stupid idea. All the grown-ups we knew where the same, they were tall, and they talked with long words, and they played games with us, and brought gifts. They all acted the same, some were fat, some short, some brown, some thin, some men, some women, some tall, some black.
When I went to my first school my best friend was Amadou’s niece, she was the only black kid in our class, in fact she was one of 3 black kids in the whole school as I remember, we already knew each other and hung out. We met a nice kid who we’ll call Leo, who was from the Philipines, and we got on great, within the class we were the three musketeers, we got on with everyone but mostly with each other. One day I was given a note to take home to my Mom.
My parents had been called in for a special PTA meeting to talk about my behaviour, I wasn’t integrating with the other students. My parents were shocked. They thought I was doing well, I was happy, and I was in tennis club, and had afterschool activities three days a week. “No” My teacher said “not integrating with the other students at all, only hangs out with the minorities”.
After that my parents refused to go to PTA meetings, they also told Amadou and Leo’s parents about it. Amadou’s niece moved to another country the next year and Leo’s parents took him out of school because of the incident. We were 7 or 8 when that happened. I don’t think any of us really understood what was going on.
I guess the point of those stories was just to say that racism whether aggressive or just stupid is everywhere, and without being preachy, it has to stop. Kids do not need to hear about your beef with an entire people just because someone of a different ethnicity once said you had cankles.