Sunday, October 21, 2012

Race Matters


“No one will date you because you’re mixed race.”

My heart sank this past week when my son told me someone had said this to him, but I hid my hurt.

I said, “Did you tell him, ‘That’s okay, because I won’t date racist people’?”

“No!  I never thought of that,” he replied excitedly, “That’s good.”

I explained I had many years of experience thinking of comebacks. Yet, this wasn’t the first time my son had experienced prejudice. At eight, he had his first bout with it as I described in this post. At the time, he didn’t seemed phased, but he admitted this week that he had held onto that memory as well.

As we talked further, he felt better. He realized that he was not alone, that his mother had grown up with the same, and that as author Eric Hoffer once said, “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.”

I’ve spoken about some personal incidents of racism in this blog, but recently, I’ve been able to pinpoint some things for myself.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, my life was about assimilation. I wanted to be white. I wanted to blend in to the Appalachian human fabric and disappear. During those years in the South, those around me often reminded me that I was different, strange, or simply “not normal.”

My mother tried to console me when these things happened, but after time, I realized that she truly did not know how I felt. My father, on the other hand, did to some degree.  As a Puerto Rican whose English was heavily accented, he had endured his share of racism. We spoke some but rarely about it.

I have spent my life longing to “fit in” racially. In Virginia, I found my two closest friends, Katherine and Adrienne, strong Asian women. I have blogged on how they taught me a great deal about Asian culture, another crucial step in my development.

What they lacked was the experience of being raised in a family where one feels racially out of place. Enter my next step in development … meeting two adult contemporary Korean adoptees.

We are just learning more about one another. In the coming days, I hope to share with you the continuing maturation of the person I haven’t fully known … myself.

3 comments:

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  2. I am also a Korean adoptee with three grown sons of mixed race, ages 25, 29, and 33. There may have been women who did not date them because of their mixed race, but there have been plenty of women who have and are dating them now. Sure, racism still exists and likely will continue to exist in my lifetime. Racism is an easy--and ignorant--excuse to not like someone. You may dislike me because I am rude, because I am mean, because my politics are not yours, because I don't bathe, but PUH-LEASE, don't give me the racism excuse. (By the way, except for the politics excuse, I hope no one can legitimately use the others). My husband, who is white, Anglo-Saxon (and Protestant), and I have tried to raise our sons with the confidence in their own worth to be able to walk away from the mean people and focus on the people who appreciate them for their many good qualities. I am their mother, and so I am unabashedly biased, but I find them to be kind, loyal, honest, hard-working, and incredibly funny. Sure, they have their faults, and so there may be reasons to not like them, but don't let that reason be because of their mixed race. I think that their unique personalities have been shaped by the racism they have encountered over the years, but we have tried to teach them to walk away from it. Sometimes the racism is unintentional, meaning the person means no harm but is simply ignorant. In these cases, we have taught our sons to use humor to defuse the moment and try to educate the person. Here is an example: Our youngest son was at college, and an acquaintance asked him if he was Chinese or Japanese. He replied, "Thanks for the options. I'm half Korean." The person laughed and realized that perhaps that wasn't the best way to phrase the question. I have heard--and it sounds plausible--that someday in the future, there will be no so-called "mixed race" people, no check box on the questionnaire asking for race, because everyone will be mixed race, perhaps a lovely shade of golden brown.

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    1. Thank you so much for this, Lynette! I should put on my humor hat. Sometimes, I am just so wounded that I become stunned and mute. My son does the same. I think for me, it is rooted in so much trauma growing up, and I feel the pain intensely when my son experiences it. He really is the comedian. Maybe he can teach me a few humorous, sensitive comebacks. We’re never too old to learn!

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