Lesson #97: Assume Awkward People Are Awkward, Not Racists. And Other Thoughts.


Dear Blue and Wheels,

This marks the first time I’ve written to the both of you. Wheels, you haven’t been officially introduced to breathing oxygen yet, but you’re almost there. We cannot wait to meet you, and judging by how you keep pushing on your mother’s pelvis, we think you think the same.

I wanted to share with you both some thoughts on race. It’s a sensitive topic right now, and I suspect it will remain sensitive until you’re reading this. Probably beyond that time, as well.

Being biracial, you two are going to have more than your fair share of questions about your heritage. Don’t be outraged. That’s a very common reaction, and it’s usually one that’s born out of opportunity as much as it is genuine emotion. What I mean by that is outrage, whether real or not, is often amplified when it’s expressed on the internet. Everybody gets outraged about everything now, and there are better ways to handle situations where you might feel offended.

You’ll both probably have people ask the following questions:

“Where are you from?”

“What are you?”

“Can I touch your hair?”

Etc, etc.

Try not to be offended. Unless they’re being blatantly racist and bigoted, but people that go that route tend to not be subtle about it. Hence, blatant. Most of the time, people are one or more of three things: ignorant, curious and awkward. Indulge them. Let them get to know you.

Not only will you gain and maintain friends this way, but you’ll help encourage them in the healthiest way to talk about race.

What tends to mostly happen with talking about race is that people don’t talk about race. And when they do, it always falls along these carefully choreographed lines that follow very conventional rules that distinguish between what you can say and what you can’t. These kinds of conversations usually end up being very shallow and very meaningless. No, the best way to talk is to be open to questions about race. Again, indulge dumb questions gracefully. Don’t make passive aggressive comments. Don’t be snarky. Don’t run to the internet and be outraged. Let them get to know you, and eventually you move past race.

Don’t let anyone tell you they don’t see skin color or race when they first meet you. They’re lying. Everyone sees race, and that’s okay. How else is the cashier at the Latino grocery store going to know to speak to you in Spanish or English after looking at you for a millisecond?

Race only disappears after you know a person for a long time. I can honestly say that there are times when I forget your mother is Asian, and I know there are times she forgets I’m white. But we only got to that point because we struggled through a lot of assumptions about the other person we didn’t know we had. So see race, because it informs you about culture, and culture always informs you about a person you want to get to know.

And Wheels, I can guarantee you that you will receive more dumb questions than Blue. People will probably think it’s flattering to ask you questions about your appearance. You’ll probably think it’s invasive and horrific after you hear the same question for the thousandth time. Try to be patient, but if a boy ever tells you that you look exotic, you have my permission to drop kick his molars into the back of his throat. Set a precedent. That sort of thing cannot stand.




The Problem Of Half


Dear Blue,

Before you were born, your mother and I looked up mixed race babies on YouTube, just to get a preview of what we could expect. We had no idea. At this point, all we had to go on was a grainy ultrasound of your profile that turned out to be amazingly accurate. We saw a bunch of really cute babies doing cute things, and then, invariably, our search led to videos of teenagers griping to a webcam about their problems, because this is where every YouTube video jamboree eventually ends up: Self-obsessed adolescents drowning in their own comment-riddled angstalogues.

We watched and we watched and we watched, simultaneously repulsed and fascinated, because for all the self-absorption, there was a valid concern streaming through loud and clear. These kids didn’t know themselves. They were mixed and mixed up, half and nothing, bicultural and barren. We resolved to never let you make one of these pitiful videos, because if you do, it will mean that we have failed you as parents.

The question they were asking was simple on the surface: Who am I?

It’s exceptionally easy to get tripped on this question and solely focus on a different question altogether. This question gets asked too long and too often, and it eventually becomes, ‘Where do I belong?’

For most people, the obvious answer to this is, ‘I belong with people who are like me’, which sadly, usually translates to ‘I belong to people of my own race.’ People want to talk about how they like diversity and they like being multicultural and blahdeblahdeblah. The truth is that most people stick to their own. Here’s where it sucks for you, Blue. Being biracial, you might never have the experience of being a part of the majority anywhere. You might ALWAYS be the minority. I say might because being half Asian and half white, there is a small army of your kind in Southern California, but that’s no guarantee.

The funny thing is, being half Asian and half white, you have black, shiny Elvis hair, olive skin, fat cheeks and big brown eyes. You could pass for Mexican, if you really wanted.

But nah. That’s where I don’t want you to be, Blue. I don’t want you having to pick a filler race to try to figure out who you are, so what we’re going to do is foist that question of ‘Who am I?’ against a much larger and complex backdrop that allows you to BE the answer and not just look for it. These aren’t just fluff words. It’s a shame when people get stuck on their roots when trying to figure themselves out. There is so much more to it. I like to think of personhood as three parts, one for each of that question of ‘Who Am I?’

The Who part of that we’ve already covered. The other two are also key. I don’t think anyone of these are any more important than the others, but it is important to know each of them.

The second part of that question, the Am, is how I see a person’s engagement with the present. That is, their choices in any given situation begin to affect how they view the world, and how the world views them. For you, this is beginning now as your personality begins to take shape. It will become even more important down the line when you start socializing with others. Your personality is kind of like a rough sketch at this point. As you grow older, experiences will start to fill in the details.

The third part of the question, the I, is the one that will take the longest to figure out. When you’re young, it won’t be as important. You’ll mostly just want to get along with peers and do whatever your friends are doing. But as you grow older, figuring out your uniqueness will dominate your time. If knowing where you come from involves understanding the past, and knowing your personality involves understanding your present choices, then knowing what makes you special will involve figuring out who you want to be. Yes, believe it or not, you do have a choice.

This is the job of the parents. In fact, it just might be THE job. Getting a kid to that third part of the question as quickly as possible is a job well done. It is here where we forget about fractions and hyphens. We forget about narrow definitions of personhood and upbringing. We forget about all of this, Blue, because you are not half anything. You are fully you.

Well, that is until you find your better half, but that’s a separate discussion altogether.