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.