Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Our Family Doesn't 'Fit'

I've been thinking about doing a blog post on this topic for awhile, and tonight my son found this article on the Huffington Post about a father who was followed home from Walmart by the police because someone at the store thought he might have kidnapped his biracial daughters. According to the article:
   ...the customer was concerned because they saw the children with your husband and he didn't think that they fit," Keana told the news station. "And I said, ‘What do you mean by they don't fit?’ And I was trying to get her to say it. And she says, ‘Well, they just don't match up.’”

People have pointed out that the customers and cops were just acting out of concern for the kids - that in the light of recent kidnappings, they wanted to make sure that nothing fishy was going on. All well and good, except this still comes from a place of thinking that all families should 'match' - Mom, Dad and the kids should all be one race and look the same.

This makes me crazy on so many levels. As a family, we don't fit either. The most disingenuous thing that anyone can say to me is "Oh yeah, I see the resemblance". You do? I've known my kids for 16 and 13 years and I never have. Neither of my kids looks like either one of us - I could have phoned them in for all the family resemblance we have, and that's fine with us. 

When my oldest was born, he had brown curly hair, tan skin and big brown eyes. He never looked anything like me, and most of the time I didn't think much about it. 

When my youngest was born three years later, the only thing we were sure of was that he'd have brown eyes and brown hair - we'd both taken basic genetics and knew that those were dominant features. "Ha!" says the Universe.

 The funny thing is, he's the spitting image of my husband if you look closely - except almost nobody ever does. My son was a few weeks old and very cranky so my husband decided to take him for a walk in his stroller. He was walking near our local supermarket and the baby was screaming, so my husband picked him up and noticed everyone getting really quiet. He got very uncomfortable and raced back home, sure he was going to get picked up for kidnapping someone's little white child (foreshadowing the HuffPo article above).
The family a few years back...

Nothing that drastic has ever happened, but I was always surprised who 'got' it and who didn't. I was with my youngest son at the grocery store when he was in his infant seat. A nice little old Caucasian lady came up to us and complimented his white blonde hair and green eyes. As I said thanks, she leaned over and said "You know, the way things are going, we won't have any natural blonde babies soon." I was so stunned I couldn't find the words for any of the great comebacks that hit me half an hour later.

Another outing at about the same time, an African American woman was standing in line behind the two of us when she leaned over and asked "Is his father Yoruba?" I was shocked and said that yes, he was (Yoruba is his Nigerian ancestry) and asked how she could tell. She replied that he looked just like a Yoruba prince. I've found this over and over again - Caucasians often miss that my kids are biracial, while African American people never do. Is this because African American people tend to see beyond skin color to the underlying features? That the term African American applies to a variety of skin tones and hair textures (going back to the 'one drop' rule)? I don't know, but it's pretty universally true.

We live in Northern California, where different family structures are more the norm but we still get it from time to time. We have friends who have adopted and friends who have biracial kids and everyone has a story about people thinking their kids don't fit. I've had a friend asked repeatedly where she 'got' her adopted Asian daughter. An African American friend is constantly mistaken for the nanny of her biracial kids. My kids have heard "Is that your Mom (or Dad)?" so many times, they don't even react anymore.

In 2013 and beyond, I can only imagine (hope?) that these questions will get asked less and less. Modern Family is one of my very favorite shows, and they recently had a plotline about this subject that was really great. Cam and Mitchell were worried that their adopted daughter Lily wasn't like either of them until they saw her dressed up in crazy clothes (Cam) and organizing her Play-Doh by color (Mitch) and realized that even if you don't give your kids your genetics (or they get scrambled along the way), they're still part of you.

I didn't give my sons my hair or eyes, but I gave them both my hayfever and a love of music. My oldest is a high-strung perfectionist just like I am and my youngest has his dad's great singing voice. We're raising them to be good, tolerant, respectful people who will hopefully leave this world a better place for their presence in it.

And to me, that's more important than handing down the family nose any day.


Liz Czukas said...

Aren't genetics wonderfully weird? As a labor & delivery nurse I saw all kinds of babies come out of all kinds of mamas. I've learned not to expect anything except a basic human shape.

Thanks for continuing to talk about this. I think that's what's going to help us most--attention and example.

It's funny how people want to put ownership on babies so much. My husband's family INSISTED he looked just like my husband when my son was born, even though you could lay his baby picture next to mine and barely see a difference. Now he's a mix of both of us, but they were so adamant. It was like they didn't want me involved.

FWIW, I see your smile in both kids. But you're so right about the younger one looking like his dad--holy cow!

- Liz

CJ Omololu said...

Ha Liz - I love the 'basic human shape' concept. Upon seeing our second, our beloved pediatrician suggested that we have a third because we need a redhead in the bunch. (BTW, I don't mean that negatively - I thought it was funny.)

Julie_c said...

That is CRAZY about the caucasian lady in the grocery store commenting on your son's hair. My jaw would have hit the floor. So nice that she felt comfortable confiding in you, huh? :)