06 January 2011

On the diagnosis of race

Okay, so here's the thing.  People are curious and they are naturally inclined to label and categorize, and none of that indicates the relative goodness of a person in either direction.  I get it.  I really, really do.  But, you know, I get a little tired of it sometimes.

All four of us were eating out recently when the waitress pointed to both of the boys and asked plainly of James, "Are they both yours?"

Really?  No, c'mon...really?

It was clear she was referring to biological heritage, and James was probably too shocked by the audacity of it all to be offended so he answered just as plainly as he was asked, "Of course."

The exchange didn't just rub me the wrong way because she supposed a wayward sexual history on my part (or maybe she didn't assume that I had been unfaithful but that I had had a child with a previous partner?), it also rubbed me the wrong way because whether a child belongs to a family isn't necessarily a matter of biology.  We are close to too many families who have adopted the loveliest souls into their hearts and homes for such assumptions not to rub me the wrong way.

For the less casual observer, we present even more convoluted evidence than the kids' divergent physical traits.  Our family actually has my last name.  So those who know A1's last name is the same as mine--a common Vietnamese name of the Smith or Jones variety--are easily confused.  I cornered two families, one from A1's preschool and one in his Kindergarten into admitting that they'd wondered about his origins as he doesn't appear to be of mixed race to the untrained eye.  Yes, it was all in good fun and humor...but what happens when he grows up and internalizes the message that he doesn't look as if it belong in our family because he's not mixed enough?

Obligatory, unrelated photos:


I love this one...it really demonstrates that A2 is both charmed and charming.  Poor A1 in the background, unintentionally out of focus and unhappily pulling grass bits out of his mouth!DSC_1470

Look carefully...there's a child rolling downward amongst those leaves!

I don't know what's going here, but they're clearly happy, so it gets posted!


michelle clark-mccrary said...

I just found your blog via google alerts! I love it. I actually host a show on Blog Talk Radio called "Is That Your Child?!!"

Would love to have you on the show!


Lucinda said...

Lam I always wondered why your hubby had the same last name, but I would never had the courage to ask until now since you mentioned your family has your last name. I've had something race related things happen to me before. When I used to go to the park with my boys people thought I was the nanny (nice) and would ask me if I was the nanny! I found it hurtful, but later learned to not let it bother me. When you look at my kids (half white and half Mexican) then you look at me(Mexican) we really don't look alike especially skin color so I think that's where people get confused. Not that long ago Kai having a fit and crying about a foot away from me while I was doing some shopping and this older white couple approached him and asked him if he was lost. I looked up feeling a little puzzled b/c he wasn't that far from me to look like a lost child. I quickly told him that no he was with me and thanked them. I still get a little upset when people make comments, but mostly just let it go.

Ivan Chan Studio said...

I have friends of mixed heritage and they've had to field these questions all their lives. I mean, actual strangers walking up to them and saying (I kid you not), "What are you?"

It really made me feel more (pun intended) for Spock and other mixed/blended characters (including queer people who could "pass," adoptive- or step- families, and immigrants), who not only had to address the questions of phenotype, but also of culture and being pressured to "choose a side."

I'm sorry this happened, and I'm sorry that you know it's going to happen again and that it will have an effect on A1. I'm sure he'll find a place in the world, though.

I also wonder what you or James (or your kids) would say the next time this is asked. Like, "It's actually none of your business" or "That's a personal question and I wonder why you're asking but I'm not going to talk with you about it."

I don't know what I'd say, because I usually get caught off guard (a coworker recently called me "Oriental" and I ignored it instead of pulling him aside to explain the offense), but now I'm thinking about it. I can understand ignorance, even curiosity, but how do I address it respectfully and without shaming, especially when it ticks me off to my core?

What do you think of Michelle's offer? I wonder if this will bring more clients who wish to have their beautiful families photographed.