The ‘N’ Word

n word nieema fosterAs a parent I want to protect my children from anything and everything that could hurt them, but realistically that’s not possible. The best I can do is prepare them as well as I can for dealing with and overcoming those issues as they come up. Of course some of the biggest issues that could hurt them come from factors they have absolutely no control over, a fact that hurts even more because, even though I wouldn’t want them to change to fit someone else’s standard, at least it is a flexible thing. When someone hurts either of my children, for whatever reason, though, I am like a papa bear who wants to rip down the entire forest to get justice.

I knew from a young age that if I ever brought children into the world they would be judged, not merely on their mental capacity, or on their empathetic scale, or even on the style of dress they fancied, but also on the color of their skin. Even when I grew older and married a woman who just happened to be white, I knew that skin color would still be an issue, because our children would never be “just” white, so they would be different, especially around here. Yes, we’ve made some great gains in race relations and issues surrounding the tension therein, but prejudice still abounds, even if it is done more subtly now than ever before.

In the class photos you can see the differences, in the abundance of curly, kinky hair, in the fullness of the lips, in the curve of the nose. These characteristics she inherited from me, and I’m proud of that, that I can see some of myself, and of my heritage, in her, even just physically. She gets so much from her mother too, but the one thing that stands out most, especially when looking at the class photos, is her skin color. There is a bit of a Mariah Carey light mocha coloring she has that is so beautiful to me, but I know when others see it they have their own ideas. I will honestly never know why, but some people can’t stand what they don’t understand.

When we are out and about without my wife, it’s interesting to see how differently people treat us, and how they treat me in particular. We are a black family when I am with my children on my own. It’s plain to see when older black women smile at the kids, as if they were their own grandchildren, or when we pass older white couples who look at us like we’re a completely new species. These same older black women, and these same older white couples, treat us differently when we are all together. In fact, they tend to ignore us and go about their business. They don’t “get” us. They can’t wrap their brains around an interracial couple, a mixed race family, even now, in this day and age.

The first time I heard someone use the ‘N’ word I was probably about 8 years old and it was on my block, a place comprised of all black folk, and the term was meant to be endearing. Continue reading “The ‘N’ Word”

Shades of Gray

When you’re little, most people dream of having kids who look just like them, who, when you’re out in public, people see them and automatically know they’re yours. Their hair is like yours, their skin color is yours, they look like miniature versions of you, and so on down the line. And when you’re little, most people dream of meeting someone who also looks similar to the way they look, falling in love in the “traditional” way, and getting married to that individual. Most parents also have that dream for their children, and it’s understandable. I totally get it, because most parents did just that, even if the relationship didn’t last in the end, they did things old-fashioned. And they did it for several reasons:

1. Their parents did it.

2. There were no other options.

3. It was convenient.

4. It caused no waves.

Simply put, if it’s easy, people will do it, and the easiest thing to do is not to stir up waves that don’t need to be stirred up. I mean, you know as well as I do that segregation continues to exist in many cultures and across many ethnicities. It doesn’t matter where you are from, the “norm” is for like to stay with like, and that bears itself out through statistics. In the United States, a full 8% of marriages were interracial as of 2011. For the remaining 92%, the people in the relationships at least believed that they were of the same race. Ethnicity is even a stronger indicator of marriage choice, with less than that 8% believing they were in a multi-ethnicity relationship as of 2011. That accounts for people who don’t understand what the word ethnicity means, because the number should actually have been higher, judging by the previous number. Ethnicity means having similar cultural traditions, so that is a much broader base for comparison, but too many people think it is just another word for race. Regardless, the numbers all remain relatively low for how multi-cultural the world is supposed to have become.

“I am colorblind. Coffee black and egg white.”

Parents have a massive amount of control over who their children pick as mates, at least when marriage is concerned. While their children will “rebel” and date outside of their social class, ethnicity, and even race, when it is time to settle down, the numbers come back down to that 8% because of parental judgments. We honestly care what they think, and too often we make bad decisions, or decisions that aren’t good for us, based on what they think. When I was younger, my mother was not pleased with my choice of dating partners. For some reason or another, she would make her displeasure felt through small comments here and there. I knew she didn’t like them, and that’s where the rebellion came in. Even if I didn’t like them, I tried to stick with them just to tick her off further. Hey, I was young. But when I finally began to think about settling down, then things got really tricky. You see, I realized it wasn’t about trying to get her riled up anymore. I realized it wasn’t about her at all. It was about me and my own criteria for picking a partner:

1. We had to get on.

2. We had to relate spiritually.

3. We had to enjoy some similar interests.

4. I had to find her physically attractive.

5. We had to be willing to compromise.

6. We had to love each other.

Nowhere in that list did I have anything to do with ethnicity or even race, but in the back of my mind it was still there. My mother (and various other black women from church who had influence with me) were constantly talking about the dearth of good, solid, available black men out there for black women to date and/or marry. They believed that when god said people had to be “equally yoked,” it also included race. Don’t get me wrong. They weren’t racists. They just subscribed to the notion because that’s what their parents did, and that’s how they were raised, something they never questioned. But also because somewhere on their list (like the one I have above) they only found themselves physically attracted to men who were black. In fact, of the families I knew growing up, there was only one that was interracial, and they were looked at the same way you would look at animals in an enclosure at the zoo. It was just that rare, and confusing, I think, for most people I knew to wrap their brains around.

“Why can’t we be color blind? You know we should be living together.”

So, imagine everyone’s surprise when I found I was physically attracted to white women. Oh the fascination indeed. And here is where the split occurred, and where I think it usually occurs in those types of situations. Most older people (baby boomers and older) seem to have the most problems with interracial couples, as evidenced by the snarky looks and comments under their breaths. Now, I’ve gotten used to it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still notice it. Most younger people (younger than me) seem to take it all in stride. They’ve seen everything and it doesn’t really phase them. But people around my age are the wild cards. Most of them also take it in stride, as if it’s nothing out of the ordinary, but some are like the older people, and you can tell them a mile off. And I can tell that those people are a true product of their parents’ judgments and prejudices. They’ve internalized them and made them their own. Which is rather sad to see.

Ethnicity used to be no issue when it came to dating. Like stayed with like. But now it is becoming more prevalent as the world does become more global. And it’s not just about black and white either, don’t get me wrong. It’s why I use the word “ethnicity” instead of race. It’s way beyond the simplicity of those antiquated color terms in today’s modern world. We are moving from “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” to “do what makes you happy,” which is a big dichotomy if there ever was one. There are battles waged now as more young people are fighting for what they want, instead of just doing things to appease their parents. This also goes for gay and lesbian couples who are tired of being labeled and seen as different.

So, is ethnicity important to you, and if so, why? I think it can still be important without you feeling you have to stay in the shallow end of the same ethnic swimming pool. For example, if one thing you value is your heritage, you will make it a point to be certain your children are instilled with a sense of their own history and culture, regardless of who you’re with. Too many people still think that when children are of mixed race they don’t identify with their heritage(s), but they definitely still can, if you make it a priority to teach them. For other people, ethnicity is important because it puts you solidly in a category. On the form you fill in, you can check the box marked “Caucasian,” “Asian,” “African American,” “Hispanic,” etc. And it’s important to them because of how it looks. They don’t want to be an “other,” and they don’t want their children to be an “other.” Well, in the global world their children will inhabit, the “other” will be the “majority.”

We are one race, the human race. Let’s not forget it. Be an individual. Be yourself. And don’t let others define who you are. Decide what’s important to you and look for that. You’ll be a lot happier if you do.


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