I recently read two insightful articles here on Medium (links at the end of this) that set off a thought train in me. They made me think of my own biracial daughters.
Beyond racial bigotry which occurs at different levels for different people, being foreign in your own land is something often not thought of. My oldest daughter was a concierge at the Ritz Carlton when a basketball championship was taking place in Phoenix. A famous player was staying there who asked her, “What are you?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know what you meant.”
Born in the USA.
We have always had lots of mixed race marriage friends. My children grew up with that and mixed race playmates being natural, but early on my daughters also had an almond eyed, brown mom with an accent who insisted upon adherence to some customs that were alien to them without context. Mom had a mysterious cultural past that sometimes led to things they didn’t understand.
The cultural void was more important than racial appearance. This was in 1980ish Georgia where we were denied service in the restaurant of a fraternal organization I had joined because she wasn’t white. My daughters didn’t know about that but I had to let them learn martial arts because of the black kids who wanted to beat their little half-white asses so they could defend themselves. Life as it was and something children don’t understand, but then does anyone?
They were preteen when we moved to Saudi Arabia. There they went to school with kids from a number of countries and for the first time saw American privilege. Americans were treated differently from their new friends from other countries. Since they are a mixture of European and Asian stock they are technically Eurasian and were sometimes mistaken for Arabs. That may have eased them becoming friends with kids from other countries since while they were Americans they were also ethnic somethings a bit ambiguous. International communities are eye opening, especially for children.
Most importantly they spent summers in Thailand. There they were farangs (foreigners (of a different kind)) and daughter #2 was often called kack (slang for a person from India). She hated that even though it was intended to be a complement about her beauty. Their kin in Thailand are poor, even by Thai standards, so their mom who was a barefoot child who pushed a plow behind a water buffalo had become a rich American. That was also an eye-opener for my wife.
A rented apartment, no hotel, they lived like Thais in the summers when school was out in Saudi Arabia. My daughters gained an understanding of their mixed ethnicity and cultural heritage in addition to international relationships. That was a very big deal as they no longer had a mystery half of themselves. They knew what it was to be Thai while not Thai in Thailand and white while not white. My daughters said they were very grateful to have had that experience.
My grandchildren are fair skinned but got grandma’s eyes and their Asian ancestry is visible. They live as white people who aren’t always treated like it but they have no life experience as Thai people other than food. Hopefully since mixed race people have become common in America it will be less of an issue than in the past. That is if all the current cultural identity focus doesn’t keep them in the status of other in their own land.
The stories that caused me to think about this (worth a read if you haven’t already):