I’ll be the first to admit that Australia is no post-racial utopia. With incidents like this regularly making international news, our reputation for unabashed racism precedes us. But its 2014, and I live in Melbourne, one of the most multicultural cities in the world. So you’d think nobody would raise an eyebrow at something as pedestrian as a family of four month old twin girls with parents of different races right? Boy would you be wrong!
My husband is white. I am not. And from the moment we got together, there has been a high level of interest in the machinations of our relationship. Both our families have been fascinated by our differences –- his love of mayonnaise and bacon, my love of hot sauce on everything. The majority of comments are curious, but some are ignorant, and some are truly racist.
Before the birth of our twins, we took these comments in stride. But there’s something about being responsible for tiny infants that dulls your sense of humour and sharpens your sense of “If you ever say anything to hurt my child again, so help me God…” Walking around with a double stroller also somehow nullifies all personal boundaries, and people are constantly approaching me and making various comments about my husband, my daughters and I. Most people are cool, but lots of people are dicks. Here’s how not to be one of the dicks:
1. Treat us as a family -- nothing more, nothing less.
Our time together has been punctuated by people making delightfully racist assumptions about the nature of our relationship. When we visited Sri Lanka and Brazil together it was assumed that I was a prostitute and he was “one of those” Western tourists. A distant family friend asked my husband if I was a mail-order bride. When he’s out with the kids alone, he’s been asked whether they are adopted. My friends of colour are assumed to be the nanny when out with their white-appearing children.
All these things are rooted in the very racist view that two people of different races can’t just be together -– there has to be some kind of monetary trade, some kind of a power imbalance. I almost feel that people want to follow up these questions with ‘What’s really in it for him? I mean, he’s white!”
These comments cheapen our relationship and undermine the fact that my family is just as valid and just as real as anyone’s family. While being broke sucks and I do sometimes wish my husband could keep me in the manner to which I’d like to become accustomed, our relationship is equal and based on love and respect. Our children weren’t adopted and I’m not the nanny.
2. Before you say something dumb, remember that you never know who is in a mixed-race family.
As a person of colour, I assume the modern urban racist is generally on their best behaviour around me. My husband, on the other hand, has the luxury of existing in secret white people world, where white people say what they truly think about things without having to water down their thoughts to keep the rest of us “minorities” happy. He’s been privy to some pretty racist discussions, such as a heated debate over who is “worse” -- Indian people or Asian people. I’d like to think that these people would modify their behaviour if they knew that his wife was a member of one of those two terrible categories, but I’m not so sure. This is from the same group of people who commented on his curry smell soon after seeing a picture of me.
This is particularly difficult or hurtful for children of mixed race who appear white. When people make these comments around those kids, they’re ignorantly saying racist things to their face.
We hired a cleaner the other day to try and make a dent in the dust pile I once called a floor. My husband was home alone with the babies and was subjected to a lengthy rant about “sub-continentals” stealing jobs, being lazy, not speaking English blah blah racism blah. When he saw the babies, he looked long and hard at them, before getting an “Oops” look on his face and sheepishly asking, “So...where is your wife from again?”
She’s from the “sub-continent,” douchebag. Lesson learned, don’t say dumb things.
3. Don’t fetishize mixed race babies.
We all know that the traditional retort for defensive racists is “I’m not racist, I have a black friend." I think the modern version is “I’m not a racist. I think mixed race babies are the cutest!” (It’s either that or “I’m not a racist. I love Beyoncé!”)
The problem with this statement is that, while it’s couched as a compliment, it really is just othering, reductive and racist. What is it exactly about “mixed babies” that you find so endearing? Is it that element of taboo -- that this child is a product of a multicultural relationship that goes against societal norms? It is that their skin might be lighter than a baby that’s just brown, or that their hair might have a little less kink, or that their eyes might be green instead of brown? What if my husband was brown, like me? Would you still think my babies were cute? Or do you require an element of whiteness before they appeal to you?
When all is said and done, everybody has the right to be ugly -- even mixed babies.
4. Remember that high school biology does not a geneticist make.
Yes, you might expect that children always look equally like both parents. With a dark-skinned mother and a white father, you might expect children who are kind of in the middle –- medium-toned skin, lighter eyes, lighter hair. This simply isn’t true with my family. My girls are darker-skinned than I am. It isn’t true for many mixed race families. Don’t take these kinds of anomalies as your carte blanche to make jokes about my super strong genes, or the “one-drop rule.”
That’s obviously really racist and rooted in the idea that “black blood taints white.” Don’t tell me how disappointed you are that they don’t have green eyes. Don’t frown when you tell me they look just like me. Don’t ask me why they are so brown. It’s not a question I know the answer to -- nor should I, and nor should you be asking it. I don’t want to hear it -- they’re gorgeous and happy and well and that’s all that matters.
5. Just don’t be an awful human being.
A twin pregnancy is a stressful experience. Our bodies are only meant to carry one baby at a time, and the extra strain and risks of the second baby made my pregnancy a rollercoaster of anxiety. But the worst experience I had while pregnant wasn’t anything to do with my babies.
At 35 weeks pregnant, I was on the tram on my way to a doctor’s appointment. A man got on and looked at me with disgust. I could see him staring at me and muttering under his breath, getting angrier and angrier. Another woman sat next to him and he took his opportunity to strike, telling us all how disgusting it was that people like me were reproducing and “outbreeding good old fashioned Australians.”
I was so immobile and so vulnerable and so scared. Nobody said a word to him as I sat there in tears and pretended I couldn’t hear him. I contemplated bringing my children into a world that would treat them this way, just for daring to be brown. When he got off the tram, everybody rushed to tell me how wrong he was, and how they didn’t agree with him. It was appreciated, but it would have been appreciated more if someone could have told him these things.
Despite all this, my experience of becoming a mother to these two amazing little girls has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been so amazed at the support of my friends and family, and just the love that is out there for my daughters. I'm treated like a rock star by fawning strangers when I take the girls out to the mall, people let me cut in front of them in queues and a flight attendant spoon-fed me my lunch on my first flight with them.
However the sad reality remains that dicks are still prevalent in society, and are intent to reduce my family to nothing more than a sociologically and biologically interesting discussion point.
And we are so, so much more than that. We’re bacon with mayonnaise AND hot sauce.