Like a lot of multiracial children (and many children of color, more generally), my son was very fair-skinned when he was born. He was also bald,sans the tell-tale curly hair that many black-white multiracial children have. During our first trip to the library together, a woman stopped to comment on how cute he was. Then she looked at me and asked if I liked being his nanny (a question that sent my eyebrows straight up). So began my introduction to the world of annoying and offensive things people say to parents raising multiracial kids.
Part of me wanted to regale the aforementioned woman with all the goriest details of my home birth but, instead, I just rolled my eyes and said, “Actually, I'm his mother,” before walking away. There is nothing wrong with being a nanny, but there is something wrong with erasing all of the hard emotional and physical labor I have put into bearing, birthing, and raising my child. There's something wrong with immediately assuming people of different races aren't a family, just because we don't match some narrow image of what people have arbitrarily decided a family looks like. There's definitely something wrong with asking strangers weird, intrusive, and/or presumptuous questions.
If we actually earn a place in another person’s life by spending time with them, being respectful, being supportive, and being kind, we naturally learn things about their families, their heritage, and their personal history. To me, that's the most legitimate way to learn about other people. Unfortunately, a lot of passing strangers think it's perfectly OK to just pepper folks with questions out of idle curiosity. However, interrupting a family to accost them with annoying questions is an unwelcome intrusion into their lives. To my fellow multiracial families: here's hoping your next trip to the grocery store is free of questions and comments like these. To everyone else: if you're ever out talking with parents of multiracial kids, never say or ask any of the following. Seriously. Don't do it.
“What Are They?”
They are human. Human beings are never a “what,” always a “who.” When people ask this question, they're not only being inappropriately curious, they're disregarding the child’s humanity in their effort to satisfy their intrusive curiosity. They're also sending that child the message that they're an oddity to be questioned, rather than a person to be respected. Gross, gross, gross.
“Does It Bother You That They Don’t Look Like You?”
No, it doesn't (and it wouldn't, if that were even true). Whether or not a child looks like me has nothing to do with how I feel about them. That said, my son actually looks a lot like me, he just has a lighter skin tone than I do. (Many of the very same people who say that would no doubt describe themselves as “colorblind,” too. Hmm. Interesting.)
“Oh, That’s Why They’re So Cute!”
Kids are cute because they're cute, not because of their racial makeup. Saying this is essentially claiming that monoracial children — particularly children of color — are inherently less attractive, which is incredibly problematic. (It's also hard not to read this as a knock on one’s own appearance, like the speaker was waiting for some missing piece of information in order to account for the cuteness of the child in front of them. A piece your own face didn't provide. Ouch.)
“They’re So Exotic!”
Why is this even a thing people say about other people anymore? In addition to instantly othering anyone it's applied to, the word “exotic” just sounds like the kind of weird non-compliment that's more at home in an old play than contemporary real life. It is 2016, right?
“Are You Worried That Will Be Hard On Them?”
Only when I talk to people who treat them like aliens.
If you know someone well enough for them to answer a question that makes them feel this vulnerable, you should also respect them enough to let them open up about such a thing, rather than putting them on the spot to answer your inquiries.
“Are They Yours?”
Plenty of monoracial groups of people go out in public without anyone knowing or caring how they are connected to each other. Why people suddenly feel they need to know this information about interracial families absolutely baffles me.
By asking this question, the questioner is essentially telling the kids in their vicinity that the rest of the world doubts whether they belong within their own families. That's awful. For the benefit of adoptive families, blended families, as well as multiracial families, people need to just stop asking adults if the children they're with are theirs, unless those kids get separated from them and they're trying to reunite them with the correct family.
“Where Are They From?”
I always want to answer “from my uterus.” But seriously, this one is annoying because it assumes that the parents look like they could “belong” in the space where they are, but their kids look like outsiders. Way to make a kid feel unwelcome.
“They Must Take After [Their Other Parent]”
Another totally frustrating comment that often isn't even true — or relevant, in the case of adoptive families — but is often directed at parents whose skin color is more different from their children's, regardless of how much of a family resemblance they actually bear. All that it accomplishes is to suggest that parents are more distant from their children than they are, to no one's benefit.
“Oh, That’s So Great!”
There's a certain way that strangers say this that sounds less like a generic compliment given to all children and families, and more like they're getting some sort of relief from seeing proof that people of different races can really and truly love each other. Ugh.
Multiracial people have existed as long as different kinds of people have lived together in the same places. Their existence is not proof that racism is over or anything like close to that, so people need to stop looking at mixed kids like they're proof that “things are getting better.” As a society, we still need to actually work to overcome racial inequality, not just wait for time or other people's families to do that work on everyone else's behalf.
“What A Beautiful Family!”
None of the monoracial families I know have strangers spontaneously stop them to tell them how beautiful they are. All of the multiracial families I know experience this on a regular basis. Sure, it's technically a compliment, but it's also an interruption that typically only happens to multiracial families. Like, I'm glad people think we're beautiful, but I'd also love to go outlet shopping without some person feeling like they need to talk to me and my kid to prove to themselves (or anyone around, for that matter) they're not racist. We're not here seeking your approval, we're just trying to spend as little as possible on small clothes that will fit for all of eight minutes before they need to be replaced.