I’m sorry for staring at you, interracial couple.
I know you must get that a lot, and on good days you probably let it slide. You think, “We’re happy and that’s all that matters,” you think, “Some people are just ignorant, but that’s not our problem.” But on bad days, during trips to particularly backwards towns or visits with whichever one of your families is more, um… traditional, it probably grates a bit. I mean, the staring, it’s probably the least of your worries until you’ve had a terrible day and it’s the last goddamn thing you want: the judgment of a stranger, that is.
But I stare at you for a different reason, I thought I should write and let you know. I stare at you because about 30 years ago, my parents did the same thing you’re doing. They held hands in public, they got the stares, they’ve probably sat through conversations about black women stealing the good white men and white men stealing the good black women, they’ve heard it all, I bet. And then they had me, and they heard some more of it, this little white baby with her black mother — is that her nanny?
My mom likes to tell this story. She took me to a flea market one day and when it was time to leave, I refused. She took my hand and I began to repeat — shout, really, “You’re not my mother!” And the reason I said that was because we had just read the Phillip D. Eastman book, “Are You My Mother?” in Kindergarten, and I liked the book I guess, and I obviously had no idea this would implicate a black woman in stealing a white baby from a flea market. My mom laughs when she tells this story now, but I wonder how she felt that day, while it was happening. People were definitely staring then.
I want to tell you I stare at you because I’m happy to see you, multiplying in numbers as you walk through my city. Because you’re doing something for love (or prospective love) that can be painful and alienating. I know the stares are the most passive of it; sometimes there are comments. Even if you’ve sat down and explained your relationship to the people who care about you — who don’t understand why maybe you can’t just find a perfectly nice person to love who happens to have the same skin color as yours — even if those people grudgingly accept your choices, there are the comments. They come from the members of your supposed community; people questioning your motives when the motive is simply to be with someone you care about. They make you feel like you’re a traitor to your race (guess what? You’re an individual, and you get to choose how much or how little race defines you. What has your race — a classification system heaved onto us — done for you lately?). I stare at you because I admire your acknowledgement of your individualism, of your decision to make the choice you wanted to make and not the one your family, community, television, society has been telling you to make since you were conscious.
I stare especially when you have kids because they’re gorgeous, because they’re lucky to experience more than one culture from birth and I know that first-hand, because they’re going to have many more mixed friends to relate to than I ever did as a child and that makes me happy for them. I had a lot of Hispanic friends during my formative years, people with a deep culture they were raised to be proud of, while I had… confusion. Identity crises. I hope your mixed kids can team up with the other mixed kids I’ve been staring at and figure out what the future of our culture looks like.
There’s nothing wrong with dating within your own race, of course. It’s just that… there’s nothing wrong with dating out of it, either. Even though I’m white by all appearances, every guy who’s dated me has dated out of their race. Ask them if they noticed the difference. We didn’t date because they wanted to unlock some Mixed Girl badge on Foursquare — we dated because they liked me and I liked them. What you’re doing, when you choose to be with the person you want to be with and not the person it’s easiest to be with, is setting an example for people who limit themselves out of fear, who don’t want to break the news to mom and dad, who feel that their desires are delegitimized by what everyone around them seems to want. It’s not your responsibility, and your relationship was not formed so that you could be the poster child for mixed relationships, but who doesn’t want to inspire people to love who they want to love?
So when you have a bad day, when it seems like your relationship has become the entire world’s business, when your Indian mother tries to set you up with her best friend’s son even though you’ve been in a relationship with a white dude for the last three years, when someone insists that you’ve betrayed your race as though your race has never betrayed you, when you’re alone with your child who has darker skin or straighter hair than you and someone stares, just imagine that they’re staring because they’re rooting for complicated, colorful love. Imagine that they’re rooting for you. I certainly am.