Raising biracial children is an interesting experience. My elder daughter, M, looks very much like her Japanese father, while Baby A looks a bit more like me. I’m constantly astonished by the number of strange comments I get about them.
When M was a baby, people would approach and say, “What a pretty baby! Where did you get her?”
Well, “from my uterus” is the technical answer, but I’d respond, “Oh, I just made her from stuff I had laying around the house.” Then, usually, people would just blink a few times and walk away.
Most of the comments aren’t malicious, so much as they are bizarre:
“So if she’s half-Japanese, does she only eat fish?”
“Do you think she’ll stay Asian?”
“Do you have to feed her with chopsticks? I can’t use chopsticks.”
Then, there was this.
A woman approached me and Baby A in a store one day, and said, “Aw, what a cute baby. What is she?”
“‘What is she?'”
“Like Asian or Mexican or what?”
“She’s half Japanese.”
“Oh! Well, good. I’m glad she’s not one of those we–”
She stopped herself, probably because my eyes were getting bigger. Really? You were going to tell me you’re glad she’s not a wetback?
“Well,” she said suddenly, “at least she’ll be smart.” She took off before I could respond.
It really is one of those moments where you need one of those snappy movie comebacks, where you call out an obvious racist in a witty manner that gets you applause. I regret to say I couldn’t, because I was so stunned that someone would speak to a stranger that way. Moreover, it’s the strangest thing to be told, essentially, that your child is “an acceptable minority.” “Okay, so your kid is mixed, but at least not mixed with that.” And, “She’s a minority, but at least she’ll be a smart one.” as if that’s a saving grace to her blood.
I encounter this often with my older child. When people ask what subjects she likes in school, I answer math and science. As a response, I often get, as though I was stupid, “Well, YEAH, she’s ASIAN.” or “Oh, an Asian girl scientist, they’ll have to hire her.” Or, “Of course any school would take her! They want Asian kids to bring their test scores up.”
I know, in these people’s minds, it’s a compliment, but it has so many peculiar implications. She’s only good at math because she’s Asian? She’s only worth hiring because she will have minority status, not her brilliant mind or engaging personality? Would she be worth less if she was a different minority? I’m sure that woman in the store would say yes. Moreover, it implies that her appearance and racial makeup determine her mental ability, not her work ethic, her parents and teachers’ influence, or her innate skills. Moreover, it adds the insidious implication that other races are less, and that my family should somehow be grateful, or feel lucky, that we are in an “acceptable” group.
The people making these comments don’t realize these implications, and don’t see the underlying current of racism in their words. I hope next time I’ll have a better response for people like that woman, because unfortunately, I’m sure there will be a next time.