Exploring the New “Black”: Texas Mom Talks Black and White

Three years ago this past May, Austin, TX couple Cassandra M. and her husband Victor, welcomed a baby boy into the world — their first and only child. They knew they would have to face many challenges — teaching their son how to talk and walk and tackling that nemesis of all parents, potty training. They also knew that they would have to teach their son, a product of their interracial union, about race and identity — his own and others.

In part two of her Q&A, Cassandra M talks about race, identity and family.

How long have you and your husband been married?

 [We’ve been] married for 5 years.

How did your family respond to you marrying someone of another race?

My family was very accepting. Prior to my marriage, I have dated people of various races and/or ethnicities.

Was it a difficult decision to marry/date someone outside of your race?

Absolutely not. Ultimately, I wanted someone who cared about and respected me. I am fortunate that Victor is that person. We do not forget that we live in world that may or may not accept our interracial family. So when we thought about moving from Austin [TX] few years ago, we had to seriously consider if an interracial family would be accepted or acceptable in that city. This discussion came up when I considered employment opportunities in Houston and Dallas.

How do people respond to you as a family when you are out and about?

Living in Austin, TX, you will see many diverse families while grocery shopping, at school, or several other places. The University of Texas at Austin, Dell, Samsung, the music scene, and other things draw people to this part of Texas. Although it may not be as big or as internationally known as Houston, it has a really laid back atmosphere that is more accepting of diversity. So when we are out and about, our family is not an unusual phenomenon. In addition to interracial couples, there are couples who have adopted children from other countries, such as South Africa, Ethiopia, India, China, etc.

That being said, during November 2006, there was Neo-Nazi rally downtown, but the number of counter-demonstrators who opposed the rally outnumbered the group at least 5 to 1. So we know that racism and bigotry exist in our hippie town. We our always assessing our safety and listening for linguistic cues of intolerance while interacting with other people.

And of course, there is no way of completely knowing how someone perceives you. Some people think that they can figure out your whole background before you even open your mouth. I met our son’s first day care provider by myself. On a day that Victor was supposed to pick him up, it occurred to me that I needed to describe him to the provider. I said that “he’s about 5’10” and had “blond hair and blue eyes.” and would “be wearing a uniform.”  She had a puzzled look on her face, and I finally said, “He’s white.” She said that she would have been expecting a black man and would have turned him away if I had not told her. The same thing happens when my husband is out with our son. When people finally meet me, they say, “I was wondering where he got that curly hair from.”

As an anthropologist (and in general), I do not view these statements or events as racist, prejudiced, or bigoted. These are attempts to understand the unknown. It is that desire to understand that opens up communication.

For a person who is a racist, it may not matter what new information disproves what he believes is fact. Anything that does not fit within his “black and white” world must be wrong. For those who do not know and admit that they do not know, these are moments of opportunity to educate and learn and will hopefully improve our cultural understanding.

What do they say specifically about your son, if anything?  For example, I always hear that “mixed children are so cute.”

Yeah, he gets the cute statement quite a bit. But he also gets statements about how smart he is for his age. He has a great personality that apparently makes quite a memorable impact on people. Occasionally, we will bump into people who we have not seen in a very long time but they remember our son from being in their day care center, a birthday party, or some other event because his smile, laugh, and energy are so infectious.

I was concerned about the cute comments mostly because of discipline reasons. For whatever reasons some day care providers thought that he was cute, they would let him get away with doing his own thing rather than following the rules that everyone else had to do. Of course, promoting independence is great, but letting him get out of line for the potty or not pick up toys because “he’s so cute” undermines our discipline methods at home. Fortunately, he’s currently at a preschool that has a curriculum and promotes responsibility (and they do not care if he’s cute).

Would you call your son “biracial”, “black”, or “African American”?

I haven’t settled on a label yet. I’ve described him has “biracial” and as black and white. Usually this is not something that I address until I have to fill out a form. Often I just pick “other.” As he gets older, we’ll figure something out about how he wants to self-identify.

Have you spoken to him about race yet?  (I know he is very young…)  What will you tell him about race in general and his race, specifically?

No, we have not discussed race. For a three year old, there are some many other things to talk about, but I am sure that he notices differences. He currently attends a school with a very diverse population. The topic will arise eventually.

What I tell him will require more research on my part. I know several professors who are biracial and/or who have done research on a variety of topics regarding the African Diaspora. And I know that there are support groups.

Will our definition of race change as more biracial children are born?

I hope so. However, as long as the Census Bureau and any other group want the demographics and force people to chose, be categorized, or not be counted, this may continue indefinitely.

 Coming Soon:   Exploring the New “Black”:  On Passing…the “Test”

LINKS

Exploring the New “Black”:  Name Calling

The Series:  Exploring the New “Black”


4 thoughts on “Exploring the New “Black”: Texas Mom Talks Black and White

  1. I think Cassandra has made some wise decisions while raising a child who is black and white. How we use language to talk about race, culture, and ethnicity is important when are children are listening. Statements such as “good hair” and “mixed” have been thrown around within the black community and has been damaging our race and culture as a whole. A child should feel good and proud of what he can accomplish, his family, and heritage. Hopefully when her son gets older and gets comments such as “your mixed” or “you have good hair” he will be able to respond “yes, but I’m so much more than that”.

  2. Nice post. I find your position on these issues refreshing but I have some questions.

    I am curious about your categorization of these questions from people as attempts to understand the unknown. Hmmm.. Is this your general perception of the questioners?

    In my estimation from my experiences, most of the questions which I get about our family(I am interracially married also) for the most part epitomize ignorance and the subtext is the racial brainwashing that pervades the American culture.
    Is it fair to therefore assume you never get/got open mouthed incredulous stares from people as many interracial couples do? If you do/did, do you also categorize those as an attempt to understand the unknown 🙂
    Cheers!

  3. That’s an absolutely fair assessment. Out of habit of being a professional student, I make a great effort to not assume anything until I get or know as much information as I can possibly attain. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge and we are all ignorant about something. The issue comes down to the intention of the questions. Not being a mind reader, I generally try to give people the benefit of the doubt (I know too idealistic) before determining if the questions lack that quest for knowledge. Of course, there are folks who want to create contention and generally I don’t try as much to engage in a conversation with someone who does not want to understand another perspective. It is a waste of energy. But I try to start by listening first, then responding appropriately. I try to allow my inner anthropologist to observe and assess. Some questions are simply due to misunderstanding or lack of exposure.

    However, you’re absolutely right about how racial brainwashing is ingrained in our American history. If you are told a lie enough times, you just might believe it. Not everyone wants to know more than they have been told in mostly false anecdotes or through stereotypical representations, but thank goodness not everyone is like that.

    As with you, I can only speak regarding my experiences. Please do not assume that I have never gotten the incredulous look of “what is that woman doing with that man?” I grew up in Los Angeles and during the 1980s, I remember my high school classmates having heated debates about whether or not people should date within their own race. I remember that while living in Los Angeles, I did receive looks or sideways glances when I dated someone who wasn’t black.

    When my husband and I lived in San Antonio, we noticed that people looked in our direction a lot more frequently. In general, San Antonio is significantly more conservative than Austin. I am not trying to say that Austin is the Mecca for interracial couples and families, but you will see many diverse families living here. Before I moved to Austin, someone told me “if you are gay or of any ethnicity and you are living in Texas, then you need to be in Austin.” And in a city where Leslie (a cross dressing homeless man) runs for mayor, being topless is not illegal, and the motto is “Keep Austin Weird,” an interracial couple is no big deal. Of course, maybe Austinites are just a lot more subtle about taking note of familial diversity.

    (And by the way, I moved to Texas in 1997 and James Byrd was murdered by white supremacists in East Texas in 1998. Believe me, we can not help but to be reminded and aware of what is going on around us.)

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