Herman Cain says that racism isn’t a significant factor in America anymore. Unfortunately, like much of what Mr Cain claims about race (and politics) in America, that isn’t true.
What is true is that race, and racism in America, sans a few Tea Party bigots, has become far less “in your face” – thanks to the many black and white folks (unlike Mr Cain) who marched, and after the marching was over – chose to live their lives rejecting one of the the very core premises of the founding America…race.
This family’s experiences aren’t any different than a majority of mixed race families in America, where their children struggle with a sense of belonging, acceptance – and sometimes the racism of their peers and peer’s parents.
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The question tore through Heather Greenwood as she was about to check out at a store here one afternoon this summer. Her brown hands were pushing the shopping cart that held her babbling toddler, Noelle, all platinum curls, fair skin and ice-blue eyes.
The woman behind Mrs. Greenwood, who was white, asked once she realized, by the way they were talking, that they were mother and child. “It’s just not possible,” she charged indignantly. “You’re so…dark!”
It was not the first time someone had demanded an explanation from Mrs. Greenwood about her biological daughter, but it was among the more aggressive. Shaken almost to tears, she wanted to flee, to shield her little one from this kind of talk. But after quickly paying the cashier, she managed a reply. “How come?” she said. “Because that’s the way God made us.”
The Greenwood family tree, emblematic of a growing number of American bloodlines, has roots on many continents. Its mix of races — by marriage, adoption and other close relationships — can be challenging to track, sometimes confusing even for the family itself.
For starters: Mrs. Greenwood, 37, is the daughter of a black father and a white mother. She was adopted into a white family as a child. Mrs. Greenwood married a white man with whom she has two daughters. Her son from a previous relationship is half Costa Rican. She also has a half brother who is white, and siblings in her adoptive family who are biracial, among a host of other close relatives — one from as far away as South Korea.
The population of mixed-race Americans like Mrs. Greenwood and her children is growing quickly, driven largely by immigration and intermarriage. One in seven new marriages is between spouses of different races or ethnicities, for example. And among American children, the multiracial population has increased almost 50 percent, to 4.2 million, since 2000.
But the experiences of mixed-race Americans can be vastly different. Many mixed-race youths say they feel wider acceptance than past generations, particularly on college campuses and in pop culture. Extensive interviews and days spent with the Greenwoods show that, when they are alone, the family strives to be colorblind. But what they face outside their home is another story. People seem to notice nothing but race. Strangers gawk. Make rude and racist comments. Tell offensive jokes. Ask impolite questions.
The Greenwoods’ experiences offer a telling glimpse into contemporary race relations, according to sociologists and members of other mixed-race families.
It is a life of small but relentless reminders that old tensions about race remain, said Mrs. Greenwood, a homemaker with training in social work.
“People confront you, and it’s not once in a while, it’s all the time,” she said. “Each time is like a little paper cut, and you might think, ‘Well, that’s not a big deal.’ But imagine a lifetime of that. It hurts.”
Jenifer L. Bratter, an associate sociology professor at Rice University who has studied multiracialism, said that as long as race continued to affect where people live, how much money they make and how they are treated, then multiracial families would be met with double-takes. “Unless we solve those issues of inequality in other areas, interracial families are going to be questioned about why they’d cross that line,” she said.
According to Census data, interracial couples have a slightly higher divorce rate than same-race couples — perhaps, sociologists say, because of the heightened stress in their lives as they buck enduring norms. And children in mixed families face the challenge of navigating questions about their identities.
“If we could just go about whatever we’re doing and not be asked anything about our family’s colors,” Mrs. Greenwood said, “that would be a dream.” (more…)