When making friends is more than just black or white

We have a mixed-race family – I’m white, my husband is black, and our daughter is super awesome. At home, this is no big deal; we talk about how mommy is pink and daddy is brown. It made it super easy to explain Martin Luther King Jr. Day (our 2-year-old daughter, confronted with the idea that people might be mean to someone just because they were, “brown like daddy,” giggled and said, “oh mama, that’s silly!”). But sometimes, particularly since we moved to one of the least racially diverse parts of the country, it can complicate things when it comes to making new friends.

Sometimes it’s little things. Other kids stare at my daughter’s cornrows like she’s some kind of alien. People make weird comments like, “oh, one of my grandchildren looks like your daughter. I think it’s just wonderful!” Except in more sensitive moments, I can usually ignore those sorts of things. Sometimes things get pretty sketchy – outright racist comments, and I don’t even want to tell you the story about the dad at the park who assumed that having a daughter with a black man meant that I was willing to…let’s say, “get romantically involved”… with just about anyone.

More often than not (thank goodness!), people are pretty cool, and we don’t have any issues. But I have found it helpful to employ a few strategies:

  • teach my kids how to respond to common comments: My daughter knows the technical names for the various hairstyles she wears (and adds her own commentary, like, “I like this one because the braids move like crazy when I dance!”), she knows how to explain that people with brown skin can be friends with people with pink skin, etc. I know I won’t always be with her when people make comments, and I’m glad that she is prepared to handle things on her own.
  • develop a support system: on days when I’m feeling more sensitive about the racist remarks we encounter, it helps to have friends to kvetch to, or who, when it happens in their presence, will rush to my defense (and, of course, Mom Meet Mom will provide great tools for connecting with supportive friends)!
  • talk to my partner: Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m being oversensitive or if someone’s actions were genuinely questionable. My husband has a lot more experience with distinguishing genuine racism from simple ignorance, and coming up with strategies for responding to both.
  • laugh it off, then follow up: some people just don’t realize that they are being offensive, and it’s better to let things slide a bit in the moment. If it’s someone who I expect to interact with repeatedly, I’ll reconnect privately with an email or phone call, just to clear the air.