Welcome to the Outside of the Constructs panel. This one is a little strange as compared to the others. Originally, this was to be the panel for Indigenous people, but then I expanded it to include people who are normally outside of U.S. racial constructs. But then, we didn’t get very much response originally, and I asked for help recruiting. Cecelia responded, but she invited a mess of folks – but who didn’t fit the original idea for this panel. I was going to move Lyza, Julie, and Richard’s responses – but then I realized their experiences probably fit a bit better here, since they were radically different from other responses on the White and Asian panels. So, it all worked out.
Our panelists are: Cecelia, friend of the blog; Julie, friend of Cecelia; Brandann, friend of the blog and occassional contributor; Lyza, friend of Cecelia; Andrew, blogger at KABOBFest; May, blogger at KABOBfest and Sawaha Sumra; Fatemeh, Racialious crew and Editor of Muslimah Media Watch; El, long time friend of the blog; and Richard, friend of Cecelia.
What types of messages did you receive about interracial relationships growing up?
Cecelia: My parents are an interracial couple. My Dad is Ojibway/Anishinaabe (enrolled tribal member in the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community) and French and my Mother is various European heritages, the majority of her is Scandinavian (Norwegian and Swedish) and German. When my parents started dated my Mother’s Father said to her, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Despite the one negative message from my Grandfather my parents tried their best, with all of the complications, family issues and life stresses, their overall message on their interracial dating was a positive one. My Dad grew up in Highland Park, MI which was what he called “mixed” and not diverse. He once described the neighborhood he grew up in by having “all the colors.” My Mother grew up in a working class, product of Ford and auto industry, mostly white inner ring suburb of Detroit. They moved to a more lower middle class neighborhood of an inner ring suburb and the compilation of their upbringings gave me a positive message about interracial dating, even despite our struggles as a family and individuals inside the family unit. Because of our various struggles from generational trauma, historical trauma and PTSD from being survivors of genocide on the Native side, I came to the conclusion that most relationships would be a struggle. This struggle can change as well heal. If our liberation and return to culture, language and traditions as Native people means feeling our ancestors pain then it may manifest in struggle within our family and therefore the interracial relationship of my parents.
My family on my Dad’s side is multi-racial, so mixing was already in the family and our family gatherings had all of us mingling which was most always a positive space for me. I am really thankful for my family being so awesome and open-minded! Some messages I received from my Dad (which he said weekly, if not daily): “the white man messed up everything,” and/or “don’t trust whitey.” Therefore, I wasn’t very trusting of white males in relationships, although I have had my share, I have retired dating white males because my Fathers statement that was ingrained in me since I was a child has proven true in the dating world. Sadly, I had to test the waters to prove his statements to be true.
Julie: Light-skinned = good. Dark-skinned = bad. Gay/lesbian also = bad. The races fell into those guidelines.
I grew up Vietnamese in a predominantly white area where they pulled eyes at me and made fun of my parent’s height and accents. As a displaced people who were just trying to survive, and as we watched other PoCs in our neighborhood/family turning to drugs and guns, assimilation seemed like the key to our well-being. I was surrounded by the ‘goodness’ of white people (some were pretty nice, but ignorant) and was brought up to appreciate them and to adopt their ideas, including their racist ones.
I may have received these messages, but more than what I was ‘sold’, was the fact that I was a target for racism (Seventeen Magazine was definitely not written with PoC in mind) and thus differentiated. I grew wary of white people and started gravitating to other races for my friendships (mostly latino and asian) in my late teens.
Brandann: I grew up mixed-race, and only slightly conscious of what that meant. I am assuming that my being a product of a mixed-race relationship meant that my family didn’t frown upon the idea of interracial dating or relationships.
I’m Ojibwe/Anishinaabe and European by descent, registered with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. If there were problems with such relationships, there was no indication of it from my immediate family. Though, as I got older and understood racial identity better (things such as the endearing nickname my father’s father gave me, which was a bit of a jab at my mixed-heritage but meant to be affectionate), I noticed that other people within my own community had ideas about what was right and what was less-than. Relationships between two Native people, at least in my own limited experience, were looked upon more favorably than those between Native and non-Natives.
The only time race ever arose as an issue was when I met my husband, who is Asian. My grandfather is a Korean War veteran, and I personally had fears that it would be an issue, however right or wrong that fear was. Turns out, it was never something I needed to worry about. He was accepted with open arms.
Lyza: Growing up in a rural farm community, where my mom grew up in a suburb of Grand Rapids and my dad grew up on a farm in Rockford, MI(which back when he grew up there it didn’t have the reputation it does today), allowed me to have a simple growing up experience that was for the most part homogeneous(white working class to middle class) in nature of where we lived. My mom was very intentional(coming from a Civil Rights and Feminism background) when it came to making my brother and I aware that the world was not homogeneous in nature she would yearly take us out of class to walk downtown Grand Rapids during the Martin Luther King Jr. day parade, as well as have literature and different avenues where we would be challenged with how we viewed the world from where we lived.
I thank my mom for being so progressive and going against the norm of ignorance that was prevalent in the community that we grew up in. My dad came from another generation where rural was rural and the only people of color in town were generally from the city and didn’t plan on staying any time soon. When I was in my early twenties I dated a Latino man that I worked with and after a date where he dropped me off at the home and met my family my dad sat me down and asked me what my intentions were with him and if I planned on dating him seriously. This comment disturbed me because of the undertone of racism that happened to ooze out of the comment. That was when I realized that there was a standard when it came to dating, and I was at a point in my life where I decided that was not acceptable. Within the past 3 years my father has changed his world view considerably with some hard life lessons that have come his way as well as my consistent challenging of how the world really “is” with all of the double standards.
My Grandpa (mom’s side) has been very adamant that interracial dating is unacceptable, however his deep seeded racism comes from generationalism and growing up in Benton Harbor pre and post WWII era. I constantly challenge his worldview by giving him an opportunity to explain why he has these views towards specific groups of people and offer him a different POV. Bringing some of my friends with diverse backgrounds to family events has allowed him to be around people that challenge where his fears and racism hold so closely to his belief system.
Andrew: I grew up in Ann Arbor, MI after having spent the first four years of my life in New York City. My mother immigrated from Lebanon in the late 70s and my father’s family, also Lebanese, has been in the United States since the beginning of the 20th century. On a personal level, both of my parents have always disregarded cultural traditions in favor of their own interpretations of what’s right and wrong or how people should and should not behave. For example, my mother was 31 when she married, which is virtually unheard of in a culture that pressures its women to marry young, and was the first woman to leave her village in Lebanon. Although there are far fewer social expectations imposed on men than on women in Arab culture, my father seemed to buck the trend by maintaining an air of humility despite his charm, intelligence, and professional success.
As a result, despite the fact that my upbringing was definitely defined by my Arab identity, I was always encouraged to challenge and confront cultural norms and traditions, and push social and personal boundaries within reason. When it came to sex and relationships, my parents never shied away from having conversations with me about relationships and sexuality, yet they rarely came off as nosey or intrusive. They have always encouraged me to view dating as a process through which I develop a better understanding of myself and what it is I’m looking for in a partner. Although I haven’t seriously dated a woman that isn’t Arab, I am confident that my parents would support an interracial relationship.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about my extended family. My grandmother (father’s mother) enjoyed being racist and would regularly claim that she was no Arab; she was Phoenician. She never missed an opportunity to obsess over the kinds of people her grandchildren would date and eventually marry, regularly encouraging all of us to date within our Arab Orthodox Christian community. Such attitudes are reinforced by the rest of my father’s family which, interestingly enough, embrace culturally traditional values and lifestyles despite being third and fourth generation Arab Americans.
On my mother’s side, I grew up knowing that interracial relationships were frowned upon and not taken seriously. This obviously did not extend to Europeans; my cousin was once married to a French woman. I should add, though, that my family is definitely more concerned with religion than they are race when it comes to relationships. This is because they assume that their children will not marry/date outside of the Arab community, and so they focus on religious identity. My Shiite Muslim (now ex) girlfriend definitely ruffled a few of their feathers, but I was never openly confronted about my relationship with her. As a man, I recognize that I enjoy significant privilege and am not subject to the kind of scrutiny Arab women must endure.
May: As a US born and raised to Syrian Sunni Muslim parents, I grew up watching both sides of my family interracially/ethnically marry—it was almost exclusively my uncles though, and to mostly white European women. As Syrians are regarded as the white people of the Arab world, I would venture to say that these kinds of unions were not only considered culturally acceptable, but a reinforcement of an aspirational whiteness.
Further complicating the fact that both my parents are Syrian (my father with a Bedouin background) was the culturally enclavish way I was raised. We lived on a cul-de-sac with all my father’s family populating the six model homes that the track housing in the sleepy Southern California suburb was based on. Thus not only was I encouraged to maintain a link with my “roots” but I was also expected to only have my cousins as my friends. As my father once retorted when I asked to attend a schoolmate’s sleepover party, “Friends? why do you need friends? You have cousins!” So you can imagine the jingoistic way marriage was regarded/viewed. Continue reading