“I didn’t know you had a mixed baby!” My students react to my biracial daughter

Written by Michelle; Originally published at Balancing Jane

I do not wake up in the morning thinking to myself that I have a biracial child. I don’t tickle her and think about the color of her skin or the texture of her hair. I don’t do these things anymore than I kiss my husband in the morning and think to myself that he is black. These people are my family, my world, and the motivation behind just about everything I do.

It’s not that I’m “colorblind” (a term that only those blind to their own privilege can use with any sincerity). I am aware of both racial inequality and my own privilege as a white person in America, and I try very hard to check that privilege in ways that make me more productive in creating an equitable world. So I’ll never tell you that I “don’t see” race, but I certainly don’t make it the end-all, be-all of my observations about someone, and I certainly don’t put racial identity at the forefront of my interactions with my own family.

We are a family. The fact that we are a multiracial family really doesn’t have much bearing on my day-to-day life.

That’s all very nice to say (and I mean it), but I also live in St. Louis, Missouri, one of the most segregated cities in America. (Check out this BBC mini-documentary about Delmar Street, the street that divides one of the most segregated portions of one of the most segregated cities.) That means that families like ours aren’t all that common here.

This is a city where a picture of an interracial couple kissing on the cover of a local newspaper magazine insert had readers absolutely up in arms. The newspaper who ran the picture wrote about the “controversy,” (in an article titled “Black man kissing white woman causes stir,”which is interesting all on its own because–to me–it’s pretty clear that the white woman is the one doing the kissing.)

I’m not exactly living in a valley of tolerance and love, is what I’m trying to say.
Perhaps this is why my students always seem surprised to learn that my family is multiracial.
First, some background. I teach at a community college, and the student body is mostly made up of racial minorities. This is even more true of the students in my classrooms, as I teach developmental writing.
Over the course of the semester, my students and I get to know one another. I require them to come to my office to talk about their papers, and I have a picture of my daughter on my desk.
Their reactions are always interesting to me, and there almost always are reactions. This semester, I’ve gotten several versions of “I didn’t know your daughter was mixed!” (Of course you didn’t. I don’t walk into the classroom and announce “Hi! I’m your teacher. My daughter is biracial.”) Usually they make that statement, tell me how cute she is, tell me about their own kids, and then we move on to their papers. There have been a few variations on this conversation this semester.
“Your daughter’s mixed?! I could tell you had too much soul.”
“Is that your daughter? She’s so cute! Is she mixed? I knew that you . . . How do I say this? I could tell that you were cool with everyone.”
I will say that I haven’t gotten any reactions from my students that came across as negative. There has been genuine surprise, and there has been the suggestion that my daughter’s picture somehow affirms something they suspected about me, but the reactions are almost always positive.
What does this mean? Does it mean anything at all? I know that race matters, and I know that race factors into how I teach (especially when it comes to how I talk about grammar). While I don’t think that being part of a multiracial family makes me any less racially privileged, it has made me more aware of that privilege and how unjust it is. I hope that positively impacts the way I interact with my students as well.
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