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I'm Black Irish and I'm Proud

Yesterday I came into contact with a racist.

A table full of them to be exact. My contact with them could have gone much better on my part. But I'm cynical about this sort of stuff having grown up light-skinned enough to "pass". I come by that honestly. Now, my father, on the other hand, is much darker than I and his sister, one of my favorite aunts, is a lovely caramel color and if you were to see the whole family lined up you'd find every conceivable shade available. To me, this is a beautiful sight.

I could have politely interrupted their loud (no, really, this was ridiculously loud) conversation about all the "Pakistanis" and "Blacks" and "foreigners" that are taking over and how they're everywhere. There were plenty of hateful things that came out of their mouths and each time they said something I responded back. Loudly. But not directly. Only the woman heard me and she obviously got them to pay attention to the fact that they were bothering other patrons around them. Eventually, they left.

It is a terrible thing, this being able to pass. There is the strange position I've found myself in that shocks me, it always shocks me with a jolt, when someone starts speaking this code that they are sure you understand. They lean in, pull you into their circle of trust, and then betray it. They assume you agree with them. You must! You look white! So you probably totally understand their racism!

Mind you, these older people probably felt justified in being able to have their conversation in public because they've always talked like that. Before you go defending their bad behavior let me say this: It's 2010. TWO THOUSAND TEN. In the year of 2010 my President is Black and so is theirs. THE PRESIDENT. IS BLACK. (Or MIXED. MULATTO. Whatever.) The Civil Rights Movement happened in their lifetime. I sincerely hate it when people excuse them with, "But that's their generation. That's what they grew up with! They don't know any better!" Instead of doling out pardons for their racism let me suggest that they ought to be embarrassed that they've lived through all of that and still haven't learned anything from it. Let me propose that they've have multiple opportunities to learn from their lives in America and have managed to have their racism forgiven time and time again. Let's just all take responsibility for that.

One time when I was dating a guy in college he took me home to meet his parents. I was nervous because I was a 19-year old girl/woman who had a daughter by then and he was a single, college-aged boy so it concerned me that his family would be upset by that. Unfortunately, I was focused on the wrong thing. What they were upset about in regards to me was that I was Black. That is what bothered them about me when they first met me. From hearing this boy tell me about his family I was shocked because it didn't seem like they would be like that. I had to ask him, "Let me get this straight. Your brother is married to a Korean woman and your sister is a lesbian and your parents have a problem with ME?"

Before I digress too far let me just say I ended up marrying (and divorcing) him and that I gave his family the whitest damn grandchildren ever produced. Seriously. They're nearly transparent.

My father, also of the generation of people in question, is getting older. He's reached his 70s and doesn't like to live in the racism of his past. Rarely does he talk about it. But there are things about him that are so progressive and innovative and he's always, in my mind, been that way. His sister once recounted a story that made my sisters and I see him in an entirely new light and, in some ways, sort of explained him to us. He was young, maybe 10 or so, and he was going to get a new pair of shoes. Back in the day (it's kinder to use that then to tell you just what decade in which this occurred) that was a big deal. New shoes? That was luxurious! Normally, my dad wore shoes until the soles wore off and then put cardboard in them repeatedly until it was finally time for a new pair. His father was supposed to take him shopping and he went downtown to where he, my grandfather, was working at the time to meet him and be taken to the shoe store.

I never met my grandfather on my dad's side. He died before I was born, but I know enough about him to know that he "passed" for white in the early part of the century. He got jobs as a "white man" and was hired because he looked white enough. When my dad went downtown to get my grandfather that day he waited and waited for him to come out. He never did. Finally, he asked for someone to get his dad in the shop and another worker (a manager? an owner? I don't know.) brings my grandfather to the front of the store because this kid is claiming to be his son and he's been out there waiting.

This kid. My father. Who is dark. Who is Black.

"This nigger kid waiting out here says he's your son." That word, and you know which one, always jars me when I hear it told in this story.

Until, of course, I hear the part where my grandfather shakes his head back and forth and replies: "I've never seen him before."

When my aunt told this story my dad was quiet and my hand flew up to my mouth and I searched my sister's faces and we all sat still and cried. And we've never really spoken of it and he might not like that I've shared that story in writing but it has to say something about our family and our place in this country that it's even an experience worth recounting. I think this is true especially since people's feelings on race are still not at a place where we can talk comfortably about it. Granted, the fact that my grandfather denied my father as his son so he wouldn't lose his job happened a long time ago and these old, white racists sitting at their table in a public restaurant next to me are from the same era. All parties lived through the same decades even though they lived vastly different lives.

Last week, my dad called me on St. Patrick's day to wish me luck and a good day. Come on. This Black man had a daughter with an Irish-German woman and named her Kelly and my sisters are named Tracy and Erin. We kind of have to celebrate, you know?

I'd like to think that there are more like me and my family. I'd like to think that I'm normal. Maybe even that people like me are taking over.

Whatever the hell that means.
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Reader Comments (150)

Congratulations...This is the first blog post to EVER make me tear up.

The prospect of being denied by your father is completely impossible to take with dry eyes.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterInkognegro

When I get tidbits of my father's past ( he was born in a work camp during the Holocaust) it definitely opens up a window into his personality and helps me try to make sense of the enigma that is my dad. I cannot imagine how painful that experience your dad had with his own father must have been for him.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa Chapman

Kelly--this was the best ever post. Really. The best EVER.

For a while, I worked in a nursing home which housed nearly all black people who were almost exclusively from the deep south. Folks who had lived and worked and struggled during Jim Crow. I was the only white person on staff there (save the social worker who had very little contact with our residents.) The only one. I've written before how such an experience educated me and enriched my life. I heard stories like your father's over and over and each time--EACH TIME--I would get tears and chills and feel like omgwhattheHELL? You know? What the HELL?

Incidentally, I HAAATE The Racist Assumption. You describe it so perfectly. For me, it feels like the color of my skin, my Whiteness, makes me an automatic member of the Racist F#$%kers club. I often think that those people are so CLUELESS. Even as they're talking, I'm thinking, 'You don't even know me. You don't even know who you're TALKING TO.'

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterthe new girl

I didn't see it coming and the welling up of tears was immediate.

It would have caused a pang before being a mom, sure, but now it sets off a whole range of intense emotions. And a fierce determination to teach my children how not to be like those bigoted fools.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenter@stellar225/Caoilinn

Kelly, THANK YOU for posting this.

I actually want to share this entry with all of my White friends who have family that are clearly racist, but excuse their racism with "Well, they're from another generation, you understand that, right?" (when that generation is the Baby Boomers) or "Well, you have to understand that they're never around any Black people, so of course they're going to be nervous around you." What am I? An alien? Did Black people just descend onto earth like District 9?

Maybe if they read this story - even if it's just for a minute - they can walk a mile in your shoes (and your family's shoes) and realize that ignorance really is a choice, not something you're born with.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

Jesus. How old is your dad? What year was it when that incident happened? I lost my breath for a minute when I read that story.

Here's the story of racism in my family.

My dad's dad came to Chicago from Texas where he got a job running a warehouse for the Mars candy company. His workforce was, I'm guessing. 99% black. My grandfather was very racist. By all accounts he treated the workers well but I still remember being a little kid when he first retired (early 1970s) and him telling me stories about the "niggers" and "coons" in his warehouse. He told me they "had a certain smell" and that "they should be picking cotton." I remember him saying those words so...naturally. He never thought there was anything wrong with it.

As I got older though, and he saw the person his oldest grandchild was turning into, he delighted in pushing my buttons by deliberately saying those words occasionally and hearing me say "grandpa, that's disgusting!" I was just a little kid. Why did he do that to me? Did he want me to grow up using those words?

He died in 1990 when I was 24. Now my own father is 70 and he is a retired school teacher from the Chicago inner city public schools. He poured his heart and soul into his job. He was a history teacher, and then a counselor, and then a dean. My mom describes him coming home from work in the early years of their marriage when I was a baby and I cry hearing stories about how hard he worked trying to help at-risk, mostly minority kids make it out of the projects. How much he cared and worried about his students. Angry kids, gang kids, kids who disrespected authority, kids who certainly didn't give a damn about passing History class.

I know it fucked with his head to work with so many kids who never made it. I know he grew up with an extremely racist father. I know he was a great teacher and he was never much appreciated for what he did. I know he experienced a lot of terrible things in his career. So is my dad a racist? I'm not exactly sure, to this day. Every once in a while my own father uses the N word---usually when he's watching sports or the evening news. Yet, I sense a difference in the way my dad uses the words and the way my grandpa used them. I know my dad knows it is crude, offensive and wrong. So why does he say them? Is he venting? Does he hate? I'm still trying to figure it out. I watched an NCAA basketball tourney game with him yesterday and he said "it" once. My head shot up. I was silent.

I loved my grandpa so, so much and I love my dad even more. But it's definitely hard to reconcile their prejudices about certain skin colors making lesser human beings than others. Are they bad people?

After the earthquake in Haiti I told my mom I wish I could go and adopt some orphans starving in the street and she said "oh my gosh that would be so great but your father wouldn't like it." I burst into tears. I want to believe my father isn't really racist. And I want to believe if he is, at least it will die with his generation.

But I cry because my brother--age 42--is his father's father's son, and he has two sons of his own. He insults the President's skin color every chance he gets in my presence, knowing it offends me. He thinks it's hilarious. Why? I just don't get it.

And then I think, why didn't I* turn out that way, with those prejudices? I must have been determined NOT to turn out that way. Kind of like the way my parents hit us when we were kids and I thought to myself, I will NEVER hit my kids. And I haven't. Does that make sense? Is that wrong, that I had to consciously choose not to be racist? I wish I could be a member of the generation---hopefully, my younger kids---who don't have to teach themselves not to be racist. God, I just re-read this post and it sounds terrible. I'm sorry. How can my hateful lineage apologize enough for what your family had to go through?

Sorry for rambling on. Thank you for this. I am so sorry for what your dad went through. And your grandfather. And of course you're normal. You are beautiful. I love you for letting this out.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan


Thank you for sharing this story. Hopefully, someone in need, will read it and be awakened.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSandy

This was a great blog post. The best post I've read in a long time.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterafreshmusic

Wow. Thank you for that. I have been in similar situations and it's hard to figure out how to react.


March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKeyona

We are taking over. I might not be of the same mixed heritage, but I can tell you, we are taking over. Whatever that means.

Thank you so much for sharing this story, Kelly. I will add my voice to the choir and say that this is, perhaps, the most touching story of yours I've read.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAviatrixt

Yeah, you're normal. We're everywhere. And have you seen my daughters? Pale doesn't begin to cover it! But, the weird thing is that instead of my ex husband's family being the racist ones, it was my ex husband...

God, that story killed me, on behalf of your father. I can't imagine how that must have made him feel.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

Amazing post.

I wish racism wasn't as common as it still is.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarcastica

Great story. Fantasticly tragic.

My dad's black and my mom's Irish/Welsh. I can't pass (except on the phone), but my mom and dad got married in the early 60s, when it wasn't even legal for them to do that in some states. Growing up, I wasn't "really black" to my father's side, but I was far too black for my mother's side and, as such, I have had similar things happen to me... from both sides. It was hard enough not really fitting in anywhere, but it was much harder being shunned by a blood relative... who couldn't fit in because they were with me. When I was little, I use to wonder, if the sun burned out one day, and no one could see what color they were, how would they decide which group they belonged to... and which groups they didn't like?
Your story made me start wondering again. Thanks for telling it.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWill Jones

beautiful, just like you

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfuriousball

This couldn't have been fun to write, but thank you for taking the time to do it. I don't think we can ever stop talking about prejudice in all it's forms. The more we put it out there,the harder it is to ignore.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEllen G

Wow, and good for you. So many people come back to their blogs and rant but have done nothing, said nothing at the time the incident occurred. I sometimes get great joy out of showing people just who they are. Bravo!

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCurvy Jones

I'm sitting at my desk crying for the little boy that your father was.

My mind cannot be wrapped around something so ugly.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMinnie

Going for the kleenex box right now. Thank you for sharing this. And I just hate, hate, hate that "it's their generation" excuse. It's horseshit!

Sorry--back to the kleenex.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeg Evans


You did it again girl, pulled at the heart strings and wrote a stroy that I could definately relate to on a personal basis. Our lineage comes in all different shades as you pointed out in your post.

I remember in the 70's when my mother would take me and my sister to the grocery store with her. My mother looks like pochahontas. People would pass us then do a double take as though they had seen a ghost. I was always sure they were asking, "What is that white woman doing with those black kids." We were so used to it that we would walk with our head held up as if we were superstars. Glad for the attention, sorry for their ignorance.

Another occasion was when my mother had to bring my lunch to school because I forgot it. She walked into the classroom, the whole classroom started laughing saying that my mother was white. At this time, I didn't know the difference between black and white so I thought that they were saying something bad and I started crying.

It wasn't until recently that I learned my mother has Mexican blood flowing through her veins. Her father was a pure Mexian. The Indian and White linage I was aware of, but the Mexican through me for a loop. My mother hid the Mexican lineage because her parents were not married at the time of her conception, and that was totally taboo in the '50s. Her father died before she was born. And you can write a book on the racist endeavors she encountered growing up in racist Mississippi.

Do I need to go an further...

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

People who think that way aren't embarrassed because their belief that they are correct doesn't require further introspection. (And this is a conclusion I have reached based on almost 40 years of familiarity with this kind of noise.) I also can't blame it entirely on being older because I've heard some horrifying talk from young people in recent years, and not the kind you would have to go to special web sites to read, either. Just them hanging out, hating. Hearing it from them was even more like being punched in the face.

I will spare you my personal saga of generational shifts in racism but I can only hope that people like you (and like me, or the me I strive to be in my personal life if I didn't exactly get it from my family of origin) are the newer normal, at least in this respect.

As usual I appreciate your perspective - because you're so smart and honest and reflective about the human condition, good and bad and everywhere else. I think about these things a lot and sometimes it's hard to know the time and place for these kinds of conversations so I appreciate you doing it here. I guess all we can do is share our own experiences and thoughts and hope something good comes from it.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

I fucking love you. Write your memoirs, already.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKBO

here via the new girl, and so happy she pointed me here. amazing post, thank you.

i get so riled up hearing stories like this, gah. i know it's a sort of weird thing to hope, but i hope i end up marrying someone not white, so that my kids are a lovely mix of things. i want them to help be a part of the people like you who are taking over :-)

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

Social comments and analytics for this post...

This post was mentioned on Twitter by mochamomma: Let me shorten that url if you want to read this post on old, white racists:

wow. Just wow. Never had the urge to hug some random old black dude I never met and comfort him for something that happened to him before I was ever born. Just wow.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTanya

Great post, and great timing. I just wrapped up a chapter about encountering that kind of rationalization for racism when I came to America and was floored to hear hateful language coming from the mouths of people I knew to be otherwise loving and kind.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKyran

Oh racism. It's always been my favorite topic. (geez where is the sarcasm button on the key board?) Anyway, It's always been a fun topic for me because I over analyze everything and use a little more logic than some. My thoughts are "what do you mean I cant date your son? I have awesome grades, a wonderful reputation, you have known me for years, I'm cute as a button and I know how to act in public. Wait... because I'm Black. Hmmmm interesting." That has happen to me twice. It's fun at 13 and 14 to get pulled aside by a friends parent and be told you are a wonderful girl except this "one thing". Or better yet my 10 year old self sitting on LLCC campus waiting for my mom to pick me up from an enrichment class, sitting on a bench with my hands folded only to have a little old lady grab her purse and eye me. And trust me, at 10 I was a tiny thing.
I've done the "good little Black girl" tango for most of my life. I had tons of friends, but very few that came to my house.
My point... oh yeah... there is the ultra rude stranger good ole fashion racism, and there is the polite racism from people you know. It's an unfortunate everyday thing. You just have to know which battle to jump into.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeLaMi


I don't know if writing about this ever can make the pain subside. I am standing here on the train platform with tears in my eyes.

One thing is for sure. It is a story I will never forget and will certainly share with others. Last night, I was filling out my Census form with my wife. Although my wife was born in the U.S., my in-laws were Filipinos who became naturalized U.S. Citizens. My wife, Lisa can "pass" as not-Black. She can also "pass" as Mexican or Hawaiian. Our daughter is a zero (0 years old according to the form). She was recorded as White and Filipino. I realize that all of the zeros on this form accross the country were born under the Obama Presidency. How will the Census play out with this information? Will it make us a stronger people who embrace each other?

One of my greatest role models was my grandfather, Frank. He was very religious, very kind, and tragically used the n word. I had tears in my eyes when he told me the story of his Black co-worker, Bob Gant at the oil refinery. One night after a long shift, my grandfather was heading home. Btw, my grandfather was a laborer so he didn't have any authority over others. He chatted with Bob as usual since they frequently worked midnights together. "You know, Frank," Bob said one night. "You are the only person in this entire place who ever talks to me at all. Thank you.". My grandfather explained that he felt that they he couldn't see why not. Still, my grandfather didn't seem to embrace that thought through and through. It is always difficult for me to reconcile this. Still, whenever someone says I remind them of my grandfather, a little voice inside tells me that I have to take even more responsibilty to do the right thing and ensure we stop hurting others. What can we possibly gain from that?

Kelly, you are one hell of a writer. You shook me up this morning. Thanks. I hear you loud and clear (loudly and clearly).

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Kelsey

What your dad must have felt and had to live with his entire life from that one makes my heart ache and tears fall just thinking about what his little face must have looked like. My best to him.

And for you, good for you for speaking up. I admit, I don't do that when I hear these kinds of people...always out of fear. I do so admire you for your actions though. Maybe I can draw some strength from all this today.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

It continues BECAUSE we make apologies for them. BECAUSE we are afraid of being painted with the "overly sensitive liberal" brush. BECAUSE not enough people who are drawn closely into that circle because they are white don't say "uhh... NO. This? Is absolutely not OK."

Your dad's story broke my heart.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

Jesus. This story made me tear up and I never even expected that to happen. I cannot imagine what it's like to be so discounted and have such hugely offensive things said to me and about me, simply because I was born with a darker color of skin. It's appalling to me that people continue to think they can get away with things just because their generation was raised with ignorance.

It's like wearing a t-shirt that says, "Hi, I'm ignorant!". Who wants to do that?

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHilly

Thanks so much for sharing this.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAverage Jane

I'm really about your dad's experience and your own from yesterday. I know I've told this story before but I'm not sure if I told it to you...

I was about 7 or 8 years old and I was sitting with my grandmother in a mall waiting on my parents. A man and woman walked by holding hands - one of them was black and the other white and I didn't pay much attention to them. Then my grandmother nudged me and said "You would never do that to us, right?"

"Do what?" I asked, confused.

"Marry a black man," she said.

I remember thinking a lot of different things at once: why would my marriage do anything to you? Shouldn't I get to decide who I marry? And whoever I did marry I would of course love so why would that be a bad thing?

And I remember really not wanting to say what I knew she wanted to hear...but I did because she was my grandmother. Because I was a kid. Because the message was clear: agree with me and be loved or disagree with me and be rejected. I remember feeling awful afterwards, slimy and dirty like I'd betrayed myself - which is probably why I can remember it as clear as if it happened yesterday.

On the one hand, it's bizarre to me that an adult would put a child in that position, but on the other it is not bizarre that my grandmother would say this to me. This is the same women who when I was three or four told me as I was in the bath that she loved me more than anyone, including my parents and my other grandmother who really didn't love me. After she left, I went stomping into the main room to tell my parents and my other grandmother what she had said - to hear my mother tell the story I was like a tiny, soaking wet, angry avenger demanding to know why grandmother had told me something that obviously wasn't true.

Anyway, what's my point? I guess my point is that somewhere between 3 and 7 years old I learned that standing up for what you believed could have consequences, as did not standing up for what you believed. It is just a matter of which consequences you want to deal with. My point is also that for some people, like my grandmother, no amount of talking about the wrongness of all this or exposure to different people or holding her accountable for her actions would work because more than anything she needed to feel superior. Not superior for anything she'd done, or worked for, just superior for BEING. And anything that threatened that, whether it was an interracial couple or my parents love for me and my love for them, was an enemy to her sense of self and had to be fought. It's a very sad existence to be at war with everything outside of yourself, every hour of every day for over 90 years, in order to uphold a lie. But there you are.

When people get old they don't do a Disney Godmother twirl in a shower of glitter and turn into Perfect Grandparents or Perfect People. We all only become more ourselves with age.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCaffeinated Librarian

That should be "I'm really sorry..." Sorry about that.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCaffeinated Librarian

"Instead of doling out pardons for their racism let me suggest that they ought to be embarrassed that they’ve lived through all of that and still haven’t learned anything from it. " Hell yeah.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuebob

This post just blew me clean away.

I think it's everyone's responsibility to NOT excuse people's ignorance or racism because they are of a different generation. I've never excused it in my family, and slowly over time, their opinions (or at least what they utter in my presence) have changed. It's the younger generation's responsibility to look the older generation in the eye and say, as many times as necessary, "That thinking is as ridiculous as saying the world is flat. You are wrong."

It is hard to say that to someone you love. I've had to do it at least a hundred times to various members of my extended family. Not just about black people -- about Latinos and Asian Americans and gay people. There are huge pockets of people who still believe white is right. They aren't violent. They wouldn't physically hurt anyone. But that doesn't mean they still don't believe they are better just because their skin is a different color.

I'm really glad you wrote this out, Kelly. We have to keep educating young and old if we're ever going to have that thinking die out with the generations who so embraced it. Bravo.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRita Arens

This is such a touching (and heartbreaking) story. On my father's side we are the *only* black branch of a very white tree. I always find it facinating when I tell people my heritage and they look at me as though it's impossible. Black people come in all spectrum of color and ALL people have a little bit of something in them.

You are more the norm than the racists. They're the dying breed.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbriya

People like us ARE taking over.

I feel so sorry for your grandfather, having to choose between hurting his child's heart and not being able to feed him.

No human should have to make that choice.

And to all those motherfuckers who like to bitch about how "america" is being ruined, I'd remind them that the people they love to hate were forced here against their will a few hundred years ago so they could have tampons and cheap t-shirts. And if you want to put tampons and cheap tshirts above another human's life, another human's heart, well, that makes you the most unamerican person of all.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMr Lady

Suebob said exactly what I was going to say. Thanks for taking the time to write this -- it's worth passing around.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLoriHC

Bawling. Thank you for sharing this Kelly. You know I love you.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Wow. What a powerful story. Racism is this country's ugly legacy.

My own family has a mixed heritage, black, white, Cherokee, Chinese, Mexican. I thought this was normal for American families: I mean, any family that has been here long enough surely has intermarried with people who came here from different lands. Right?

I was wrong. My husband's family is All White and has been All White since the dawn of creation, apparently. And my father-in-law makes some racist comments that everyone calls "off-color jokes." It embarrasses people but they are afraid to tell him to stop (I'm not but everyone in the family thinks I'm too outspoken). I mean, the guy is in his 60's, not his 90's. It boggles my mind that someone would go on vacation to, say, Mexico, and come home complaining about all the "brown people."

Race issues run deep in this country and when you're from a multiracial family, it is shocking when people say racist things to you as though you're in a club together and you will naturally agree. Nope, buddy, I don't agree with what you're saying about my dad/cousin/niece/grandfather.

I was in an interracial relationship in high school and college, and people would literally jump out at us on the street and at the mall to tell us what they thought. It was the 1990s and I was floored the first time it happened.

I will stop there because I'm getting all worked up.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeana Birks

Damn, Kelly. Incredible post.

And in the midst of my outrage and sorrow, you made me laugh:

They’re nearly transparent.

How do you DO that?

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterslouchy

Great post, and I completely agree with Mr Lady's perspective. Jobs that only white men could get paid far more than jobs that only black men could get, and absolutely nothing about that has changed. We sometimes sacrifice a small morality for larger issues such as supporting our families. Your heritage is rich and complicated, and each nuance should be celebrated as the historic mosaic it created for you.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErica M

My great grandmother passed for white instead of Native American. It gave her opportunities she never could have achieved otherwise. I'm glad for her but it makes me sick. She abandoned her family to do this. She abandoned her race. Her culture. Her beliefs. She thought she HAD too. She passed her self-hatred racism on down to her descendants. And I grew up hearing how lucky I was to be so white...unlike my cousins, who were pure brown.

My husband's relatives passed for white too, so much so that African American became the dirty family secret that only got revealed a couple of years ago when his uncle did a DNA test and discovered he was African African American (in part, it's all mongrel mix now). Pygmy, actually. Which stymied scientists who want to research the family of over 6 foot pygmies now. But I digress.

You know what I mean -- that story about your dad.

A world that requires this? IS SO TOTALLY WRONG. It makes me sick.

Justification makes me sick too. Some parents abuse kids. That's what the kids grow up with. But many kids STOP IT because it's WRONG.

So is racism.

I live around this stuff all the time. People try to call it capitalism but it's racism pure and simple. They just know better enough to try to hide it behind euphemisms. But we all know what they mean when they talk about immigration and illegal immigration, no ESL, white rights, and so forth.

Enough. The color of the skin is irrelevant other than as a consideration for culture and experience on that person's part.

Like you I find the many hues a beautiful thing.

And people who fear that ought to feel ashamed. Not justified. (And how funny that my current post is about why shame is necessary.)

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Pippert

Wow. What an amazing -- by which I mean, hard to believe, and obviously true -- experience.

You might appreciate these cards, produced by the conceptual artist, Adrian Piper, who also "passes:"

These cards have been inspiration for me speaking up more than once.

Thanks for telling it!


March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSupa Dupa Fresh

I just tried to leave you the most muddled comment about my blue eyed blonde haired mixed baby.

Then I deleted it and sent it as a muddled email instead.
Because I love you.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Grace

PS. Ha, I said I was going to stop there and then I thought of something else I just had to say. I was reading a book a few years ago that said that the reason so many Americans of Irish descent are part black or American Indian is because when the Irish first immigrated, they were not considered "white." I already sorta knew that, but the book went into a lot of detail that I did not know. Of course I can't remember what the book was called; that would be too convenient.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeana Birks

Wow. Part of this I understand completely, the other part I can't imagine. Both crush me.

I understand what it is like to be considered part of the Trusted Inner Circle. It has happened to me more times than I care to recall. At a small town beauty salon. At a crowded restaurant. In a hospital. And, in my grandparents' home. The hateful words are spoken, and sometimes I say something just as hateful in return. Because my anger bubbles over, uncontainable.

I'm white. Although, if one were to do a DNA test, one would find that my blood, my people, are from every corner of the globe. But, that is not what makes me ineligible for the Inner Circle. It is my husband, who has beautiful dark skin, and whom I have loved for more than 20 years. It is only when he has not been at my side that I have ever been mistakenly Trusted.

The story about your father is difficult to read. It is one thing to be denied and marginalized by strangers; quite another to have this done by Loved Ones. I can't imagine.

2010, but given what happened to some Members of Congress only yesterday, still relevant. Sadly, denial and rejection are still daily reminders to many people in this country, a country led by a black president, that the color of their skin makes all the difference in the world.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBobbie Sue

Amazing story, Kelly. Simply amazing, horrifying, important, never should be forgotten. And that you heard vile idiots makes me want to kick in heads. As a mother who doesn't live with her partner, I often "pass" as straight, so I know a bit of what you mean, as I've been pulled in to homophobic conversations--and then been branded a secretive deviant who somehow tricked the bigots, as though I should wear a pink triangle so they could have been able to know not to be hateful to my face. Terrible, regardless of how you choose to handle it, what you are up for, what you can bear, what is safe to say. I know sometimes I want to think of racism as a generational issue, because there is the hope that it will diminish each year, but I know it is not. So, so ugly. Love to you, little Kelly.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeb on the Rocks

“But that’s their generation. That’s what they grew up with! They don’t know any better!” I have fought this to death in my family and I like to say that I have made a change. My mother uses that excuse for her mother and for herself but regardless they stopped saying crap that offended me when I started to speak up as a young teenager. Now I'm with a Chinese husband and they both couldn't love him more.
I'm faced with an interesting future. We plan to adopt. I'd like to adopt from China, also the culture we partially celebrate in my house. People say I should go with Korea cause the process is faster... they think then we should just raise them with chinese culture cause thats what we have already. Bull! Lumping all asians together is crap and that would be a disservice to a child. We could do all three cultures as mom, dad and child's lives and heritage but to lump child's with dad and pretend would make me feel like a lesser person with an ignorant bias but trying to explain this is so difficult, people don't get it.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMindy

Wow. I tell you every time I wander over here to your blog I read something that touches me deeply.

I decided a few years ago, when I had my first child and realized if I didn't speak up that he would be getting messages I didn't want him to get, that I would not allow hateful speech in my house or around myself or my child.

I've stuck with that, calling people on the carpet, including my husband, family and friends. Not just racist speech, but sexist speech and speech against homosexuals too.

But I haven't faced that kind of speech yet, the stranger, who isn't even talking to me. If they're talking to me or someone with me, I know how to handle that. But random speech on the to handle that without getting into a weird confrontation that who knows, could turn violent. You never know these days. I suppose I could just up the ante and turn up my own volume a bit and talk about how far we've come but how we obviously still have so far to go. Is that enough?

And yes, we are taking over. By "we" though I mean those of us who truly are living or trying to live Martin Luther King Jr's dream. Judging folks by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin (or gender, or sexual orientations). I have long said, since I was a teen, that I can't wait for the day when our genes are so mixed up that no one can assume by looking at you what nationality/culture/race you are. It appalled some in my family when I voice that back then, even my father if I remember it right, but I didn't care. It just makes sense to me. And I long for it.

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

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