Mixed Kids Are Always So Beautiful
Like many other people of color, I am no stranger to awkward conversations about race. Strangers have complimented my English, remarked on how tall I am “for an Asian” and — more times than I can count — asked where I am really from. Since becoming a parent five years ago, I’ve had to learn to field a whole new set of questions and comments regarding my multiracial children.
“Korean, Irish and Lebanese is such a unique combination,” a friend exclaimed after my eldest daughter was born. “She’s like a poster baby for the U.N.!”
Several people in our diverse suburb of the District of Columbia have asked if I am my daughters’ baby sitter, presumably because they cannot spot the resemblance between us. At a party last year, a white woman asked if I was surprised when my children were born: “Did you expect them to look, you know, less white?” (No, I was pretty sure who their father was, so I wasn’t really shocked.)
Another person wanted to know if I thought the girls’ “coloring” would stay the same or “get darker” over time. Then there was the mother at the park who looked at my girls on the swing set and said bluntly: “What are they, exactly?”
The girls have even received compliments for not looking fully Korean. “Your daughter is so pretty,” a Chinese friend said to me last month. “Have you thought about having her model?”
“No,” I replied (possibly the truest thing I have ever said).
“Well, she could be one!” my friend said. “Mixed kids are always so beautiful.” She went on to list my 5-year-old’s “assets”: wavy brown hair, light coloring and, of course, double eyelids – in other words, her more stereotypically Western features, the ones associated with her white half.
We’ve heard similar compliments from others who, for whatever reason, seem enthralled by our children’s “ambiguously ethnic” looks: just a shade “exotic,” thanks to me, but lightened – and whitened – by their father’s genes. I think it is overly simplistic to chalk up all of these comments to prejudice (or, in the case of fellow Asians, internalized racism), though for some that could be one of many factors affecting their ideas about what is attractive. I imagine most people are genuinely trying to pay our children a compliment and do not realize quite how it sounds to hone in on certain features amid their multiracial background.
Still, it never fails to throw me when anyone demands to know my daughters’ precise ethnic makeup, praises them by singling out their light hair or large eyes, or asks whether such white-looking children really do belong to me. Such comments often bring back memories of my own white-by-default upbringing with my adoptive parents and the many unwanted conversations we were drawn into as a multiracial family in a very white town.
As a child, I used to desperately wish for paler skin, lighter hair and rounder eyes; I would have gladly undergone any kind of reinvention available to be able to pass for white and stop hearing the ethnic slurs on the playground. It is so painful to imagine my daughters ever wishing away their Korean heritage as I once did. I don’t want them to believe it is their white half that makes them attractive or that they owe anyone an answer to the question “What are you, exactly?” And I hate that they will always have to grapple with such comments from people who don’t know any better.
My 2-year-old is still too young to understand these conversations, but my 5-year-old is a thoughtful, committed categorizer and has long been able to list the things we have in common as well as the many ways in which we are different. She and I often discuss the remarks we hear — from musings about how Asian or white she appears, to well-meaning but misguided comments praising her “blended” features. She hasn’t yet learned to feel self-conscious about her appearance or the fact that our family is multiracial and many others are not; she doesn’t know why her hair or skin color or the shape of her eyes merits comment from others.
As she grows up, I hope that people learn to bite their tongues in her earshot and refrain from unwelcome speculation and thoughtless remarks about her ethnicity. I hope she is able to mature without measuring herself against a standard of beauty that may slight her Korean half. I hope we can help her understand that beauty itself is highly subjective, and ultimately unimportant compared to everything else she is. And I hope she knows that no matter what, I will always find her beautiful, simply because she is my daughter.