The song Ebony and Ivory uses the keys on a piano that co-exist with one another in harmony to symbolise racial equality. That’s the story of my life. I’m in a mixed race relationship. I’m Caucasian, and he is Indian. Our skin tones are pretty much opposite ends of the colour spectrum. The result of this partnership is a gorgeously coloured mocha ray of light we call ‘The Kid’, which unfortunately is not represented anywhere on a piano keyboard. So what does that mean in real life?
Nowadays, I would argue that at least half of us on this little blue planet are mixed with something. ‘Purebred’ people who have stayed within their genetic race strain are probably slowly being watered down on the global gene front as the world becomes smaller and human beings procreate with other humans from different races. The social Darwinism that Hitler disgustingly championed in an attempt to create his Aryan ‘master-race’ will hopefully never see the light of day again.
So where does racism sit in today’s world?
Unfortunately, everywhere. From the police shootings of unarmed black suspects in America, to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, to the disproportionate number of Maori represented in our negative social statistics, we are still a world that largely judges a person by the colour of their skin.
I’ve lived and worked all over the world, and have seen first hand the insidious nature of racism that unfailingly favours the white end of the spectrum. From India where white people are almost religiously revered, to much of South-East Asia, which celebrates lighter skin and actively encourages the sale of skin whitening creams, to watching how disrespectfully people have treated my husband based purely on the darkness of his skin. As a white person who has enjoyed the privilege of living in a world that favours my skin tone above his, it’s awful to witness.
So how do we change the thinking?
Over the years of raising The Kid, we came to the conclusion that we would openly refer to ourselves as the Chocolate Family. I’m White Chocolate, The Kid is Milk Chocolate, and hubby is Dark Chocolate. We’re all Chocolate. Just different kinds. It’s an analogy that has worked well over the years when other people comment on how different we all look. I’ve been mistaken more times for my child’s nanny than I care to remember.
Since a young age, The Kid has never really questioned our different skin tones. There was only that one time when I had a spray tan and she walked in and said, "Oh Mama, that’s so nice that you want to be the same colour as me." She was four. Bless.
I remember one of our closest (white) friends asking me if it felt weird having a child that was a completely different colour than me. I honestly had never thought about it. I’ve always been more than a little in love with my daughter’s skin tone, a gorgeous toasted mocha colour that is something I have spent years lying in the sun trying to emulate with various oils and lotions (sadly unsuccessfully).
But it played on my mind that other people think this way. Do they learn it from home? From the media? Is it something they are born with or conditioned to? If you can bear it, watch the Doll Test video of children from various races and age groups as they answer questions about skin colour. It makes for depressing viewing.
I had an interesting situation the other day while The Kid and I were watching the movie Australia. One of the storylines featured one of the shameful atrocities heaped on Aboriginal people: where children were removed from their parents to be taught ‘white people ways’, a group known as the Stolen Generations. The children particularly at risk of being scooped up by the authorities were the ones fathered by white men and disowned, and given the charming nickname of ‘Creamies’. They were considered neither black, nor white.
The Kid was totally confused.
"Why are those people doing that to the Aboriginals?" she asked.
I had to explain that in those days, white people considered themselves a superior race, and it was considered bad if white people and black people fell in love, or had children together as those kids were often unwanted by both races. I had to explain that back then, people who looked different to other people didn’t mix. They didn’t eat together, or travel together, or live in the same house together. I had to tell her that even forty years ago, it would have been difficult for her father and I to be together.
"But that doesn’t happen anymore, does it?"
Why does racism still exist? It’s difficult to explain to a child that in many parts of the world, and even right here on our front step, racism is still alive and well. There are many places where a person is judged solely on the colour of their skin, even before they have opened their mouths, or got out of the car after being pulled over by the police. There are families who disown their children for becoming involved with someone from a different race. Friendships are lost over racism. Hearts are broken. Tears are shed. Lives are lost.
‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?’ may have shaped my perception of what a mixed race love affair could look like when I was growing up, and the likely response to expect from the older generation back then. I do know that my parents had questions over ‘what our children would be’ when I told them about our wedding plans. I know they meant well. Mixed race relationships were often fraught with challenges and openly hostile racism from outside sources back in their day, which was all people of that generation knew. They were worried about that. And my husband remembers his mother saying that he was welcome to marry anyone, ‘as long as she wasn’t Chinese’. And his Chinese classmates at school were told that if they misbehaved, the Indian rubbish man would kidnap them at night and take them away. Clearly racism appears across the spectrum in some form or another regardless of what colour you are.
Until we have a world where white is not always considered right racism will continue to rear its ugly head. Here in New Zealand, I think we are better than most at embracing mixed race relationships and the resulting offspring. But by no means does this say we are there yet.
As I always like to tell The Kid, we all bleed the same colour, and our insides are all in the same places. But at the same time, I’m well aware of the fact that going out into the world, she will be judged by the colour of her skin. She knows the world can be a tough place, but she refuses to buy into that. Her goal is to become a human rights lawyer.
And that melts my white chocolate heart.