Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is Japanese, I’m white, and our daughter is biracial. When I’m out with her in public, strangers are constantly stopping me to ask what country we adopted her from. (Interestingly, my wife tells me this never happens to her.) I feel like wearing a button that says, “No, you jerk, my child isn’t adopted!” Is there some way I can get people to stop asking me this irritating question?
A: More and more people these days are describing themselves as bi-racial. In fact, according to 2010 Census data , the number of biracial and multiracial people is up 50 percent since 2000 (that’s when the Census Bureau first gave the option to check more than one “race” box.) Theoretically, that should mean that over time, biracial children will be less of a novelty. In the meantime, you’ll still have to deal with insensitive (and/or ignorant) people.
While the questions you’re fielding are definitely irritating, only a very small percentage or people are asking out of racism. Most really mean no harm—it’s their way of admiring your daughter. Some have boundary issues (these are the same people who have no problem coming up to a pregnant woman they don’t know and rubbing her belly). And some weren’t paying attention when their parents tried to give them the “think-before-you-open-your-mouth” lesson. They’re not bad people, just a bit clueless.
That said, your frustration is understandable. Still, the most important thing you can do is stay calm. When you’re out in public, there’s no way to keep people from asking you questions, whether it’s about where you got your hair cut or the ice cream cone you’re eating or whether or not your child is adopted.
Don’t feel that your job is to educate people about race (or manners). Taking on that responsibility will just add to your stress level. With that in mind, the easiest thing to do is calmly say something like, “No, my child isn’t adopted. My wife is Japanese and our daughter is bi-racial.” That’ll clear things up for anyone who genuinely wanted to know about adoption and will probably make anyone with less-than-positive intentions feel a little silly.
As annoying as these questions are, they give you a wonderful opportunity to discuss the issue with your daughter. You might point out that she’s getting all the extra attention because she’s unique—and that being unique is a good thing (this is the same conversation I have with my youngest daughter, who’s constantly approached by people asking her, “Where’d you get the red hair?”) You could also mention that Barack Obama—even though he identifies as black—has a white mother and is just as bi-racial as your daughter.
No matter how these questions make you feel, keep the anger, resentment, frustration, and whatever else out of your voice and body language. If you respond in any kind of negative way, your daughter will feel that you think there’s something wrong with her or that being bi-racial is a bad thing. That’s a message you never want to send. Ever. She’ll also use your behavior as a model for how to react when people inevitably start approaching her directly instead of going through you.
As parents, we can’t keep people from asking us questions about our kids, especially if they’re cute and charming. Your number one priority is your daughter’s well-being and making sure she has a positive perception of herself. That’s a lot more important than educating or scolding some random person that you meet and will probably never see again.