What Cheerios and Kids Can Teach Us About Race

What Cheerios and Kids Can Teach Us About Race January 22, 2014

When I was in junior high, Mama threatened to disown me if I married non-Chinese.  Baba bemoaned that we lived in China for his sabbatical at the wrong time–at 14 I was too young to marry off to a nice Chinese boy.  I didn’t know whether they had changed their minds until the week before my sister’s wedding–to a White guy.  But the wedding seemed to be progressing, and neither parent had threatened any major action.

“How’re you guys feeling about this?” I asked.  “What happened to I’ll disown you if you don’t marry Chinese?”

“Well!” said Mama.  “I gave up on you marrying Chinese when you were in high school and wouldn’t even look at a Chinese boy.”

It sure would have been nice if she had told me that earlier.

I always knew there was something wrong with my parents’ overweening insistence on marrying within our own ethnic group.  Not that there’s anything wrong with desiring the intimacy that comes from sharing the same culture, the same language, or the same social norms.   I get that.  By my mid-20s, I just wanted a nice Chinese guy.

But while my parents certainly cared about shared culture, language and family background, they also held a deep-seated sense of ethnic superiority–that Chinese were the best people group in the world.  Their desire for us to marry Chinese came largely from a desire for  ethnic purity.  Even as a child I knew that their worldview didn’t match that of Jesus–who I was trying to follow.

Our family in our White, Chinese and biracial glory

So I fought my parents for years over this issue even though there wasn’t an eligible boy, Chinese or otherwise, in sight.

A year after my sister’s wedding, I married my own White guy.  Negotiating the interracial/inter-ethnic/intercultural issues of our mixed race/Maine-Hawaii/Republican-Democrat/ISTJ-ENFP marriage has not been easy.

We have 3 bi-racial children–children who Whites think look Chinese and Asians think look White.  All 3 kids talk often about their biracial identity–how others perceive them, what they resonate with in both cultures.  Ling even wrote a college essay about being a scrambled egg–both white and yellow, completely mixed.

Yesterday Scott forwarded me this Cheerios commercial that came out in May about a biracial family.  It’s super cute:


Yet the ad generated so many racist hateful comments that the comments section had to be taken down.  Really?  In this day and age?  Which goes to show how imbedded and volatile thoughts and emotions around race still are within our society.

At the same time, it was heartening to watch how some kids reacted when interviewed about the commercial.

I don’t think we’re heading towards a race-blind society any time soon.  In fact, I don’t want people to see me as ethnic-neutral.  Being Chinese is part of who I am, and being biracial is part of who my kids are.  But it sure would be nice if most folks would look at our family and think we look just fine.

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