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The Deeply Closeted Racist - in your own family!

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 

Sigh. I'm so glad I found this forum. I've been tearing my hair out in frustration over the things my mother-in-law says every time I see her (which, being local, means at least once a week). Ugh, so I'm here to rant and hopefully get some support! 

 

I'm Chinese-American, and my husband is Caucasian, and we have a 15-month-old little hapa boy. Now, I've read a lot of stories of frustration from multiracial people and families whose problems they believe are exacerbated by the fact that they live in small, conservative, mostly-white communities. Well, I have the opposite problem. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is highly diverse, highly liberal, and there is absolutely no shortage of Asians - and hapas - here. But what I encounter all the time here - rather than what might be your typical, overtly racist routine of suspicion and avoidance - is an overeagerness to "embrace" my and my child's heritage. And "embrace" is in highly ironic quotes, because it's done in a way that feels really dehumanizing, commodifying, objectifying, othering, what have you. Do any of you ever get that with yourselves or your children? That whole "ooh, you/your baby is soooo deliciously exotic!" thing? It is so, so common here in the Bay Area. So many people here, in my experience, seem to see themselves as "in touch with diversity," so with it, so hip to the "world cultures," so progressive and magnanimous and above even the tiniest subconscious sliver of racism. And yet in some ways they seem worse than the out-and-out racists. Okay, worse is not the right word. But what I mean is that at least the out-and-out racists wear their prejudices on their sleeves.

 

Well, my MIL absolutely exemplifies the "ooh, I'm so liberal and I so love you exotic people" type to a T. I don't know if others of you feel this way, but I take offense to being described as exotic and especially to having my child described this way. I know that it's "meant well," but to me it feels dehumanizing and grossly Eurocentric. And my MIL uses the adjective *all the time*. I finally worked up the nerve to have a rather extended conversation with her about it a few months ago, and just to give you a sense of her complete lack of self-awareness, she gasped and said "who would use that word?!" And since then, it's like she's tripled her usage of it. I have no idea if she's forgotten the conversation, or if she doesn't hear herself use the word, or if she misconstrued that conversation to mean that she somehow has license to be offensive because she's family. 

 

Here are some fun examples:

"How much of the food your mother cooked you while you were growing up was exotic?"

(about my son) "Oh, I just adore that there's something exotic him."

(relating an incident that she described as "wonderful") "My friend's daughter just had a new baby, and she was jealous that her baby was just plain white while so many of the babies in the ward were exotic. Isn't that just fantastic?!"

(in response to looking at this amazing book by Kip Fulbeck that features photos of a huge range of hapa faces) "Isn't it just wonderful how they all look the same? Okay, well, not the same, exactly (as she sees a photo of a hapa mixed with African-American, followed by a photo of a hapa with blond hair and light eyes), but, you know, they're all so exotic."

 

But it's not *just* the specific word, exotic, if you know what I mean. It's her whole orientation toward people of color. I feel like my MIL's token ________ (insert minority population here) friend, like she uses me for street cred. It's like she cannot *wait* to tell people that she has a Chinese daughter-in-law and a hapa grandchild, which would be lovely if she weren't so fixated on telling people that we're not white. It's like she can't simply be proud of who we are, we're also good for lending her some credibility as the "racially aware" evolved human. It's like she uses me as tacit permission to be offensive, because, you know, she's "in."

 

Oh, and can I just add that just last night, she referred to me as "pretty much white"?! I am seething. Not because it's any sort of insult to be white, of course not, but because she thinks it's her place to define my identity for me. And she decides that because I don't fall into whatever warped picture she has in her mind of what a Chinese person is, that because I'm articulate in English, I'm creative, I'm outgoing, I'm progressive, I'm basically white. (Never mind that I come from a family of immigrants, I speak my mother tongue, I'm raising my child to be bilingual, I've endured plenty of racism in my life, both spoken and veiled... none of that should matter. Even if none of that were true, it is still wildly inappropriate for her to decide someone else's racial identity for them.)

 

Honestly, I am pretty adamant that I don't want my child(ren) to be in an environment in which they feel these types of feelings about their own racial identities. Like they're on some sort of weird pedestal because of their skin color. Like their identity is reduced to trendy, like the latest fall handbag. Like they're exotic little flowers. Like other people are allowed to put them in some sort of box based on their own ignorant biases. I mean, they're going to get that from the rest of the world, for the rest of their lives. I don't want it coming from grandma. If we just had to see her on a holiday or two, that would be fine, I suppose. But we live just minutes apart, and see them constantly.

post #2 of 35

Welcome, patecake!  I think you've found a good community for voicing frustrations like the ones you described here...

 

I kind of find it shocking that, after 15 months, your MIL would *still* refer to her own grandchild as "exotic."  It makes it seem like she feels quite distanced from the baby and I can see why that would make you sad/frustrated.  Maybe she could use some one-on-one time with him when he gets a little bigger?  Nothing like dealing with a toddler through the good, the bad, and the ugly to remove any romantic exotic distance between her and the baby... ;)

 

It also seems like you could try talking to her again (and again and again).  I mean, if she believes she's liberal and sensitive and all that, then it would be hypocritical for her not to be open to--I don't know--weekly talks with you on what it really means to "embrace diversity," right?  I understand that it was frustrating that she seemed to totally forget about your first talk, but it can take a really, really, really long time to put a dent in the way a person looks at the world!

 

In any event, I doubt this is at all helpful (and hope it's not at all offensive), but your description of your MIL actually had me laughing out loud.  A couple times.  At a certain point, what else can you do?  Obviously, this is much easier from a distance and when you aren't having to think of this woman as your DC's *grandmother*...  But I'll also add that my DH and I constantly find ourselves sharing a laugh over his parents and my parents as they awkwardly try to figure out what to make of our relationship, what to make of the children we're raising, and how to make "all that" fit in w/ their sense of how the world should function.  (And, trust me, they make your MIL sound quite lovely!)  Maybe it's a thin "silver lining," but I think our conversations about and laughs over our respective parents and their widely divergent perspectives on our little family have definitely brought us closer together... and to a certain extent have even helped us figure out how we will ultimately want to talk to our children about race and their heritage.

post #3 of 35

My dad is a little bit like this. I'm white but I live in China. My husband is Chinese and our kids are, of course, half Chinese. Since I've gotten married my dad has gotten sort of obsessed with China. He's become  Buddhist, listens to Chinese music, wants to buy Chinese outfits for my kids, gets China-themed presents for people at Christmas. In a way, it is sort of cute how interested he is, but at the same time it sort of annoys me that he sees China as, I don't know, this weird other place (he still laughs at the fact that dog is eaten here and thinks squat toilets are a riot), and I feel like he kind of objectifies it, although he'd be very hurt if I said that to him. I think for ordinary white folk sometimes there is a tendancy to overcompensate when it comes to other cultures. My dad was raised by a woman who, still, to this day (at 94 years old), uses the word "negroes" in actual conversation, so his upbringing was definitely not the sort of hip trendy multiculturalism that is popular these days, and I think he wants people to know he's ok with my choice of husband, even proud of me for living in another country. I also think it is his way of trying to feel closer to us, of connecting, even if it is a bit misguided at times.

 

Is your MIL a big reader? Maybe you could give her some books on the subject of Orientalism. There's, obviously, Orientalism by Edward Said, but then there's also Writing Diaspora, by Rey Chow which I also liked specifically mentions the exotification of Chinese culture. Both of these are good introductions to the idea of "otherness." The thing is that most dominant culture people don't even really think about this (I know I didn't before taking some classes in college and then moving out here). People love Amy Tan and try to eat with chopsticks and think Chinese characters are soooo beautiful but don't really think about how this sort objectification, even if it is well meaning, still sort of diminishes the objectified culture. That said, I don't think genuine interest should be discouraged, just maybe redirected or rechanneled.

 

Since it is your MIL I don't know what else you can do much besides just trying to gently steer her away from words like exotic and encouraging her interest in her grandson's heritage in positive ways that don't cast him as the "other." Eventually, with time, she might just start to get it. My parents are actually moving out to China to be with us for two years so I'm sure that once he's living here he'll stop seeing China as being so exotic and eventually it'll just start to be another place. Hopefully the more exposed your MIL is to your culture, not the Disney version, but the real thing, the less she'll objectify it too.

post #4 of 35
Thread Starter 

Oh, mamas, I can't tell you how much it helps to just know that there are others out there that "get it." You seem to know exactly how I feel.

 

Ihathi, I was *just* telling my husband yesterday that his mother would be pure comedy if she were only someone else's MIL! Sometimes I actually do have to laugh because it's so over the top that it's almost like she's doing satire. You'd love her house. She could literally walk you through on the house tour, saying, "and here's my corner with my African statues, ooh, and here on my mantle is my Indian totem, oh and don't forget my Japanese paintings, wait, this one might be Chinese, I don't know." Sigh. And fortunately or unfortunately, she does spend a ton of time one-on-one with my son. She really does love him to pieces, but for some reason, it's like she can't see past his race. I don't know why there's this distance. That's part of what's so hurtful about her attitude toward both of us (myself and my son), actually. I mean, I've been with her son for 8 years, married for almost 5, and since we live so close to them, I've been spending lots of time with them this entire 8 years. So, it's not like she doesn't know me well. And on top of that, we actually have tons in common - if you put aside, you know, that whole closeted racist thing! - we're both really extroverted, we love reading and music, we have similar fashion sensibilities, and we're both into sustainable and local living. And even beyond that, she's a very feminine woman who only had boys, so you can imagine how happy she was to have a daughter-in-law! So, it's hurtful that even with all this and even after all this time, she looks at me and sees Chinese, Chinese, Chinese, different, different, different.

 

And thelocaldialect, I totally see what you mean. Part of what makes it so difficult for me to have a discussion with my MIL is figuring out how to articulate my problems with her attitude. Because it *is* such a fine line between genuine, harmless interest, and in orientalism, don't you think? So it's hard for me to determine how to explain that difference to her. It's weird, it's almost like she has just the wrong amount of interest in a way. Like, I'd be plenty comfortable if she just never thought about my/my son's racial identity, never fixated on it (that's how much father-in-law is). And on the other hand, I also have white friends that are interested in Asian culture in a very genuine way, not as some sort of weird fetish. One of my best friends is a white woman who studied abroad in Japan a few times while growing up and developed a real love for and interest in the culture. She has learned to speak Japanese fluently, continues to visit often, can read books in Japanese, and really seems to understand the culture as much as someone who doesn't live there can. I've even traveled in Japan with her, and despite being a 5'10" woman with curly, dirty blond hair, she seems to blend in relatively seamlessly, because she has real respect for and knowledge of the culture. Not to mention, she doesn't go around making a point of telling people, "Ooh, I speak Japanese and I just adore all things Japanese." It's just one of a wide range of interest that she has. This level of interest, too, I think is absolutely awesome. 

 

It's my MIL's fixation on my culture combined with no apparently actual desire to have understanding of it that is difficult to handle. How can I put this? It's like she doesn't want to accept the reality of my culture, the fact that I'm an American who is ethnically Chinese and thus had an upbringing with a muddling of all different culture traditions and ideas. She *wants* me to be more "exotic" than I am. But here's the thing. What she wants is Pottery Barn exotic. She wants a cleaned up, highbrow version of exotic. She wants me to have grown up wearing silk qi pao and burning incense. She's visibly disappointed when she asks me if I did stuff like that and I have to tell her that no, almost never. It seems like a letdown to her when I let her know that in a lot of ways, I was perfectly "American." I drank a lot of soda and spent a lot of time at the mall. Sometimes we just had spaghetti for dinner, bacon and eggs for breakfast. I watched "Married With Children" on TV. This does not fit into her cute little picture of Chinese-ness. And at the same time, she can't seem to quite handle actual Chinese-ness; she would most definitely find dog-eating to be bizarre and barbaric, squat toilets distasteful. She's got these very expensive China plates mounted on her wall, and she was disappointed that I didn't recognize the name of the Chinese artist who made them, and I had to gently remind her that I'm the child of people who were refugees to Taiwan as children, and immigrants to this country; we, uh, don't have plates that live on our walls, we eat off our plates. 

 

So, how do you explain that difference between a friendly curiosity and a weird, predatory sort of interest? I haven't figured out how to do it. My MIL is a big reader, thelocaldialect, so I might consider your book recommendations, that's a really good idea. Speaking of Amy Tan... I have an MFA in Creative Writing, and while I was in the program, I was constantly getting pressure from a few of my peers to basically be Amy Tan. They wouldn't say that, of course, but it was a lot of reading my writing and saying some variation of, "Can this be more about the character's Chinese identity?" Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Amy Tan's writing and I'm really glad she's out there, but I don't really want to write books and stories fixated upon Chinese-American identity. But some people can't just read a story that centers on a character who happens to be Chinese; it has to be an Amy Tan story, it has to be *about* being Chinese, it can't be simply a story about human emotion if the character is Chinese.

post #5 of 35

It seems the main problem is that it's coming from your MIL. I imagine a lot of this is just part of her personality, for she sounds a bit flambouyant or prone to drama & probably really loves by extension the feeling of having something "exotic" in her own (maybe boring) life.  If you have a discussion w/ her, here are some of the potential outcomes after your feelings are brought to her attention: she could feel shamed/embarassed, alienated/offended, enlightened/apologetic, or oblivious. It's always difficult w/ a MIL. Thus, perhaps your husband could have a real heart-to-heart with her, but instead of presenting your perspective, discuss his own & the way he would like his children to be viewed and referred?

post #6 of 35

I just wanted to second thelocaldialect's recommendations to direct her to reading that explore the concepts of orientalism and othering.  Even if she doesn't read it, you might find it helpful/interesting.

post #7 of 35


 

"It seems the main problem is that it's coming from your MIL. I imagine a lot of this is just part of her personality"

 

I have to agree. 

 

But it's also the fact that it's clashing with your personality.  Because the things she does wouldn't be offensive *at all* to my half-Korean husband.  And if my MIL were doing it to me, it wouldn't offend *me* at all.   My husband LOVES that my mom had said at one point (when I was a teenager) that I should marry a Korean guy (one in particular that was a friend of a friend of mine, and she was talking about years down the road, not as a teen LOL), because I did!  He never met her, she died in March of 2000 and I met him in October.  But she'd somehow "called it" years and years before (which I'd forgotten until a bridesmaid mentioned it). 

 

And my husband calls ME exotic.  It's one of the reasons he likes me; because of my pink-tinged skin, blue eyes, calico hair (well, I had dyed blond hair when he met me, but now it seems to be blondey reddish brown), I'm different looking than he is.  So to him I'm exotic.  I don't feel that it's insulting; it just is what it is.  If it isn't what you see when you look at your husband, and if it isn't what he sees when he looks at you (and if it isn't what your parents see in each other when they look at each other), that's fine, but it doesn't mean that other relationships don't see the "different" and love each other "for" it.

 

You could have *my* MIL, who HATES me because I'm different than she is.  She's racist against me because she dislikes the fact that I'm white.  So I have a hard time using the word "racist" for someone who perhaps likes you too much, or for reasons that don't make you happy.  I understand that it hurts you and bothers you, but perhaps there's a different word that could be used there.  MIL's sisters, however, love me.  Think I'm beautiful and kind, and can see that their nephew is happy.  If only they lived in the States, sigh. 

 

I have conversations ALL the time about my son's looks.  People can tell that there's something "extra", something not-just-Irish-descent, about him, even though he has red hair (some recessive genes from hubby's dad's side popped up).  They look at him a bit longer than they might look at another child.  And I don't mind, he's cool-looking.  I'm sure that when he's older his girlfriends (or boyfriends, but considering how firm he is on having a wife in the future, I think it'll be girlfriends) will look at his interesting eyes like I looked at my husband's interesting eyes, and like he looked at my so-called-interesting eyes...because they feel that they look amazing and that they belong to someone they love for alllll sorts of reasons.

 

 

Anyway, you're not alone in the conversations, but for almost opposite reasons.  You're loved by your MIL for your differences while I'm disliked for mine.   MILs can't win! 

 

 

Of course I don't think you shouldn't talk to her more about this.  I just think that...maybe you could see that "exotic" isn't a *bad* word, and that too much positive interest in this case perhaps isn't *as* bad as too much *negative* interest. 

post #8 of 35

Sadly, I was quite amused by OP's MIL descriptions - I could just SEE her so clearly! 

 

Since its the Bay Area, surely there are discussions/lectures/films happening that might help you address this with your MIL.  You two could even go together.  This might open up ways for someone else to lay the groundwork and you figure out how to properly insert your particular concerns.  I suspect that once her eyes are truly opened, she'll take it seriously and work hard to be "authentically" connected with you.  Its possible that those efforts may drive you nuts too, since I really can't imagine anything funnier (or more annoying) than an SF liberal who may have actually offended someone based on their lack of politically correctness.  She will work for the rest of her life to make this up to you! (By the way, I love the Bay Area and all of its diversity!)

 

post #9 of 35
Thread Starter 

Hi, pregnant@40 -- You're right, it's toughest because it's coming from my MIL. I get it all the time in reference to myself and my son, from all over the place, and I can just sort of shrug it off. Annoying, but whatever, I can let it go. But she's my son's grandmother, and I think that the particular way she thinks of people of color (or anybody "different" - because it's not just us; my MIL has "a gay friend" and "an African-American friend" and "a Pakistani friend," and actually makes a point in conversation of referring to them as such -- "my gay friend Brian says...") is not a healthy influence for my son; it's not a perspective I hope he'll internalize. And you're also spot-on that this is part of her personality. I have thought about having my husband talk to her, and I think what you said is important and makes a lot of sense - that he's not there to relay my concerns, but his own. I'm debating this approach. It's a really good idea, but my DH: god love him, but he is terrible at communication. He has made a really bad go-between in the past (you know, the sort of thing where you tell him one thing, he comes back and tells you what he said, and you're like, "you said *what*?!?"). Perhaps it would be different if, like you said, it was personalized for him and not just a message from me. He's just really nonconfrontational (not that this is necessarily a confrontation, per se); if I weren't so upset, he would not be motivated enough by his own sense of feeling put-off by her comments to have a talk with her, you know what I mean?

 

Amara, thanks for chiming in on the recommendation! And it sounds, from your sig, like you're in the home stretch! Congratulations!

 

This is to no one in particular, but it just occurred to me that I want to clarify something. I don't want at all to come off like I think I'm above prejudice too. I believe that we all have our assumptions about each other, I think this is completely natural. But I think it's healthy to know/understand your biases and be open to exploring and challenging them. For my MIL, I think that she has a clear picture in her mind of herself as "Berkeley in the 60s" (which she, in fact, did attend in the 60s), so for her, that = good old lefty liberal. And good old lefty liberal, of course, can not possibly equal someone with prejudice. For her, I think, progressivism and prejudice are diametrically opposed, and I have a strong hunch that this has a lot to do her apparent lack of self-awareness with regard to social issues (because she's actually pretty good at self-examination in other regards, I think). She even said once, when we were talking about the musical "Working" based on the book by Studs Terkel, which touches on the sorts of assumptions that some upper-class people make about working-class people: "I, of course, never make assumptions like those. I mean, one of my favorite, most fascinating people is the old man who washes my windows." 

 

Anyway, moving on.

 

Milkybean, thanks so much for adding your perspective. It's interesting to get input from a different angle. I hadn't really considered the idea of the "exoticizing" going in the other direction, and I'm glad that you feel fine about it. That's why I asked if others feel that way, I really am curious. I'm sorry that your mother never got the chance to meet your husband; it really sounds like a touch of kismet that you met him, and I'm sure she would have enjoyed knowing him. 

 

Hmm, I'd like to understand better what you expressed about people loving their partners *because* of their different racial features. I'm really interested in and I like what you're saying, but how do I put the distinction I'm trying to understand?...  Well, okay, your husband loves your blue eyes and your calico hair and your pinkish skin, but then what I would suggest is that he loves these features because they're yours! He loves your blue eyes because, well, they're in *your* head, etc.! In other words, I would suggest that it's not simply because they're different to him; it's not like he would be into any other woman simply because she had blue eyes, right? It's because he loves you, and you happen to look very different from him, and he loves the way you look; instead of loving the way you look because you look "exotic," he loves your "exotic" looks because he loves you, does that make sense? I hope you're not taking offense at this, because I'm not sure I'm articulating myself very well here. Teething toddler, mushy brain. 

 

I'm really sorry that your MIL *is* and out-and-out racist. That's really unfair to you, and it's terrible that she can't see past her own bigotry to understand that you make her son happy. And you're right; I'm glad that I don't have that problem. In a way, though, that's what makes this situation really complicated for me. Not worse, certainly, just complicated. My MIL *is* so well-meaning. I know that she doesn't say and think the things she does out of any kind of malice toward me or my son. So it's hard for me to navigate how to sort this out when she makes me feel very dehumanized (at times I feel like one of the scrolls or totems or statues she's so fond of showing off), but I also understand that she doesn't intend to. Also, I am sorry if "deeply closeted racist" feels like a harsh term to use; I understand what you mean, that it sort of lumps her in with a really ugly kind of behavior that is undeniably racist. I'm angry, though, and I'm searching for the right word. Because when she says something like telling me I'm essentially a white person, to me that is very loaded with a lot of unappealing assumptions about Chinese/Asian-American people as a group. For instance, to me, it assumes that to be eloquent in English is not an AA (Asian-American) trait. To be a creative thinker and free spirit could not possibly be in the realm of possibility for AA people. To be fashion-forward and extroverted and questioning of authority is to have somehow abandoned my racial obligations. To me, it takes on a very narrow and ignorant view of AA people, and defines stepping outside of that narrow stereotype as "being essentially white." From another angle, it also feels like she is just sweeping under the rug my whole life experience of being in America as a person of color, and all the baggage that comes along with that. So, I don't know, to me, racism has to do with having unfair prejudices about entire races of people, making unfounded assumptions about them; I think where we're differing is that when you see the word, you're also seeing with it an intention of malice, perhaps (sorry, I guess I'm putting words in your mouth here, please let me know if I'm off base on this)? Whereas I'm seeing the malice as optional, I suppose. I might be inaccurate in doing that. Perhaps "prejudice" is a more appropriate word. 

 

I think that my MIL assumes that if the stereotype is "positive," then there can't be anything wrong with it. For example, the famous "Asians are all great at math." (She does, incidentally, work with students, and she told me upon meeting some international students from China that "of course their math and science test scores are just through the roof!") "All Chinese women are beautiful." "Asians are the hardest working people." See, again, here I can see how well-intentioned statements like these are, but I still don't think it's right.

 

Anyway, thank you, milkybean, for giving me more to think about. I genuinely do appreciate reading an alternate way to see the situation. It does help give me some perspective.

 

Hahaha, Yasai, I can see that you are no stranger to the type of "bay area liberal" I'm talking about! Don't get me wrong, folks, I also encounter a great many bay area liberals that don't have strange racial hangups; I'm talking about a very specific subset of people here. I'm grateful and happy to live where I do, all told. Anyway, I like your suggestion about lectures and films and the like -- I'm sure you're right, I'll bet there are lots of opportunities like that here. And I'm almost positive she'd want to attend with me. My problem would just be getting her to make the connection back to herself; that seems to be what gets lost in translation. But at least doing something like seeing a film together could give me some context to work with and a good jumping off point. 

post #10 of 35

LOL.

Forgive me for being amused by this thread. I can so relate!

Most times I chalk it up to ignorance and the plain fact that she (MIL) just does not get it. But there are days where it really gets to me.

And of course they do not think that they are racist because, well, they intend no harm. And it's much more difficult to call them out on it lest you be accused of being too sensitive and you know, it's not the hateful kind of racism but to me, it's racism nonetheless.

Yes, I too have an MIL who (I believe) loves me and tries hard to get along on my good side (tries too hard, IMO). But when the stereotyping and ignorant statements become frequent, no matter how nice or well-intentioned, it starts sounding very patronizing and very insincere.

I'm sorry I have nothing constructive to say except that I can commiserate.

post #11 of 35
I think that many "plain white" folks go the whole route of exotic and being obsessed with different races/cultures because they do not have an identity that makes them feel special. When you are part of the majority, some folks long for something to make them stand out. So they glom onto something/anything. Not that the explanation makes it less annoying/hurtful...
post #12 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by syn_ack89 View Post

I think that many "plain white" folks go the whole route of exotic and being obsessed with different races/cultures because they do not have an identity that makes them feel special. When you are part of the majority, some folks long for something to make them stand out. So they glom onto something/anything. Not that the explanation makes it less annoying/hurtful...


That maybe explains my mother. She's plain white, from the Midwest. Now, I know she is not racist in a sense of thinking herself better than anyone.....my stepdad was Japanese. They were married for almost 30 years at his passing. Since then she has had a serious relationship with a Puerto Rican guy, and her current boyfriend is black. But she fixates on people's ethnicities. If she's talking to me about a friend, she absolutely must remind me that Jenny is the Chinese/Tongan/Filipino one, or that Barbara with the extremely long, Hawaiian last name is the Swedish woman from Wisconsin who married the local guy. Drives me batty.

post #13 of 35
OP, this isn't really about you, this is about your MIL feeling good about her own progressivism, which is why I think it's so annoying to you. My brother's wifie is Philipino, and a lot of her family members think my brother is really exotic, and sort of fuss over him. It isn't annoying to him, though, because they genuinely think he's handsome and different. In you situation, it seems like your MIL is using you and your son to show the world how open she is, and how *tolerant* she is. That would drive me absolutely batty. Honestly, if my mom did that to my Philipino SIL, I think my SIL would slap her! There's a really funny blog called stuffwhitepeoplelike.com and it addresses all the weird posturing white liberals do. It's definitely worth a look!
post #14 of 35

I'm originally from the Bay Area and I suspect this mil isn't originally from there (or if she is, she's not from the City, perhaps one of the white enclaves...). 

 

The reason is that this sounds like my mom, an East Coast transplant, who enthusiastically embraced the whole Politically Correct culture like a house on fire. Bringing home "exotic" friends was a bit of a trial. My sister's little joke was always "She doesn't get out of the 'burbs enough..." 

 

It's hard if they expect you to play a certain role, or if the whole orientation (had to use that word!) is a "us vs. you" attitude. 

 

Growing up back home, you kind of not really notice. I actually look back on my childhood and "remember" that so-and-so was half whatever but I really didn't make any mention of it at the time. It was "Oh you're dad's from the Philippines? Ever been there? Are we doing baseball for P.E. next week?..."  I'll see their photos on FB or in school pictures and realize "Oh yeah, so-and-so was such-and-such..." If you had asked me, I could have told you but it wasn't something I dwelled upon...

 

I have done the politically over-correctness thing. Once, back in college, I scolded my Chinese (then) boyfriend's white roommate for touching him on his head. "It's an insult!" The boyfriend calmly turned to me and said "It's okay. I know he's only kidding..." 

 

If you think her heart's the right place, just hang in there. The novelty will wear off and she'll just see you as...you. If you think it's to cover up some vent-up racism, that's a tougher battle but don't give up. That too will break down with time. It has too. My mom used to revel in her exotic friends "exoticness". After 20+ years of hearing them complaining about their husbands or discussing roofing, well, it wore off...

post #15 of 35

I'm kind of forum-crashing, but am really interested in this thread, for reasons of my own. We are a "white" family, but DH and I both grew up in diverse areas of the country, and now live in quite possibly *the whitest* place I've ever been to, so variety and diversity of people, not just ethnically and but socio-economically, politically, employment-wise, etc, is something we miss daily. Sigh.

 

Anyway, not important. I was interested in presenting the OP and others with a flip side of this issue. It is true that skin color and physical features cause people of certain ethnicities to stand out to "lefty liberal progressives", which can cause an issue as the OP is discussing. Which, PS, is a valid issue OP, and I feel for you. I think one of the worst types of offensive situations to be in is one where the offensive person just "doesn't get it" and tokenism is a genuine hurdle on the path to true multiculturalism and, yeah, if I were you, I would be totally frustrated with MIL's language.

 

Okay, but for us, here's the thing. DH is half-Danish, and his father is, yeah, really Danish. Like, ethinically Danish - belief systems and behaviors and language etc. His accent is still really thick, despite living in the US since the 70's, and even DH has trouble understanding him sometimes. Visits with him can be tough. A lot of times he treats me and his other DIL like, you know, were just women and get back in the kitchen. Very "old world" if you want to use the term. DH had dual citizenship until he was 12 too, and was on the road to being bilingual until he had to choose his citizenship (Denmark, not the US, makes you choose at age 12.)

 

Anyway, my point is this - FIL is white. DH is white. But they are "ethnic," even "exotic" to use a loaded term. No one cares. They're white - no one bats an eye. My son has some real heritage there - Danish foods and cultural practices, etc. But no one appreciates that, or asks about his looks (he really does look very Scandinavian). I guess what I'm saying is, I'm trying to present an alternative view to the "exotic" debate. Although the OP dislikes the term, and is (legitimately) offended by it's usage about her and her child, at least her cultural heritage is recognized *at all*. I don't necessarily think it would be appropriate for people to question the "exoticness" of my DS's looks, but still, just because he's a certain color, he get's certain treatment that might divest him and others of culturally enriching experiences. Which is a bit of a bummer I guess. Even though he's the color that traditionally had/has the power in this country, he's losing something because of his color that he's kind of entitled to, which is his connection to his ethnic and cultural heritage.

 

It's such a tough line to toe. At some point, a little recognition of difference is welcome, but there comes a time when it does become tokenism, as in the OP's case, and is offensive. But, the OP and others have to decide what is deal-able. I don't expect people to know DH and DS's heritage, and if they ask, fine. That's okay with me. But personally, I'd be a little gratified if someone took the trouble to learn about my family's heritage. And of course, on the flip side, I'd be offended if that person referred to my son as the "Danish" kid and talked about it all the time. Temperance in all things, I suppose.

 

ETA: This was a hard post to write but I felt like I had a valid point to share. I don't want to be flamed as the white-person-posing-as-ethnic, which is what I'm afraid of. I'm genuinely interested in whether society's complete ignorance is better or preferable to token multiculturalism.

post #16 of 35
MovnMama said what I was trying to say, but said it eloquently and with a good example. redface.gif
post #17 of 35

Interesting thread!  And one I can relate to, tangentially.  My spouse is a woman, and there have been issues of both rejection - like my FIL who didn't speak to me for about 12 years, and even now is only up to "please pass the salt" at family dinners - and some awkward "over-embracing" by my sweet, kind MIL whom I suspect was rather appalled when her daughter married a woman, but went to great lengths to hide it with her natural generosity.  I try to remind myself that in their families it was regarded as "jumping the fence" for a white Irish-Catholic to marry a white Polish-Catholic.  Our family on my wife's side has become very diverse - racially, ethnically, sexual orientationally (is that a word?  Should it be?) - and there have been some well-meaning but comical gestures and comments (should have seen my FIL in a sarong - yikes). 

 

But I appreciate the comments made above, because they help me to root out my own racist issues.  We don't live in a color-blind or "ethnicity-blind" society, and while I have enough self-awareness not to make overt comments like your MIL, I know that deep down I'm diggin' the fact that I have an Ethiopian nephew or an Indonesian sister-in-law.  I've heard it said that the melting pot of America has left many people without an ethnic identity to tie to.  We're American, but what exactly is that?  Unless we're American Indians, we don't have deep roots in this soil.  Maybe that's why some of us find ourselves binding on to one particular part of our ethnic background - I think of myself being Welsh, although it's only about 1/8 of my ancestral makeup - and envying those who can say for certain "My people come from ______". 

post #18 of 35

I'm sorry you are dealing with this!

 

In my family there is no deeply closeted racism-- it's pretty much out there in the open. When I was dating an African American man my grandparents were very concerned, to put it lightly. They didn't believe that such marriages were fair for the children, being "confused" and so on. But when I married a man from south India, very dark in skin, they approved, saying that Indians were "smart" so it was okay. And they have not batted an eye at my tan skinned children, or made any comments about them being confused.

post #19 of 35

Are any of you familiar with the British T.V. series "Absolutely Fabulous"? It's this hippy mom and her straight-laced daughter who gets pregnant. Her mom is upset and then finds out the father is Afro-Caribbean and then she's over the moon. She is shown fantasizing about walking around certain London neighborhoods with her future grandbaby. 

 

A later episode has the grandmother babysitting and then running off with the child to a modeling agency...

 

Kind of a nightmare version of the OP's mil!

 

Just thought many of you would find it amusing;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/abfab/vault/series5/birthin.shtml

post #20 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by MovnMama View Post

 

Okay, but for us, here's the thing. DH is half-Danish, and his father is, yeah, really Danish. Like, ethinically Danish - belief systems and behaviors and language etc. His accent is still really thick, despite living in the US since the 70's, and even DH has trouble understanding him sometimes. Visits with him can be tough. A lot of times he treats me and his other DIL like, you know, were just women and get back in the kitchen. Very "old world" if you want to use the term. DH had dual citizenship until he was 12 too, and was on the road to being bilingual until he had to choose his citizenship (Denmark, not the US, makes you choose at age 12.)


And I find this highly racist and offensive. And also incorrect. "women back in the kitchen" is completely contradictory to danish mentality. Janteloven, equality, socialism, you know? I grew up in the southern USA, and can use that as a reference to living in Denmark, where men and women work, and are paid, equally. The men are taking off work to be with their children,making dinner, picking up the kids, doing the shopping, changing diapers - all the "stereotypical female roles" I guarantee my DH does more than his 50% in all of the above, and he is not unique by any means. 

 

I don't know what you mean by thick accent, but Danish people speak a ton of english, very well, so maybe this is something specific to your FILs voice? 

 

Also, Denmark allows dual citizenship, it does so with many countries. It is the USA that has held up on allowing dual american/danish citizenship, and many, myself included, are still waiting for the USA to allow this. My children, being born in denmark of a danish father, but also having an american mother, have dual citizenship. But myself, an american, am denied. Denmark again allows dual citizenship, but to those countries like USA that prevent it, the age you must decide is 18. I do not know or remember if the USA makes you decide at 12 or 18. 

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