Comment: Does your family approve of your relationship?
Variations of Comment: What do you parents think? Have you told your family?
What Comment Really Means: I know your family probably isn’t happy about this. Or, my family would be pissed; let me see if this is true for this person. Or, your family couldn’t possibly support you, could they? Or, does you family actually like Blacks/Asians/Latinos/Indians/Whites?
Why comment is racist/inappropriate or both: The main reason this comment is inappropriate is because it is none of other people’s business. It also holds up a double standard. Could you imagine random strangers going up to same race couples and asking them how their family feels about their relationship? Another problem with this question is that it really becomes tedious because people ask it all of the time. So if you get up the nerve to ask someone in an IR this sort of question, your certainly not the first person, and you may have to pay for the fact that many people in interracial relationships get tired of having to justify or validate their existence by answering personal questions.
Is this question ever appropriate? I think if you get to know people well it is a perfectly acceptable question, but people should still proceed with caution. I can also tell you from my numerous interviews with people in IRs that you are probably not going to get an honest answer. This is a really painful subject for many couples and individuals because rejection or distance from loved ones and many people don’t feel comfortable talking about something of this nature.
Comment: What about your children?
Variations of Comment: How are you going to raise you kids? Are you kids _______ or ________?
What Comment Really Means: I think your children are probably going to be messed up, so it’s not a good idea to have kids. Maybe you shouldn’t be together. I really oppose interracial relationships, but I am going to use the excuse of “caring” about biracial children, so I don’t have to say I think IRs are wrong.
Why comment is racist/inappropriate or both: This comment is wrong in part because it is another question that crosses personal boundaries. How other people raise their kids is not the business of random strangers. Additionally, the assumption that people are somehow socially (or genetically) damaged good because they are multiracial is not validated by any legitimate scientific research. This is not to say that there are not individual cases of mixed race people dealing with identity issues, but there are same race people who struggle with racial identity issues too. Moreover, the primary reason that multiracial identity is loathed and pathologized by many people in this culture is racism. You can not blame indidividual interracial couples or multiracial people for this problem.
Comment: Is he/she adopted?
Variations: Are you adopted? Where did you get that child from?
What the comment really means: That child doesn’t look like your biological child. Or, I am really surprised to see this interracial family. Or, I know/hope she didn’t give birth to that child?
Why the comment is inappropriate: Once again this is another none of your business moment. Moreover, many interracial couples who are created by blood take strong offense to the assumption that they are not a “blood family.” In both adopted families and biological families, this is just one more reminder that many people think of interracial families as less than. Moreover, this is another question that people get tired of answering over and over again, especially in cases where the parents are biologically related to the children.
Comment: Is that your husband/wife/child? (usually followed by a drawn out “Oooh”)
Variations: Where is your husband/wife/child? Are you with him/her?
What the comment really means: When I see people of different races together I don’t think they can be related, so I need to do some double checking. Or, Why are you with this person? Or, You don’t look like a family.
Why the comment is inappropriate: The big problem here is the assumption that people of different races cannot be a family or cannot be close to each other. The constant pressure to have to prove you are really a family and you are legitimate is unfair to interracial couples and families.
Comment: What are you?
Variations: What is your background/race? You are so beautiful/exotic. Biracial people are cool/exotic/a symbol of progress.
What the comment really means: Are you biracial/multiracial? Or, I can’t tell your race by looking at you. Or, you look exotic/different/strange/funny/unusual. I’m uncomfortable because I can’t put you into a racial box; please help me alleviate this discomfort.
Why the comment is inappropriate: Part of the reason this sort of question is inappropriate is based on the grammar used. “What” is a pronoun used to refer to things, not people. If people used the more appropriate language, “Who are your?” hopefully, they would also realize the absurdity of this sort of question. How can a person tell you who she or he is in a concise sentence? How can who we are be reduced only to our racial/ethnic backgrounds, as these sorts of questions imply. Are same race people asked those sorts of questions? These sorts of questions exoticized mixed race people. The truth of the matter is when it comes to appearance mixed race people are like everybody else—some biracial people are plain looking, some are exotic, some are pretty, some are ugly.
One of the general problems with these sorts of questions is that they treat interracial couples and multiracial people as if they are some sort of museum exhibit set up to educate everyone else. Rather than being given personal and private space, the boundaries of interracial couples and multiracial families are not respected. This is also true for people of color more generally. I know of cases of African Americans who have strangers or coworkers who want to touch their hair. The respect for privacy and personal space is denied when these sorts of questions are asked (especially repeatedly). I know at some point people need to be educated, but asking these personal questions to complete strangers or casual acquaintances is not the appropriate context. Additionally, other many people in mixed race people and interracial families just want to be treated as “normal” having to answer such questions is not normal. I’m not trying to say that race doesn’t matter in interracial relationships/families, but I am saying treating interracial couples as some sort of exotic oddity is insulting. Maybe people who ask these sorts of questions need to think about why they want to know the answers to these questions?
Admin note: In part 2 I will address the following three inappropriate questions 1)What is the sex like? Does he have a big/small penis? Is she a freak? 2)Could you find a person of your own race? 3)Well you can’t help who you fall in love with.