My Family's Experience With Racism Went Viral

by Maureen Roland
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Maureen Roland

We’ve been in Kansas City for two months now, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t extremely disheartened with the welcome our family has received. I didn’t expect to have a neighborhood welcome committee when an interracial family moved into the suburbs of a Midwest city, but I absolutely didn’t expect the hatred we’ve experienced.

With the current situation of our world and lots of eyes on the racial injustices people of color face, I felt it was time to break my silence and talk about our last two months, and how I have been forced to think about raising my biracial children in this race-driven world faster than I had anticipated. And when I did, it went viral.

It is so easy to sit comfortably in your home and watch the mainstream media news broadcasting and form opinions, or type your strongly-opinionated thoughts on your social media accounts and watch how many “likes” you receive, but when you are carrying groceries into your house with a toddler and someone yells a racial slur out the window to you, what would your reaction be?

Courtesy of Maureen Roland

We have obligations as parents to raise our children to be kind and compassionate humans. It was at that moment when I realized my pre-children self’s reaction would teach my child the opposite of what I am trying to do. As stated before, I had anticipated a bit of tension in the Kansas City suburbs, and hardly expected the inclusive feeling that Southern California provides to an interracial family — but I definitely did not expect the outright hate that we’ve received. From neighbors yelling racial slurs, comments in stores, neighbors telling me not to speak to them and walking away, stares and pointing, and the award-winning pretending to vomit while pointing at our children after asking if my husband Jamari and I were together in the local Costco; it’s been exhausting.

This is America. Jamari and I have traveled the world and experienced less hatred than in our own country.

Courtesy of Maureen Roland

At first, I was so angry I wanted to argue every nasty comment and slur, whether it was in front of my children or not, but that got exhausting and unproductive. Racism is deep-rooted, and my reaction is exactly what they are waiting for. Not to mention, arguing in front of my kids with someone who felt comfortable enough to be vocal is not going to end constructively.

I’ve thought endlessly about what it is that makes people so uncomfortable when they look at my family; is it Jamari, or my children, or Jamari and I being together, or me (because the racism is flying at us from everyone)? It could be all of those things and then some; I stopped caring, because their why isn’t my problem. If seeing a happy, successful, interracial family offends someone, that’s on them, and not my concern to pinpoint why they are unhappy with it.

My reaction to their comments is my only focus, and I have taken a major step back in how I proceed. I give no response to the hate; it is exactly what they are waiting for. Instead, it is more offensive for them to see our family appear unbothered. Clearly sharing space and patronizing the same places is annoying enough that they feel they need to be vocal or gesture, so our lack of reaction is more than anything we could ever respond with.

Courtesy of Maureen Roland

Yes, I hear and see them; but reacting distastefully is teaching my children to continue the fight. Lack of response teaches my children restraint, and I use that moment for education. It isn’t easy and has been a learning experience for myself as well — because who wouldn’t want to argue back? But, that teaches my children a lesson that isn’t necessary. I model equality and treating others respectfully. I break things down into simple terms that a toddler can fully understand: “That man needs a time-out, what he is saying is not okay, and yelling at other people is not allowed.” She gets that, she knows what a time out is, she knows what is not permitted. That simple phrase takes a scary situation of a grown man yelling at us into something more understandable for her.

Courtesy of Maureen Roland

For now, I focus on three-year-old Audrey (because my 13-month-old, Maxwell, is too young). I tell her that people have opinions; that the same way she doesn’t like some foods, not everyone likes each other, but that she needs to be kind and we are all equal. I never say “we don’t see color” when referring to race, and cringe when I hear that. There is color in this world and we need to talk about it and accept that. I am clearly different than Jamari, both children have different appearances, our family members all have different shades of melanin — so let’s stop pretending like we have no differences and embrace them, talk about them, and acknowledge them. Teaching kids to “see no color” is avoiding the conversations on race that parents should be having.

Children are naturally observant and question their surroundings, so we have to utilize that opportunity when they ask a question. Rather than teaching my daughter to see no color in this world, I encourage her to embrace and accept everyone as the unique individual they are. I have very age-appropriate conversations with her on race, because she is experiencing the slurs people hurl at her father, and comments made about her and her brother every time we leave our home. I cannot shy away from this.

Courtesy of Maureen Roland

We talk and read about kindness, we talk about how everyone is unique, we reference the rainbow frequently and how the different colors of the rainbow make a beautiful image — and it is the same with people. She has baby dolls of all races, and I focus on positive affirmations for her. I am nauseated that I am forced to have conversations with my three-year-old about the inappropriateness of adult behavior surrounding her and how adults are displaying unkind behavior, but this is my chance. I can’t focus my attention on why there are racist people in this world, but I have an obligation to be sure my two children are raised differently in this world of injustice.

We will be living in Kansas City for a year before transferring somewhere new, but this fight isn’t going to end when we leave KC. This is an ongoing topic that will forever be discussed in our home. For now, I proceed with my days and walk with my beautiful family, proudly — because others’ discomfort in seeing us isn’t going to stop us from living, and thriving.

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