In Strangers’ Glances at Family, Tensions Linger

In Strangers’ Glances at Family, Tensions Linger

The New York Times

Susan Saulny

TOMS RIVER, N.J. — “How come she’s so white and you’re so dark?”

The question tore through Heather Greenwood as she was about to check out at a store here one afternoon this summer. Her brown hands were pushing the shopping cart that held her babbling toddler, Noelle, all platinum curls, fair skin and ice-blue eyes.

The woman behind Mrs. Greenwood, who was white, asked once she realized, by the way they were talking, that they were mother and child. “It’s just not possible,” she charged indignantly. “You’re so…dark!”

It was not the first time someone had demanded an explanation from Mrs. Greenwood about her biological daughter, but it was among the more aggressive. Shaken almost to tears, she wanted to flee, to shield her little one from this kind of talk. But after quickly paying the cashier, she managed a reply. “How come?” she said. “Because that’s the way God made us.”

The Greenwood family tree, emblematic of a growing number of American bloodlines, has roots on many continents. Its mix of races — by marriage, adoption and other close relationships — can be challenging to track, sometimes confusing even for the family itself…

Jenifer L. Bratter, an associate sociology professor at Rice University who has studied multiracialism, said that as long as race continued to affect where people live, how much money they make and how they are treated, then multiracial families would be met with double-takes. “Unless we solve those issues of inequality in other areas, interracial families are going to be questioned about why they’d cross that line,” she said.

According to Census data, interracial couples have a slightly higher divorce rate than same-race couples — perhaps, sociologists say, because of the heightened stress in their lives as they buck enduring norms. And children in mixed families face the challenge of navigating questions about their identities…

…Once, on a beach chair at a resort in Florida years ago, a white woman sunning herself next to Mrs. Dragan bemoaned the fact that black children were running around the pool. “Isn’t it awful?” Mrs. Dragan recalled the woman confiding to her.

Within minutes, Mrs. Dragan, ever feisty despite her reserved appearance, had her brood by her side. “I’d like to introduce you to my children,” she told the woman. Awkward silence ensued…

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