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WETZSTEIN: Race issue not black and white
With the veneration of champion golfer Tiger Woods and President Obama, one would think the days of worrying about people being ostracized for being “mixed race” would be over.
And yet, Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell recently touched off a national discussion about racism after news got out that he declined to sign the marriage license for a black man and white woman because he feared for their children.
“I have seen countless numbers” of people born to black and white parents who claimed they weren’t accepted into either community, Mr. Bardwell told CBS News’ “The Early Show.” “I didn’t want to put the children in that situation.”
The couple, Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay, married later with the help of a different justice of the peace.
I, too, disagree with Mr. Bardwell’s refusal to marry a mixed-race couple. Interracial marriage and childbearing is such a megatrend - the U.S. Census Bureau counted at least 5 million multiracial people in 2008 - that I think it’s only prudent to recognize the beauty and hope that is inherent in such unions.
But first, let’s look at Mr. Bardwell’s fears. They are not unjustified, even in 2009 America, according to the dozens of multiracial children, teens and adults who shared their photos and testimonies in a new book, “Blended Nation: Portraits and Interviews of Mixed-Race America.”
“I have always felt like an ‘other’ in a world where it seemed like everyone else belonged. I think that is why I am a loner in large part, and why I don’t have a lot of very close friends,” said Leighkaren Labay, who has a black father and white mother from an Italian, Greek and German background.
“When I show people who my mother is, they are surprised because we don’t really look alike. I’ve been asked if I was adopted a few times,” said Ryan Schlachter, the teenage son of a white woman and black father.
Many people in “Blended Nation” said they were teased and taunted about their hair, eyes and facial characteristics. Children of black/white parentage recalled feeling they were “too black to be white and too white to be black.”
The prevailing themes, however, were about the advantages of a multiracial heritage. Children of mixed race are “evidence” that love can overcome racism, NBC newscaster Ann Curry wrote in the book’s foreword. “We come from open-minded lovers,” Ms. Curry said of herself and her siblings, born of a Japanese mother and white father.
“I love being multiracial. I cross all color lines,” said Julia Bernard, who is half-Korean and half-black (Creole).
“Blended Nation” is intended to open conversations about this new face of America, said New York photographer Mike Tauber, who created the coffee-table book with his wife, Pamela Singh, themselves an interracial couple with children.
There are so many instances in life - school papers, surveys, job applications, government forms - where people are asked to identify themselves in a “fixed-race category,” said Ms. Singh.
People from mixed-race backgrounds like herself (she is Indian with some African and Carib Indian) go through life “caught in the middle,” she said. “Blended Nation” tells the stories of dozens of Americans “whose lives exist between racial categories,” said Mr. Tauber.
In my recent conversation with Mr. Tauber and Ms. Singh, Mr. Bardwell came up several times.
About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor. Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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