Our family had the great fortune to become interracial when my daughter married her now former spouse several years ago. I was ecstatic to become the grandmother (and Nana) to Campbell in 2012 and am lucky enough to live in the same town as he and his parents. Campbell was the first (and remains the only) grandchild in our family and is, quite simply, adored. When my daughter was pregnant and I began the grandmother-to-be buying spree, I got my first inkling that my worldview was going to change. For the very first time, I am embarrassed to say, I noticed how few children of color were represented in baby toys, clothes and books. I began to actively seek out these items, but it was not always easy. I well remember how happy I was the day I discovered that the Michael’s Craft stores has Santas of more than one race! I guess I had assumed that having a biracial or multiracial grandchild would be exactly the same as if he were Caucasian – you just give them lots of love. Of course, the love part is true, but I also began to realize that it was important that I honor and acknowledge Campbell’s full heritage. We now seek out art and literature for our home not only reflecting the black community but all cultures.
But that was just one part of my experience. As Campbell got older and I babysat and took him places regularly, I noticed the puzzled looks and the questions (Are you the nanny? Why does he look different than you? Is he adopted?). It was hard not to get annoyed. Had none of these people ever seen a biracial family???? However, there was one episode questioning my relationship with Campbell that I will not forget. I was giving him swimming lesson at our local county pool when a staff member came over to inform me that only family members could give swim lessons. I explained that I was Campbell’s grandmother whereupon she replied that it could only be “biological” relatives. I explained in no uncertain terms that I was his biological grandmother but that that should not matter in any event. There were so many things to unpack from her statement that I got out of the pool and asked for a manager. After a month of trying, I thought that I had an assurance from the county swim manager that no such thing would ever happen again. But I was wrong – that manager emailed me a few days later to say that he had been overruled because, suddenly, the policy was that no family members could give lesson at all. I was stunned since I knew that not to be true. We live in a progressive, liberal county outside of a major city and yet this happened. It strengthened my resolve to do all I could to protect not only my own grandson, but all multicultural families from this type of prejudice.
The past few weeks has been very difficult emotionally for anyone with compassion and empathy but also an eye opener on how little those not of color really know about the day to day lives of our fellow citizens who are not white. I have had only a tiny glimpse of this world and know that I am very very far from really understanding and feeling what it is like to be the subject of discrimination and prejudice. But I also know that I will do everything I can to help change America so that we celebrate multicultural families instead of treat them as somehow different. Grandmothers can be a fierce bunch when it comes to their grandchildren.
President, Project RACE Grandparents