Dear America: My Father is White (And That’s Okay)

This weekend has been jam packed with hospital visits and emergency surgeries, but I finally have a few moments to sit and breathe.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m “biracial.” My mother is Afro-Puerto Rican and my father is German-American. In other words, my mother is brown and my dad is white. Their union created me, ethnically ambiguous me, and I enjoy looking so distinct. Although my mixed heritage has been difficult to embrace at times, mostly because of others’ reactions to me, I love who God made me to be. I’m blessed to not be stuck in one culture and one mindset. Because I’m mixed, I can easily move between many cultures and believe that this will help me win souls for Christ. 

While being different is fabulous, there are aspects of the mixed life that are annoying and, at times, disturbing: some people think I’m my father’s wife. Yes, some people see me, a brown-skinned, curly-haired 23-year old woman out with a white 57-year old man and assume that any relationship between us must be of a sexual and romantic nature. Are you vomiting yet?

Growing up, I instinctually knew that society would perceive us in this way and when I became a teenager, I would make it a point to call my father “dad” or refer to “mom” whenever we were out in public. My fear of being mislabeled was profound. As a little girl, no one thought that anything inappropriate was happening between my father and I; we were just father and daughter. But, as I grew older, I knew that doubts would arise.

I could see it in people’s eyes when my dad and I shopped for groceries. I could feel their judgement on my back when I would hug my dad in public.

“Who is this little brown girl?”

“Is she some mail order bride?”

“That’s disgusting.” 

This fear subsided for some time because I lived in New York, and people were liberal. It was not inconceivable for a white man to have a brown child in New York. However, moving to Georgia has shown me a different side of America. Here, I go out with my father with the constant fear that someone will assume that our relationship is not familial. The other day, we went to Walmart (I hate them, but my dad’s a sucker for a bargain), and at the checkout line, we engaged in our typical witty banter, much to the amusement of the beautiful and sweet African-American cashier. When my dad left the checkout line to wash his hands (he got chicken blood on them -__-), the cashier asked me my age.

“I’m 23.”

“Oh, wow! I was going to say 17!” she laughed.

“Yeah, that’s just because I have my glasses on.” I replied, smiling.

. . .

“Are y’all close?”, she asked.

I was taken aback. In what way was she asking this question? I hope she knows he’s my dad.

“Yeah, we are…he’s a good dad.” I answered. Good job, Gabby. Clarify the relationship.

“Really? Aw, thats great. It’s hard to find good dads these days.” she said, with a little sadness in her tone.

Amen, sister.

When my dad came back, the cashier remarked to him that I said he was a good father and he in turn commended me as a daughter.

We left the store and I couldn’t stop thinking about the woman who saw my father and I together and immediately knew what our relationship was. That is rare.

 

This feeling didn’t last long. The next day, my father was rushed to the ER with what he thought were heart attack symptoms (turns out it was a panic attack), and the EMT who arrived at our house referred to me as my father’s wife. My dad immediately corrected him and he apologized.

Blunders like that happen often, but I asked myself why does this happen so often to us? It’s clear that my dad is almost 60 and I’ve been mistaken for a teenager countless times. Does anyone seriously think we’re married? If so, why?

I believe there’s only one reason that some people don’t understand our relationship: my skin color. If I were completely white, no one would doubt that this almost 60-year old white man and white 23-year old girl were father and daughter. In fact, if the genders were switched, I highly doubt that anyone would assume an older white woman would be in a relationship with a young brown man. They would see him as her son, wouldn’t they? No one would question it. But, because I have brown skin and I’m a woman, suddenly the relationship is not clear. This should not be so.

We live in an era where people freely marry people of other cultures and have babies with them. These babies grow into young adults and then adults who must deal with society’s perception of them and their parents for their entire lives. It is so damaging to a mixed person to be perceived as so incredibly “other” that we must not be related. We must be some young bride. Some sugar baby. Isn’t that the picture they have in their heads?

I wish this would stop. A girl shouldn’t fear going in public with her father simply because she’s of a certain age and different skin tone than he is. So, yes my dad is white. He’s my dad and will always be my papa bear. I’ll hug him in public and let them think what they will. He’s my dad and that’s all that matters.

She Saw Me

Hey, readers.

Since I’ve been here in Georgia, I’ve noticed how contentious my Black Lives Matter shirt can be. In NYC, multiple people would exclaim their approval of it whenever I left the house with it on. But, here, oh no. I get stares and scoffs from old white men and approving looks from young and old African-Americans. It’s rare that an African-American openly applauds my shirt here in Georgia.

This morning, after church, I stopped by Mary Mac’s Tea Room in downtown Atlanta for lunch with my mother. We sat at the bar and enjoyed southern classics: fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter pie. Black southerners have given us amazing food, have they not? Lord have mercy!

In the restaurant, I noticed that all around me were people of various backgrounds, but mostly black and white, segregated. That’s right. While segregation isn’t technically legal anymore in this country, people will still segregate themselves. In the room, there were several full tables with black families and one table with a white family. While eating lunch with my mom, I noticed that a young white lady, probably early 20s, kept glancing over at me. Immediately I ran through the possible reasons for this:

  1. She sees my shirt and disapproves. 
  2. She thinks my mom and I are being too loud.
  3. She’s a racist.

I’m not happy to admit this. I think I assume most white southerners are racist, but God has been showing me otherwise. You know, when she came up to the black waiter in the room, I immediately assumed she was going to complain about the black family next to her. Maybe she thought they were seated too close to her? I don’t know what I thought. But I prepared myself to verbally defend them, if she was going to complain. But, she didn’t. She just asked for a peach cobbler.

Lord forgive me. I try not to be too hard on myself when it comes to this, but it’s difficult.

Before leaving, this young white lady approached me, tapped me on the arm, and said,

” I just wanted to say that I love your shirt.”

“Oh, thank you so much!” I exclaimed, stunned!

“I’m a huge supporter…” she said, her eyes telling me that she wanted to say, “I totally think the police are racist and no one understands that racism still exists!”

“Oh, wow. Thanks! I really appreciate that!”

She sat back down with her family and we waved at each other before I left.

 

While walking back to my mom’s car, several thoughts ran through my mind. Wow. First of all, wow. This young white lady came over to me, pointed out my BLM shirt, and verbally agreed with me. But, she was doing so much more than offering up a compliment. She stood by me. She saw me. She acknowledged my struggle and the struggle of my PoC brothers and sisters. She became an advocate, standing alongside me, a young black Latina woman. 

Thank You, Jesus, for showing me that there are people who will stand by me, even when I don’t expect them to. Forgive me, Lord, for stereotyping white southerners and expecting the worst from them. They surprise me every day.

 

Blessings.

 

Gabrielle G.