As a mother of mixed race children, I was thrilled with the recently released findings of the population census - that since the choice to check more than one race became an option ten years ago the growth of the biracial population is now up more than 50% in many parts of the country. This news felt really inclusive to me, while reading about it at my kitchen table.
But not so much when I left my house.
"Are your children adopted?" says the woman in the check out line in front of me at Target.
It's hard to articulate just how much that sentence feels like fire on my face. My face which immediately snaps around to have a look at my children - and wonder why this person thinks they couldn't be of my womb.
"What's adopted mean, Mommy?" says my son, furthering my internal hysteria.
"Adoption is when you bring a person or an animal into your home and make them part of your family. It's a wonderful thing. But who here lived in Mommy's belly before moving into our house?"
Meeee! Scream all three of mine…more at me and less at the boundary-free woman next to us where I would like some screaming to be directed.
"Oh. It's just that they are a different race than us, aren't they?" qualifies Miss Alabama 1950-something.
Us. As if queries about my kids' racial makeup wasn't already feeling too personal - at the finish line of a 10,000 square foot human paddock of discounted goods - but now we're going to pretend they are justified because this fair-skinned woman and I are both "White"?
For the record, White is not something I ever call myself. My husband's parents, who are immigrants from Korea, refer to me as White all the time but what they mean is Caucasian. White, to me, is this pearl-toting lady of my mother's generation standing beside me. Who probably has a big hat in her closet to wear to a derby and who is wearing a very dainty one-inch heeled shoe while shopping at Target today.
My family of origin is Italian and Irish and lives in New York. We wear flat shoes or very high-heels - in case you have to run after someone who has just mugged you or you are attempting to be the tallest broad at a party. Either attempt is looked at with admiration in my culture - I'm guessing not so much in the White woman's world.
The checkout woman alongside Blondie and me, is very aware that my voice (or my hand) may just rise up now, and she jumps in to help.
"What your children are is beautiful!" says she, with a bright smile.
This woman ringing up our treasured finds is Mexican American. And she, too, may have checked "White" on her census form, like me and Ms. Inquisitive, since Hispanic and/or Latino is considered a culture and not given as a choice of race on the form. Yet, she is even less white then me. My skin color is olive and hers is brown.
Genetically speaking, I understand there are only three races: Asian, Caucasian, and an antiquated word that feels frighteningly close to the N word, referring to black people. But could this be why the mixed race population in America jumped nearly 50% in ten years? Because there is no category for every person of color between white and black - be that Middle Eastern or Indian or perhaps even southern European - and maybe some of us checked both black and white to represent our skin color? Because although I did check Asian and White for my family, the concept of having children with someone outside of my race still seems to be a mystery to this woman at the checkout conveyer belt beside me.
"My kids are 'Euro-Asian'", I say, thinking this idiom might be something my race-mate can visualize.
"Oh, are they Philippino then?" she asks.
In the subsequent stunned silence between all three of us "white" women, I decide to close the conversation with my own question.
"Do you even know where the Philippines is? My kids are American. Just like you. So let's both take our 17 bags of goods and get on with our very varied and abundant American lives, shall we?"
Do you also not fit exactly into today's US CENSUS FORM? Or has someone asked you a question about your race or heritage that caused you to want to hurt them? Check out these awesome families in the video...