My name is Brittany Smith, I am Italian, Irish, and Panamanian, but my skin color is very pale. I am the wife of an African American man, and we have one biracial son and soon to be daughter together. I also have an older biracial half-brother, Jonathan. We share the same mother, but have different biological fathers, although my father adopted him before he was a year old.
My personal struggles growing up were that my parents had never informed me that my older brother and I had different fathers. I distinctly remember being 7 years old and someone had asked me why I looked so different from my brother, “Aren’t siblings supposed to look alike?” they questioned. Children are too honest sometimes and that honesty made me aware of something I hadn’t realized before. My father and mother are both of Italian decent with dark curly hair and wonderful olive skin that can get very tan (unfortunately, the Irish gene was strong with me and I burn!). I had no question in my mind that my parents were also Jonathan’s parents. To be truthful, I had been wondering if I was adopted. My hair wasn’t curly yet at this point in my life and was very blonde. That and the fact that my skin was so pale made me wonder if they were truly my parents. Jonathan and I had a conversation and he informed me that he had a different biological father. I just remember crying with relief that I wasn’t adopted. We laughed together once I confessed what had been going on in my mind.
This story is one that I often tell close friends and family because it is so humorous, but now that I am older I realize the responsibility of our family history shouldn’t have been my brothers. We both should have known from a young age what was going on. He obviously knew, but I didn’t and it caused me to question where his “real” father was and why he wasn’t ever around.
My parents also failed to acknowledge that as my brother and I would get older that people can have negative opinions about our family dynamic. That people will often say terrible things to those who are unlike them without just cause. However, being a mother myself I understand the struggle of trying to protect your children from the cruel world. I feel as though they were just hoping that nothing bad would ever be said to us.
We grew up in Jacksonville, FL until I was almost ten and my brother twelve. The elementary school we attended was pretty diverse, my best friend was Asian and many of my childhood crushes were African American. My brother has explained that he experienced getting picked on often because he didn’t necessarily fit in with any one group. The black kids would say he wasn’t black and the white kids would say he wasn’t white. If it wasn’t for his skill in football, he doesn’t feel like he would have had many friends at all. We then moved to Sturgis, MI and lived with my grandparents on my father’s side until my parents had sold the house in Florida.
Sturgis is a small town and in 1997 it wasn’t ripe with diversity. There were many Amish riding around in their buggies and only one well known black family in the town. My brother and I were the new kids; we would sit together on the bus because we didn’t know anyone else. That’s when the negative comments came rolling in. Children would claim that we were dating (which grossed us out completely). My brother got annoyed and started sitting in a different seat than me. When my brother started getting attention from girls in school the boys started to attack him on the bus. The “N” word was thrown at him on more than one occasion. It was the first time I had ever heard it and I had to ask what him what it meant.
There were kids in my class that started calling me an “N lover” because of my brother and my new best friend in class being black. I was completely appalled that anyone could be so cruel and wasn’t prepared for it emotionally. My grandparents didn’t really have the best advice because they never had dealt with the situation themselves. They just told us to ignore it. Once my parents finally got back to Michigan they wanted to know who said what and when. My father was in defense mode and my mother was worried. They also told us to ignore it, but to tell anyone in an authority position (teacher, bus driver, etc.) if it was bothering us.
We did learn to ignore those ignorant individuals, we grew up, but as the years went on, I noticed that in the predominantly white town my brother was now often a target with both parents and police.
Now that I am married to someone with a race different than my own and am a mother of a biracial child I realize the experiences that could lie ahead in our future. Being a military family we will likely move several more times before my husband retires and I want to be prepared. My husband and I met in Colorado and there we had continuously received stares, glares, and opinions. I had many coworkers question why I dated outside my own race and wondered how my family felt about it. Thankfully, my immediate family and my in-laws have no issues with our relationship and are extremely supportive of us.
However, I have begun to notice that since our move to Texas I have become the minority. My son, Noah (2 years old) gets millions of compliments on how beautiful he is and many people love his hair, but I get a glare as though it’s a disgrace that I am his mother. I can handle the rude looks and the disapproving shaking heads when my husband and I go places, but I pray that my son never has to experience any ridicule for his mother looking different than him.
The struggles haven’t gotten easier. Whenever we go out as a family I have received multiple disgraceful looks for being a white woman with a black man. I’ve even had women intentionally not help us at stores or restaurants. They will avoid eye contact with me or rush off to the back. There was one woman who failed to serve us at a restaurant because they were having a “shift change”.
However, not everything has been a bad experience. With differences comes pride and laughter. My brother and I are more alike than people realize. Our hair texture is now pretty similar since we have gotten older and I was the only one who was able to help him learn how to take care of his hair when he first wanted to grow it out.
Jonathan and I were blessed to realize that we were special, that our parents were so much more open minded than most, and I think that has led us both to an adulthood that has allowed us to be completely independent in our choices of who we date and what race they might be.
I would like for my son and future daughter to know that they can lean on each other for support as well as sites like Biracial Boom. That being biracial is a benefit more than a hindrance and more importantly it can be a stepping stone to open someone else’s eyes that people aren’t meant to be alike, that we should embrace the differences and find beauty in them.