I was 3 years old when I realized I wasn’t white.
It was during recess. I was in line for the slide, waiting to be one of the tallest preschoolers on the playground for a brief moment. But two girls were idling at the top. I asked if I could have my turn. The brunette whispered to the dirty blonde with a bowl cut who stood guarding the top, like she was Queen of the Playground or something. Her highness whispered back to her sidekick, who then turned to me and said the one thing that changed my oh-so innocent life forever:
“She said you can’t go on the slide because you’re black.”
And that’s when I realized I was very different looking from the pasty white Queen who stood there staring down at me.
Different looking, yes, but not black. The irony of it all is that I am Filipino. I was the epitome of an Asian child: round face, a bob with straight-across bangs that started at the top of my head and eyes so dark they looked like huge pupils.
I’d love to say that was my last encounter with racism. But since then, I’ve continued to deal with my ethnicity in another way — interracial dating.
It was the last thing on my mind when I was on the college search, but interracial dating is still a hot topic on college sites. There are discussion forums on College Confidential dedicated solely to the issue, with both students and parents expressing their concerns and thoughts about its prevalence on college campuses.
Until 1967, it was illegal to marry out of your race in the United States. Our parents, who were on the cusp of adulthood at the time, would have been thrown in the slammer for marrying a black or white partner.
So as I reflected on my own experiences, I wondered how many of our dating choices have been influenced by generations who came before us — our parents, and especially our grandparents, who couldn’t even share the same public bathroom, let alone a flirtatious stare, with someone of another race.
One summer in college the guy I had dated for almost a year finally made it official. Later, he said, “My family will be pretty surprised when they meet you.”
But when I pressed him to explain, he clammed up. “Just ‘cuz,” was his lame answer back.
Although he never outright said it, from then on I questioned whether he was embarrassed that I liked to have rice with every meal, or that my family spoke a different language at home. Even my current partner admits to occasionally getting a weird vibe from others who find out I have dark skin and black eyes — much different from his own light-skinned, blue-eyed self.
A recent study found that on online dating sites, whites, women and older people mostly reached out to singles of their own color. Just 3% of whites reached out to other races on their own.
Now, no common-sensed person would ever say, “I don’t date African Americans (or Asians, Latinos, etc.),” because it sounds so racist. But there are plenty of those who, regardless of being colorblind, still never manage to date anyone outside of their race — this online dating study is proof of that.
Sure, the Emmett Till of this generation will not be murdered for flirting with someone of a different skin color. And we are all tickled pink by adorable half-Asian babies (Lily from “Modern Family,” anyone?). But whether we want to admit it or not, there’s still a subdued stigma when it comes to interracial dating, as evidenced by this study and assuming questions I get like, “Is your boyfriend Filipino, too?” (Let’s get real, people: No one would ever ask someone, “Is your girlfriend white, too?”)
So how do we move past this stigma? Parade more Baby Lily’s around and make everyone swoon?
No. We continue our generation’s growing impassiveness about the color of our skin. We continue to detach ourselves from the shameful and outdated opinions of past generations. And we embrace the beauty of two people falling in love with each other’s heart — not his or her ethnicity.
Today, I’m sure that girl from my preschool doesn’t even remember saying those hateful words. I can only hope that after 19 years she’s grown up a bit. But if I had the chance, I’d go back in time to that moment.
I’d stare down at Ms. Bowl Cut and say, “You wish you had a year-long tan.”
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