The Most Ridiculous Things People Say To Multiracial Families

You won't believe some of the things strangers have said to parents and their children.
You won't believe some of the things strangers have said to parents and their children. JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

Crystal Shaniece Roman vividly remembers the first time that she saw someone outside the family fail to recognize her connection to her mother.

“It was a parent-teacher conference in Staten Island, NYC. I was in grade school. I went with my mom, and the teacher asked if my mom was coming, although she was standing by my side. At that moment I realized people looked at my mom differently from me,” Roman told HuffPost. She documented this memory in ”Black Latina: The Play,” which explores her experience of being raised by her light-skinned Puerto Rican father and dark-skinned Jamaican mother. 

The teacher’s comment, she said, “robbed me of my innocence.”

“A child looks at their parents through the eyes of love, not color,” she said.

Unfortunately, for multiracial families, who comprise 10.2% of the U.S. population according to 2020 Census data (a 276% increase since 2010), these kind of upsetting comments aren’t always avoidable.

Whether well-intentioned, overtly aggressive, ignorant or unintentionally hilarious, strangers’ inability to comprehend that kids’ hair and skin don’t always “match” their parents’ — and their total lack of shame in voicing their confusion — is something that multiracial families can expect to confront at some point.

Anjali Ferguson, a psychologist and the mother of Black and Indian children, told HuffPost that her kids have been the subject of anti-Black racism delivered in the guise of “compliments” such as: “But your kids don’t even look Black,” “It’s a good thing they turned out light-skinned” and “Good thing they got your hair.”

Phrases like these suggest “that a certain feature or characteristic is more favored,” Ferguson explained, and “can profoundly impact self-esteem and acculturative stress in an individual as they learn to build their identity.”

But parents can help kids cope with such comments and develop a healthy racial identity and a sense of pride in who they are.

First, Ferguson recommends that parents tackle such comments head-on in a way that positively affirms a child’s identity. For example, if someone remarks that a child doesn’t “look Black,” a parent could say, “They are! They’re both Black and Indian.” If someone comments on a child’s hair texture, a parent might say, “We love how unique and different each of our hair textures are. They’re all beautiful.”

It can be tempting to avoid talking about such an incident, or to wait and see if your child brings it up. But Ferguson suggests that parents press through any of their own discomfort in order to make space for kids to talk about the experience. “Make sure you deliberately check in with them,” she said. You might say something such as, “Remember when X said this about your hair? I’m wondering how that made you feel?”

The conversation will give you insight into your child’s experience and give you an opportunity to affirm and celebrate their unique heritage.

“This helps them build resiliencies in the face of future comments because they get to work through the tough emotions with you and empower their self-esteem in the process,” she said.

You can help your child develop a healthy racial identity that will buffer them from the impact of ignorant comments.
You can help your child develop a healthy racial identity that will buffer them from the impact of ignorant comments. Lucy Lambriex via Getty Images

While you can’t prevent someone from making a thoughtless comment, you can prepare your child to handle it via “explicit discussion of cultural identity and pride in the home as well as exposure to groups that are different from your own,” Ferguson continued.

“We develop a firmer sense of self which, builds up our resources when someone challenges us and our identities,” she said.

We asked the HuffPost Parents Facebook community what comments they have received about their multiracial families. Here’s what they told us:

“I went for my newborn son’s first pediatrician’s visit when he was only a few days old. The doctor asked me if the baby had been on a trip to somewhere warm and tropical to get that ‘tan.’” — Lisa Stephenson-Home

“I love hearing ‘What is she mixed with?’ I reply ‘a spoon.’” — Melissa Norton, New York City

“Once I was pushing my daughter in the cart at a grocery store. A man asked me, ‘Are you babysitting?’ I said no. He replied with a laugh, ‘You got you a white girl!!’ I’m Native American and Filipino.” — Julian Ghoulian Apilado, New Mexico

“Picking up my mixed grandson from a football game. One of his friends commented, ‘Your grandma’s white?!’” — Carol Beckman Bennett

“‘Are you the nanny?’ My son looks just like his father: blond hair, blue eyes. — Lisa Tesitor

“You all are together? Are you sure?” — Gail C., California

“[With genuine confusion] ‘Where did they get their hair from?’ I was baffled that they seemed to be confused about why my kids’ hair is a different texture from my own — given that they know dad is Black (and I’m white).” — Rebecca Bodenheimer 

“I’m half African American and my husband is White and from Europe — Ireland.  My husband was sharing the ethnicity of myself and our children to an elderly gentleman. He took a look at our daughters and replied, ‘There ain’t no Black blood in those kids!’” — Ingrid Kellaghan, Michigan

“I am a brown-skinned Hispanic and my ex is a white-skinned Hispanic. Once I had no choice but to take my son with me to class at Temple University, and after class a student asked if I was his nanny. My son has darker blond hair and blue eyes.” — Brenda F.