The Great Melting Pot: "Edging" Us out within Interracial Families

April 15, 2009

[Sprinkle] lacks any kind of sincere introspection.
Basically, she has fallen in love with a man who is Colombian but her
main goal is to avoid having to integrate her self identity in a way
that might threaten her white privilege...In trying to shield her
daughter from identification with a part of the young girl's self, she
is sending a pretty clear message about what is important,
valued/valuable. There is a distinct racial hierarchy being taught. A
lack of race analysis also is problematic because, like it or not, as
the mother and wife of people of color, she is a part of a multiracial
community. She scrambles to use her money and whiteness -- assets
without intrinsic value -- to protect her daughter from her own
culture and affirmative race consciousness -- assets
that do have intrinsic value.

[Thanks, Megan!]

Many who have commented on Sprinkle's narrative, including Lim and
my friend Megan, focus on the potential effects of such prejudice on
the child, but as I was reading the article, I kept thinking about how
Sprinkle's husband fit into the equation. She tells us that he is a
Colombian immigrant who seems to have some classed ideas about the
Spanish language, but apart from that we don't get to hear from him
very much -- and we never get to hear his perspective on her
determination to raise their daughter as mostly-white with just a touch
of the exotic.

I'm kind of fascinated by this, because it's new to me. Though I grew
up in a similar environment, it was my Filipina mother who tried to
cultivate my whiteness (not my white father), in part because having an
"Americanized" child served as status symbol for her. While I don't
agree with it, I suppose I do understand her compulsion. However, the
concept of the white parent insisting on "edging out" the child's
non-white identity is almost too much for me to comprehend...almost too
imperialist to be real.

I've always appreciated interracial relationships because I thought
they were a real and meaningful illustration of our great multiethnic,
multicultural society, but Sprinkle's article has made me rethink that
a bit. Specifically, I started wondering (dramatically and
hypothetically): What happens if, in mass numbers, our white partners
begin to "edge out" our cultural heritage(s) because they, like
Sprinkle, recognize the benefit of privilege and find it more expedient
to play into the system rather than challenge it (for the sake of the
children, of course!)? And thus, what we used to define as "racism"
becomes nothing more than "pragmatism."

It puts me in mind of an article I read in the Washington Post
recently which asserted that a recent decline in interracial marriages
is due to a desire among the US-born children of immigrants to marry
people of the same ethnicity. The article suggests that, despite
conventional wisdom, greater immigration generates a greater desire to
partner with people who share a similar cultural heritage. It certainly
makes sense, but after reading Sprinkle's article, I can't help but
wonder if a prevalence of prejudicial attitudes like her's might have
something to do with our generation's newfound preference for partners
from our own (or similar) communities.

In the end, though, Sprinkle's ideas about race and privilege probably
shouldn't be that surprising to me (or any of us). After all, her
approach to childrearing is perfectly consistent with our Melting Pot
ideal, a metaphor which we've been squawking ad nauseum since Obama was
elected. We just don't seem to realize the truth of that metaphor: that
a "melting pot" isn't about diversity or inclusion but about
homogeneity, about heterogeneous groups melting into the dominant
culture rather than enriching it.   


Catherine A Traywick

Managing Editor

Catherine is the managing editor at Hyphen. Her work has appeared in TIME, the Bay Citizen, Ms. magazine, he Huffington Post, as well as broadcasted on CBS radio. She is a master's student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.



Meg:I wonder how mixed race couples where neither partner is white (an African-American/Asian pairing, for example) would navigate these issuesMy wife is Asian and im African American. We have two beautiful kids (Japanese/Black) and im curious how its going to turn out. at time our cultures clash, and its hard at times. Whats interesting about our relationship is sharing our cultures. When we lived in Japan she taught me a lot about Japanese history, religion and the language.I had to teach her that my culture expanded beyond hip hop and MTV Japan, thank god for Obama.I want our kids to have the best of both worlds. I want them to be in contact with their heritages on both sides of the pacific. My wife has latitiude to teach them whatever she wants.Niether one of us is white, so teaching them white priveleged, or enforiceing will not be pratciced.Ameirie, Denyce Lawton, Will Demps seemed to turn out right.
@Heather:"Another thing no one thinks of is that most "white" people are a mix of various races themselves. I'm Scotch Irish French German and Welsh for instance. I would love to know more about my various backgrounds. So what is "white" culture?"This is a derailing tactic. Although it's probably unintentional in your case, don't do it. Making the conversation about ethnicities and cultures that are recognized as white in the US is taking the focus off of an important discussion about the power imbalance between white and non-white partners in an interracial relationship, which is what this thread's about. I'll explain briefly below, but seriously, don't bring it up again. Stick to the thread.Short answer, "white" is a social construct. Whiteness is privilege and power in a white supremacist society. (It took decades for Italians, Jews, Irish among others to become "white," but that's another story). The issue isn't whether to emphasize the child's Welsh or Colombian background. The issue is whether to emphasize the child's white background for access to white privilege, and devalue and trivialize the value of the non-white background. (Eyelashes? Seriously? That's the value of your husband's cultural heritage? WTF?)"White culture," in answer to your question, is privilege that's so pervasive you can't even see it. It is the fact that you only have to think about race when you feel like it. It means the institutions in your country will not affect you negatively because of your race, and people will probably not look at you like a space alien when you try to point out an injustice you have experienced, or tell you you're just oversensitive. White culture is about missing the point when people of color talk about how their cultures are displaced or tokenized in interracial relationships, and instead bringing up nuanced definitions of whiteness that have no bearing on your day to day life.Sorry if it sounds really harsh. I'm saying these things because I've asked the same question myself and it's taken me a while to start to understand the answer. Don't think of this an a rebuke from a random commenter, think of it as a letter from your future self.Sincerely,Bluemorpho
As a father of two adults who continue to debate the question of dominate input to them was to keep the ten toes and fingers they started out with...most of this culture stuff was dreamed up by arguments based on guilt blessing...who gets the best is not on color but who needs to go to confession and seek peace. We each find our paths or fall off the cliff, you plant the seed and hope it grows a huge heart to drive itself. We all make history and adopt culture to survive in.
"I've always appreciated interracial relationships because I thought they were a real and meaningful illustration of our great multiethnic, multicultural society, but Sprinkle's article has made me rethink that a bit."The father likely tacitly agrees with the mother.The incidence of interracial relationships alone means little. They're often a manifestation of racism rather than a rejection of it. Sadly, this racism is passed on to confused multiracial children. As one such confused child, I'm glad that we're starting to discuss how relationships born of racism negatively affect children born from these relationships.
wow, i just read the piece. there's a lot going on. i think the things that struck me the most was this underlying disparaging attitude towards the (writer's) husband. that irked me because -- well, maybe i'm reading into it -- it just seemed very classist and hopes that she will figure things out for the better. i don't want to slam her for what she wrote because as a new parent, i know how confusing things can be. you're just learning to be the best parent possible, and you bring to your parenting skills all these prior experiences and notions. in this case, hers is obviously white (and possibly other) privileges.i think it is common for people to believe that emphasizing a language other than English would somehow put a kid at a disadvantage. in this case, these parents have the overwhelming privilege of deciding what language to emphasize. as someone who learned English as a second language, i can tell you that there were times i struggled (being silent when i first started English-only school, mixing up my grammar, told by a college professor that i need to take esl classes, etc.). but i would not change anything for the world because now i can pass on my language to my child. not only that, but i was able and am still able to communicate with and connect to my family members in a way that would not be possible if i didn't speak Chinese, which is probably the most important aspect.
I wonder how mixed race couples where neither partner is white (an African-American/Asian pairing, for example) would navigate these issues. Which culture, if any, would get privileged/emphasized/prioritized? What effort, if any, would such parents make to garner their children white privilege?
As a white woman whose last two boyfriends have been Filipino, I can tell you that this article appalls me. For whatever it's worth, if I am blessed someday to have a child and that child is multi-racial, I will be committed to teaching it all the cultures that he/she is a part of. Why would anyone marry someone whose background they clearly don't value and in fact seem to disparage? Weird.
Another thing no one thinks of is that most "white" people are a mix of various races themselves. I'm Scotch Irish French German and Welsh for instance. I would love to know more about my various backgrounds. So what is "white" culture?
Remember, though, that when speaking (especially) of children of mixed Hispanic descent, it's often a gamble in terms of skin color. The kid's ethnic future will be largely dictated by whether or not she is phenotypically colored. If she grows up to look white, it's very possible that the child will not be nostalgic for a heritage she's never associated with... if the girl turns out to be brown, as so many of us do... well, Sprinkle will have fucked her over by denying her a heritage society will EXPECT of her.It's become a trend for first-generation Hispanic Americans to reject the culture (because they've been taught to do so, whether ex- or implicitly, by their parents, due to the discrimination they've experienced). Second-generation Hispanic Americans often grow with a thirst for the Hispanic identification they feel they were denied.
This is very interesting, but I think the same thing happens as well in some White male-minority female relationships (and in my opinion in far greater frequency).
I'm not sure what is meant by the suggestion in a prior comment that this sort of things happens more frequently where the person of color in the relationship is female.I too found Sprinkle's attitude towards her husband racist and classist. I feel sorry for the child having to grow up with that.In other ways, I suppose her attitude is not too far from first generation immigrant parents who purposely don't teach their children their native tongue or culture, under the mistaken idea that this will help their children assimilate, be more "American" and have an easier time getting ahead in this country. I guess they are just trying to do what they think is best for their children. But it does seem like internalized racism.As Andres has suggested, this just creates a desire for the second generation to learn more about their culture and to socialize with people who have a similar background. It also leads to a lot of confusion and struggle for the child though.
The sad part in this is for the child, and any of her mixed friends, who sit in this mother's view as being "less than." There will be a time in the future, soon, where the dominant minority (white) will not be the privileged. Let's hope this child grows to respect all of her parts. That what I'm working for on my HuffPo the new minority in the future, white will represent only old entitlement.
As a Half-Colombian, American myself this struck a chord with me. I've been trying to think of something smart to say since I saw this story earlier today, but can't.A few gripes:-Hispanic isn't a race, it is an ethnicity (race is, technically a social construct, but in the way that some define it evolutionarily, Hispanic still doesn't qualify).-Colombians, and most South Americans, are a different racial and cultural mixture then the Mexicans and Central Americans who make up the majority of Latinos in the US. Colombia, Chile, etc have much higher mestizo populations, and when one parent is Mestizo and the other is white the child looks whiter then they might if one parent was indian and the other white.-The refusal of Americans to acknowledge the racial diversity of Latin America (outside the Caribbean) is irritating, frustrating, and confusing for those of us who don't, as a classmate put it when enquiring into my background "look very Mexican".-Ms. Sprinkle didn't know about her hubby's scary childhood experience and issues re: multilingualism until after they started teaching their kid two languages? Jeez, underprepare much!-There is a tiny Colombian population in America. And while there are Latino and Hispanic communities everywhere, there is almost nowhere where one can find a "Colombian American" community. If there is then can someone please give me their web address? Because I can't find them.As someone who fits Sprinkle's definition of someone who is "Hispanic enough to get scholarships but not hispanic enough to get racism about it" I don't think that having a seperate caucasian identity sitting in my back pocket would be useful, but actually harmful. When one of your parents is an immigrant making a divided identity is a sure route to discomfort and frustration. You have to create an identity for yourself that encompasses all the pieces that form it. For this reason I object to the idea that she is living in a "divided world" or the idea that there is some great division between being white and latino. Because there isn't.Also, people say that the father is denying himself or tacitly agreeing with the mother about assimilating the daughter into white society as if it were an expression of self-hatred. I think though, that it probably has to do with the racial politics of Colombia, where being white, or being a mestizo who can play the white game (which confers white status) is heavily praised.Little Nina is lucky to have her dad around to help her figure out what being colombian, and being half colombian means. Mine died when I was very young, and his absence has caused me to cling to the hispanic part of my identity (and read obsessively about Colombia) while others use it to suggest that I cannot self-identify as half hispanic because I do not speak spanish, and through my fathers absence have not been a participant in Colombian culture.Maybe Nina will figure things out faster, and less painfully then I did, then I am (since I still haven't found an identity that works for me and protects me from offending my peers, particularly my white peers).