There are a whole lot more interracial families in the real world than television and movies would have us believe. Many of you probably know this because you are part of one, or you know one, or you just have a general sense that what you see onscreen isn’t always an accurate reflection of reality. The lack of interracial visibility has a ton of causes, but one unfortunate effect is that people who enjoy keeping their heads in the sand are encouraged to do so. Another effect is that people like me often end up feeling marginalized, as if we and our families are some sort of shameful national secret.
During the past decade or so, I have begun to see interracial families and mixed race people pop up more and more, but it’s still a rarity in the mainstream media — DESPITE THE FACT THAT OUR FIRST FAMILY IS INTERRACIAL — oh, the irony. To make matters worse, we are represented in carefully chosen, stereotypical ways — for instance you’ll see a black man with a white woman a lot more often than a white man with a black woman. And many times, directors choose light-skinned or clearly biracial people to fill “black” roles. (Oh look, it’s Halle Berry again!) Yes, a biracial partner still makes the couple interracial, but then… we always do. (I like to say I’m in an interracial relationship with myself.) You might see an interracial queer family more often than a straight one, but how often do you see queer families at all? Ok, sometimes you’ll see an actual, semi-realistic interracial couple, but that’s usually code for, “This Is Going To Be Totally About Race.”
The pattern feeds almost exclusively on stereotypes and is artfully arranged to support this whole complex, post-racist system, where people are encouraged to keep their racism to themselves (in public) and pretend that we’re all equal. Until…. dun, dun, dunnnnnnnnn… CHEERIOS.
Yes, something as innocuous as a Cheerios commercial has brought to light a level of ignorance that makes my head spin more than Small Wonder. Let me break it down for you:
1 . Cheerios commercial airs on national television, featuring a white woman, a black man, and a biracial girl who are all… ready for this… related to each other! In fact, they’re a typical little American family where the mom sits at the kitchen table making, you know, womanly notes, the dad takes naps on the sofa and the kid runs around causing a ruckus.
2. Concerned cereal lovers take to the Internets to let it be known that they refuse to be subjected to real life. They inundate Cheerios’ YouTube and facebook pages with so much racist vitriol that General Mills disables comments.
3. Atlanta couple Michael David Murphy and Alyson West see all this, and decide to start the tumblr project We Are The 15 Percent, a collection of crowd-sourced portraits of interracial families like themselves. They draw the site name from census data showing that 15% of new marriages are interracial.
4. I send in a photo for inclusion on We Are The 15 Percent and they post it. The Daily News runs an article on the project the same day which happens to feature me and my wife’s picture. And the awesome Melissa Harris-Perry (also featured on the site) runs a segment, as do a bunch of other venues which you can see here.
So, check out the project and send in a photo! Mixed race people and families lend an important and much needed perspective to the conversation, and it’s up to us to make sure we are seen and heard. Thanks to Michael and Alyson for contributing in such a simple and beautiful way.