A few months ago, there was a minor uproar in the US about a Cheerios commercial where some viewers were unhappy with the representation of a mixed ethnicity couple. I ran to YouTube, thinking there was something this couple was doing that must be offensive. I watched it, and then I watched it again. Was I missing something? This was a typical family, commercially beautiful, acting happy and healthy, while eating breakfast cereal. So I read more articles, figuring they’d highlight the subterfuge I was missing. Apparently not, the issue WAS the race of the family and not their actions. A black man married to a white woman. And we’re back in the 19thcentury.
As a “black” Sudanese-American woman married to a “white” American man, this really hit home and led to some reflection on our life here. My husband and I moved to the UAE with our two daughters in 2011. I quickly fell in love with both the beautiful local culture, and the massively diverse expat population. Any time I’m out at a mall, I marvel at the deep diversity in the crowds of families; their clothes, languages, and skin tones, all different from one another.
But there are times when it’s not so fun and implicit bias is thrown in my face, especially when out with my daughters, whose skin tones do not match my own. Such as when a stranger picked up my child (who was throwing a typical two-year-old tantrum), hoisted her in the air, and started calling out for her mother. While I was standing right next to them. Or when a woman who had just witnessed me speaking firmly to my daughters turned to scold ME, “who do you think you are, talking to these girls like that? Where is their mother?” I have been assumed to be the nanny many times and when corrected, I am usually met with an embarrassed mumbled apology. Or a blatant, “then why is she a different color?”
It was disappointing to realize that I had been holding my new society to a higher standard and the pedestal was crumbling. I had assumed there was a collective intelligence, or at least an understanding that people don’t always look like their partner. In fact, don’t biracial kids get the best of both worlds, the genetic jackpot? (Hello Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union, Barack Obama, Bruno Mars…to name a few).
We live in a city where people are literally from every part of the globe, so I had expected something close to a “melting pot” environment. But I have never felt so scrutinized as I have while living here. Maybe I am being harsh, as many people have emigrated here from their own countries only over the past 40 years and possibly have no point of reference for mixed ethnicity couples. While in the US, this has become relatively commonplace.
The more globalized our world becomes as economic and social opportunities drive people of all cultures to live together in one society, the more likely it is that future generations will look more and more like our daughters: beautiful children of the world with elements of many ethnicities reflected in one face. My husband and I are trying to teach them that it is not who they are or where they are that matters, its how they choose to live their life and what is on the inside that matters. The only quality that can be used to judge a person’s worth is their inner state of goodness and piety. So,if we are going to live here together, then I think we should be willing to get to know each other. And that means a little less judgment, and a lot more acceptance.
Note: I recently re-read my views from 2014. It has changed a lot since then. I do not feel as scrutinized as I did back in early 2012-2013. In fact, I feel like people are more rallying around this tolerance and peace talk which made our family be the poster-family for that agenda. I haven’t been called the nanny of the kids for years. It is a new day and era here. We are loving it so much. (2018)
Sudanese-American working mom of three. Free Spirit. Idea Curator. Her brain moves faster than her body can go. A laid back chic who walks around with that stereotypical hippie vibe. She is never afraid to give you her unsolicited opinion about gentle parenting. Esraa has been actively over-sharing her motherhood and parenting stories on social media since 2008.
Latest posts by Esraa Bani-Rothman (see all)
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