If I were in Canada, I think I might be conscious of being in a biracial relationship. Let me explain this by going back a week…
Last weekend Mr. Lee and I went out for dinner and drinks with Mr. Lee’s younger friend and her British husband. The British husband was commenting that he hates it when Canadians say they are ‘Scottish’ or ‘British’ because their distant ancestors hailed from somewhere in the UK.
I think this is a specifically Canadian issue. When there it is the absence of a race or ethnic background or religion or region of origin or language or even history that unites you and gives you identity, you just assume that a person who is in Canada is Canadian.
When I get lost in Seoul, I pull out a map, put a confused look on my face, and within seconds an elderly man will toddle over to me and direct me to my destination. If Mr. Lee did the same thing in Toronto, people would think he was just an out-of-towner. I have tried to answer the question ‘Where are you from?’ several times in Canada with ‘I’m Canadian,’ but this always gets me an annoyed look and a repetition ‘No WHERE are you from? Where are your grandparents from?’ For the record, the last of my mother’s family arrived in time for the 1832 Upper Canada Rebellions, but I know that the answer to this question supposed to be ‘Scottish-German.’ The assumption is…well of course you are Canadian…just where do you fit in the cultural mosaic of Canada?
That’s why I think I would be more conscious of our racial differences if we were in Canada. If two people grow up in the same milieu, speaking the same language, attending the same schools, walking on the same streets, they are not linguistically different, they are not educated in a different way, and in many ways they aren’t even really culturally different. It’s always interesting when my South Asian and Middle Eastern friends’ parents want their born and raised kids in Canada to marry from their original village. The idea is ‘you are from the same culture.’ But really – while my friends have their own home culture life, and have sometimes lived in a community where one cultural or ethnic group is in the majority – they have lived the bulk of their lives in the same way as their friends from totally different ethnic origins. Therefore, with the lack of other differences, and since Mr. Lee and I are from the same general religious tradition, race becomes the distinguishing factor.
But in Korea, it’s the linguistic differences which make us differences. It’s also the fact that I was born into a stable developed nation while Mr. Lee grew up in a culture hell bent on joining the ranks of the developed in record time. We grew up with radically different education systems and I never had the threat of imminent war positioned just 45 minutes from my home. Race…the external differences in our skin tone, cheekbones, eye structure and build are the very least of the differences and challenges we face.
And so we get to the real impetus of this post, the decision by a Louisiana Court Justice to deny a biracial couple a marriage license on the basis of his concern for the welfare of possible future biracial children. It is deeply troubling that in this day and age, there are still places on my continent of origin where we could still be refused the ability to legally wed on the basis of some external hue. Less than a year after a biracial president was elected to America’s highest office, at a time when globalization is opening up incredible paths of interaction and openness, that a government official could make such a proclamation is astonishing in the saddest of ways.
I am greatly saddened that there are still people in this world who seek to limit happiness and opportunities to people based on the colour of their skin and not the content of their character. I don’t feel any anger for Bardwell….and this couple will certainly find another official who will happily grant them a license. But I do feel great pity for him that he is still enslaved by the limitations of racism and prejudice – that he places so little faith in the abilities of individuals, and that he cannot see the beauty in a spectrum of colours…not just ‘white, black, yellow, red, and brown’ but butterscotch, caramel, ivory, butter cream, ebony, olive, copper……. The truth is that if you go back far enough in our pasts…and if you just scratch the surface for some of us…that you will find we are all ‘mixed race.’ We may be on different sides of the spectrum, but the purity of race is an astonishingly strong myth.
So while I hope that there will be serious repercussions for Bardwell and any other officials who seek to make the same judgements, I also hope that this might be an opportunity for him to reflect on the origins of his beliefs, and to challenge himself to move past the limitations he has placed on himself and the lives of others.