Alex Barnett is challenging stereotypes and assumptions people make about multiracial families. His life is not Rabbi Schmuley Married Beyoncé and Had a Son Named Lenny Kravitz.
My wife and I are an interracial couple. She is Black and I’m a White, Jewish man. When people first meet us or learn about us, they frequently make assumptions about our life together. They assume, based on longstanding stereotypes, that our life is like a sitcom called Rabbi Schmuley Meets Beyonce and that our apartment is like Crown Heights, Brooklyn with Jewish people on one side and Black people on the other. Then they find out that my wife converted to Judaism, and they assume that our life is Rabbi Schmuley Married Beyoncé. Then, when they find out that we have a 3 year old Biracial son, they assume that our life is Rabbi Schmuley Married Beyoncé and Had a Son Named Lenny Kravitz.
I can assure you that all of these assumptions are off the mark. I’m not Rabbi Schmuley, my wife is not Beyoncé, and our son is not Lenny Kravitz. And, frankly, it’s disappointing that we’re not those people because then we’d be rich and famous, and we wouldn’t live in this no-bigger-than-a-breadbox-sized apartment.
While being compared to rich and successful celebrities can be flattering, it’s also exhausting and frustrating. Sure, these wrongheaded assumptions can often enough be laughed off. But, at some point, it gets a little old – the “ba-dum-bum” rimshot one-liners about our son’s “Black Mitzvah” or his “Jewfro” — and, at some point, quite honestly, you can’t help but wonder whether people aren’t just trying to be funny but are actually a little bit racist and anti-semitic.
I don’t want to overstate it. Most times, this stuff is pretty tame and harmless. And, when someone is just joking, no matter how poor the joke is, you can usually tell. In addition, I’m not that concerned about what people say to me or about me. I can handle myself. But, I am worried and concerned about what people think of and say to my wife and, even more so, to our son. He’s just a kid. And, I don’t want him to have to spend his life forever explaining himself just because someone is too narrow-minded to wrap their arms around the idea that someone could be Black, White and Jewish all at the same time and yet not adhere to any of the stereotypes that people hold of any of those groups of people. In other words, just because my son has the background he has, it doesn’t mean he’s going to be the World’s first hip-hop accountant eating bagels and lox in one hand and ham hocks and black-eyed peas in the other.
The challenge, of course, is that you cannot control what people think or say. At least, you can’t do it by force. You can’t dictate to people what they think, and you certainly can’t grab them by the throat and make them feel or think certain things.
You can demonstrate in words and actions that misperceptions and wrongheaded comments – no matter that they may be made in the interest of “being funny” – are annoying or hurtful or offensive.
So, how do you disabuse people of their preconceived notions? And, more fundamentally, why should it be our burden to do so?
In the end, I guess the way you break down stereotypes and cut through comments is by not simply moving forward and living your life as you want. Maybe if people see my son and other multiracial/multi-ethnic kids just living their lives, unbeholden to tropes and stereotypes of the past, it will ultimately change people’s perceptions of what it means to be Black, White, Jewish, Latino, Asian, etc.
I just wish my son and others didn’t have to be confronted with demands for explanations along the way.