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Yes, You Can Become Less White

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Can being married to a person of color, or having mixed-race children make a white person less white?

This is a topic that came up in my newsfeed recently and it's something that personally resonated with me.

I'm a mixed-race woman, who is Latina, Middle Eastern, European, Mayan and even a tiny bit sub-Saharan African. I know this because I recently took a DNA test since I don't have my biological parents here to ask for an updated family tree.

The color of my skin is, in many regards, "white." I've never quite looked white, but my features are so ambiguous, I am often mistaken for Persian, Greek, Indian, Armenian or even Italian. Growing up, however, I was raised exclusively by my mother's side of the family – the "white side." I didn't speak Spanish; I didn't learn how to make tortillas or kabob. I was as Wonder Bread as they come.

For me, this confusion of racial identity and skin color had a profound effect. I definitely felt like a non-white person, and have spent my life being singled out by the white majority as "ethnic-something," yet, my pale skin pegs me squarely in the zone of "white woman."

By definition, white is a skin color – not a nationality, race or ethnicity, however, it's often used as the latter. In our country, white is a box you can check on a form to indicate your race, which is part of the problem we have in understanding what the term truly means.

For me, this confusion of racial identity and skin color had a profound effect. I definitely felt like a non-white person, and have spent my life being singled out by the white majority as "ethnic-something," yet, my pale skin pegs me squarely in the zone of "white woman."

Now as a woman married to a Mexican man, and as the mother of our two mixed-race children, I definitely feel more Mexican than I did as a child.

So, when I recently read something that disputed parents become "less white" when they have non-white kids, I took issue.

RELATED: Having Mixed-Race Kids Doesn't Make You Non-White

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The piece above was inspired by an essay in the New York Times, written by Chinese-American author Jack Cheng, that said his white wife felt "less white" because of their two mixed-race children.

In this particular piece, the author (an Asian mom) disagrees that a white person can become less white when they interracially marry and/or have an interracial family. If we are talking exclusively about skin color, she couldn't be more factual. There is no measurable increase in someone's melanin, the skin pigment responsible for color variations, when they marry someone with a different skin color or have children of a different skin color.

Now, if we are talking about culture – which I believe both writers are — then I would have to disagree.

First, since white is a social construct and not an ethnicity or a nationality, it makes it nothing more than an idea. Yes, I'm saying there is no such thing as "white people."

While the idea of white personhood has proven to be dangerous when we look at issues of slavery, segregation, white privilege and hate crimes, it isn't representative of a true identity.

If we were to gather 1,000 self-proclaimed white people and test their DNA, we would most likely find a rich and varying map of interwoven human populations.

Like me, these people may find that they have a blend of ethnicities, some of which have typically darker skin tones than others.

But we are talking about culture, and further, about how society perceives other cultures, outside of the established norm, which, in all respects, is still called "white."

It seems odd for anyone to claim they are a different ethnicity or nationality just because they intermarried or have mixed-race children. But it doesn't mean someone cannot become a part of the culture in which they've married or had a family. In fact, it seems to be a natural part of adaptation.

What Lynch claims is that a culturally white person cannot become Chinese or any other non-white culture because of intermarriage or having children who are mixed (or in cases of adoption of a different culture altogether). The white person cannot know the trials and tribulations that a person of color experiences as they navigate themselves through our often racially biased society.

She says: "But it just seems disrespectful and offensive to proclaim yourself as Asian (or Latino or black) because you're married to someone who is or the parent of kids who are."

It's hard to disagree with that statement. It seems odd for anyone to claim they are a different ethnicity or nationality just because they intermarried or have mixed-race children. But it doesn't mean someone cannot become a part of the culture in which they've married or had a family. In fact, it seems to be a natural part of adaptation.

When I married my puro-Mexicano husband and later gave birth to two handsome boys with varying levels of brown skin, I definitely felt a deeper connection to my Mexican and Mayan heritage. I learned to make tortillas, tamales and caldo. I started speaking Spanish, even though it wasn't my native tongue. If I'm totally honest, when I am with my husband and his family or with my Latino friends, I all but dismiss my white cultural upbringing.

Since marrying my husband and having children, I have also experienced racism in a different way. While I may have always been singled out and asked about my origins and surname, I was never treated like a thief or regarded with fear the way my sons and husband have been treated, both in my presence and away from me. I have had my ideas disregarded in favor of a white male's ideas, and I've even been hired to satisfy an equal opportunity requirement at a workplace, but never have I been passed over for a promotion or denied acknowledgement of my success on the job due to my ethnicity, as my husband has.

As a member of this family, I feel those exclusions and accusations that target my husband and children as acutely as if they happened to me because my husband and children are a part of me.

Yes, I am saying that by marrying a non-white person, and having non-white children, I became "less white," and further, that I have learned some of the darker realities of being a person of color – even if my own skin color is white.

Culture is a learned behavior. It is a system of values, beliefs, practices and rituals that create a structure and system of being, and more importantly, of belonging. The same is true for every culture around the world – including white America.

Yes, I am saying that by marrying a non-white person, and having non-white children, I became "less white," and further, that I have learned some of the darker realities of being a person of color – even if my own skin color is white.

And when you adapt to and incorporate a culture into your identity, it becomes a fact of who you are. Jack Cheng's wife, even if she grew up in a traditional white American home (whatever that means), now identifies with Chinese-American culture, too. Because of that, she feels less white than when she was not married to a Chinese-American man and had Chinese-American children.

I get that.

Does that mean she should check "Asian" on the next census question that asks for her race? No. (A part of this discussion stems from Jeb Bush, whose wife is Mexican, recently marking himself as "Hispanic" on a voter registration form.)

Does that mean she has experienced every possible nuance of racial discrimination in this country? Probably not, but I doubt anyone from any culture has experienced every imaginable form of discrimination.

Does that mean that Jack Cheng's wife should therefore be excluded from feeling a sense of belonging to her Chinese-American family in a real and valid cultural way? Or from claiming she feels less white than she did as a child? Absolutely not.

There are so many nuances of culture, even standard American culture. Southerners enact their culture differently than us Californians, and New Yorkers don't practice Americanism the same as those from the Midwest, either. We adapt. We change. We incorporate. We learn. Like language, culture is an ever-changing facet of human existence.

Yes, we can become more — or even less — "white" just as we can learn to speak differently, learn to believe in different religions, learn to eat different foods, and learn to exist in a wholly different way than how we were raised.

We can understand cultural difficulties and differences, especially when they become a part of our identity and daily existence. If we didn't, we risk remaining stagnant. That's where toxicity lies, and where we should avoid standing.

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Explore More: advice, race, multicultural, biracial, mamá a mamá, familia, Latina Mom, interracial
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