Behind The Scenes Of A Mixed Race Family – Peta Layne


In case you’ve missed it, we’ve started a new series that will pop up here on the blog every Friday.

Recently I have been inundated with content about racism in every shape and form – from issues with mixed race parents or cross racial adoption to being asked to write about it on Heritage Day.  There is just so much that we could say on the topic as it’s still touches a very raw nerve in South Africa (and rightfully so).

Besides the odd intentional racist, I feel like a lot of the hurtful comments are actually just brought about through ignorance of how their words will affect other people.  Thinking only of our own personal situations with little regard for others, because that’s all that we know. So in an effort to broaden what we know, I thought I would interview a wide range of South Africans that have a variety of different situations – from mixed race couples to single race couples that adopt cross racially to couples that share the same “race” but differ vastly in terms of culture.  A bit of a mumble jumble of everything really.

So let’s get started!

I want this to be a safe space where we can share stories and encourage each other to be more accepting of our fellow South Africans of all races, cultures and situations.  So while I want to encourage you to comment and open a discussion, I will not tolerate any abusive or troll like comments here.

Yoh. This series.  I’m having so much fun curating it and reading everyones stories.  What is most striking to me is that although the common denominators are the same, the stories are all so very unique.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself – what you do, what you like to spend your time on etc

We are a couple in our 40’s and have been married for 15 years this year (together for 18 years). I am blessed / fortunate enough to be a stay at home mom for the last 5 years. I potter around with clay – sometimes selling a piece here and there. I love reading and am currently learning to ride a motorbike. (My dream is to embarrass my kids horribly as I come roaring up to their house one day on my Harley with tassels on the handlebars!!) Our kids are 14 (Tia) and 21 (Jarryt). We are reasonably active with our social circle and our kids. We are also currently hosting a Norwegian exchange student, Miriam who is 18 and has become a huge part of our family. I am a night owl and a very grumpy morning person. I love being outdoors and travelling.

Tell us a little bit about your partner – what they do, what they like to spend time on etc

Marc is in the IT industry and has recently changed companies. He does a fair amount of travel with trips to JHB and at least one trip a year overseas. In winter he is an avid hockey player and plays league hockey as a keeper. He is born and bred Cape Tonian and has never lived anywhere else. He loves his sport on TV and I think he knows the rules of every conceivable game ever invented!!! He has a head full of the most unusual knowledge and constantly surprises us with weird facts. He is funny, generous and very sociable. He is highly intelligent.

Give us a bit of insight into your racial/cultural backgrounds.

I am white and come from a broken home – family background was a mix between traditional Afrikaans and conservative English. Marc is cape coloured and his parents were together for 41 years before his father passed away. (His mother passed away 3 years ago). My son is white from a previous relationship – Marc adopted him when we married. Marc is also the only father Jarryt has ever known. Tia is coloured (although this changes daily from – grey, to coloured, to half white! Depending on her mood.)

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Where do you live? Does how you are “accepted” change when you visit different places?

Edgemead. We have never really experienced “acceptance” issues where we live, but we have in places where we have visited. We were once told that the waitress at a certain restaurant in a coastal town wouldn’t serve us as we were a mixed couple!?!

Tell us all about your kids – brag a bit – it’s OK 😉

Jarryt – 21 He is fun loving, witty and can charm the pants off a snake!! He is currently working as a river guide on the Breede river. He has done a short trip to Israel at the Kibbutz. One of those kids who skates through life on his personality. He has no set direction and is just “going with the flow” for now. Drives me nuts!!! But can always be relied on for a laugh and a cuddle when I need it. Is beyond protective of his family.

Tia – 14 Complete opposite to her brother. Set in her ways, determined, both feet on the ground type of child. Studious and knows what she wants from life. (She plans on studying Marine Biology at UCT and then going to John Cooke University to do her post grad.) Loves a good joke, is useless at telling them because she laughs her way through it. Is loyal and protective of her friends and family.

How do you and your partner view race in your relationship? What kind of role does it play in your family? Does it even feature?

Race never really featured between the two of us – our theory has always been we are who we are and if you don’t like it because of the colour or our skin then it’s your loss. Having said that it certainly featured early on in our relationship with family. Example – when my mom first met Marc he was standing in the house and she wanted to know why the gardener was in my house – her face when I told her he was my date was beyond priceless! Jarryt unfortunately carried the brunt of our “colour difference” as kids constantly asked him why his parents were different colours and when we got married one little bugger asked him why his mother was marrying a “kaffir”. This did not sit well with us!!! We constantly tease each other though with comments like – “Oh you listening to white music again” or “Dis jou mense” and many more. They are said in jest and are accepted as such. Our house is one of laughter, teasing and the odd inappropriate comment!

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Are there big differences in your marriage relationship that are affected by your heritage/culture?

Yes and no. The first difference we had to overcome was the fact that I came from a broken home and small family and he comes from a “stable” home and huge family. Our way of thinking about things, events, birthdays, family traditions, etc. (e.g. we never really celebrated Christmas – they did). Cultural differences were more subtle, but still took getting used too. Constant sharing of everything – space, things, time. Going to a function with everyone from the baby to the hobbling 90 year old. BIG family gatherings – just because. When someone passes away your house is invaded with family and friends with offerings of everything from sympathy to tins of coffee to meals which will last you forever. (White families tend to stay away – so that they don’t intrude). Left overs being dealt out at the end of the evening / function.

How have your families reacted to your relationship?

Surprisingly well – given the time it started (1997). Some family members were far more accepting than others. Some went to their grave saying “Marc is such a lovely person – pity he is coloured”. From his side there was never an issue – I was accepted whole heartedly warts and all!!

What kind of experiences have you or your partner had when you have been out with your kids (alone with them or together as a family)?

Tia is a cardboard cut out of her father – clearly I just gave birth to her! 🙂 So it is very obvious whose child she is. I love seeing peoples faces when she introduces her brother (who is white as a sheet) and you can see peoples minds trying to work that one out. When I introduce my kids to strangers these days, there might be the odd look of “really they are both yours?” but quickly disappears when the four of us are together. Early on we used to get the odd look in the street but never reacted to it or even acknowledged it. As a family – constant teasing is the name of the game – and very little is off limits.

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What are some of the ignorant and hurtful things that have been said to you and your husband about this issue?

Mentioned earlier about the marriage thing. That one stands out vividly. On another occassion we travelled to Kimberly to our Ouma’s 80th birthday celebrations and on arrival were told that she didn’t want us to come to the old age home she was staying at as she didn’t want people to know that I married a coloured! On one occassion one of my sons friends made the mistake of insulting his sister – that ended their friendship very smartly. In terms of ignorant – well at least you married a coloured man and not a black man – the culture difference would be too big. This is something that really struck me as an odd and ignorant thing to say as clutural differences are apparent in any mixed marriage – be it South African and German / Black and White / English and Afrikaans. Maybe the differences aren’t always as blatant but trust me they are most definitely there.

What do you think we can do to combat this ignorance/stupidity?

Think before we open our mouths. Educate ourselves before we say something. Ask questions from a place of honesty and curiosity rather than from nastiness. Mixed couples being open and willing to share their experiences so that others can learn.

 

Did you have any fears about parenting mixed race children before you had them? Have any of those fears changed since becoming a Mommy/Daddy to kids with mixed genes?

We actually hadn’t planned on kids (well I hadn’t!) Then came Tia. So no we never gave it any thought or had any fears about it when I fell pregnant – curiosity maybe, but no fears. The first time it occurred to me that she was coloured was when I had to complete her enrolment form for school. She has and always will be just my kid.

Do you have any advice for those new to this experience?

Be open. Be willing to learn and accept. Laugh – it is one of the most important aspects of any relationship. Be honest – with yourself and your partner. Be willing to share.

Like what you’ve read here?  That’s flipping awesome – feel free to share it with your friends.  Also come hang out with me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram where you can expect to find a whole lot more of this, just shorter.

 

Thank you Peta for joining in on this series!

If you’re in Cape Town and want to stand up to racism in our City take the pledge here.

If you would like to join in and be featured in this series or know of someone that would, please feel free to get in touch with me on cindyalfino@gmail.com.

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