This week we're heading to New York City to meet the Barnett family! I met Alex through Twitter as I was getting our new page going and started following him. He is a comedian and also has his own blog and podcast, The Multiracial Family Man. In fact all 4 of us ladies from Swirl Nation Blog will be appearing on an upcoming podcast! So we were delighted to feature Alex and his lovely wife Camille, and their son Ivan.
MEET THE BARNETT FAMILY:
Alex Barnett, a youthful and exuberant 48.5 years old
White, Jewish (from Brooklyn and then before that somewhere in Eastern Europe -- think “Fiddler on the Roof”)
Camille Barnett, an even younger-looking, but far wiser 45 year old
Black, Jewish (by way of Detroit, then before that with roots in Brooklyn and Georgia and before that someplace in Africa, though slavery kind of put a dent in record-keeping)
Ivan Barnett, aka “The Client” (given his demands) who tops out the scales at 3.5 feet tall; somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 pounds; and 4.5 years old
A blend of Alex and Camille, but in truth, he’s all NYC all the time
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
We live in NYC because we want to be at the center of it all. Also, we enjoy living amongst Billionaires so we can truly understand what it feels like to have grossly underachieved in life.
HOW DID THE TWO OF YOU MEET?
Camille and I met online (I will spare you the jokes about online at the Kosher Chitlins counter, etc).….
WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP CORRELATED TO YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
The major obstacle was that I lied about my height on my online profile. Camille and I are the same height (although with her afro all bets are off now, and, of course, with heels on, forget it), but in my profile, I professed to being 3-4 inches taller than that. For the first six weeks we were dating, she kept saying “how are you taller than me if I’m taller than you?”
WHAT TRADITIONS DO YOU CELEBRATE IN YOUR HOME?
If you’re speaking of religious traditions, we are a Jewish family, so we celebrate Jewish traditions. Our son is especially fond of Hanukkah and Shabbat - mostly because they involve lighting candles (and of course, he’s introduced a post-modernist element to both holidays by immediately blowing the candles out in a mash-up of Hanukkah/Shabbat and birthday). We celebrate Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur (not so much a celebration as much as a commemoration of hunger), and of course, the Jewish ritual of feeling guilty as much as possible.
Beyond that, we have nightly rituals of bath avoidance and refusal of the invitations to go to sleep. The daily ritual of not eating vegetables. The morning ritual of ignoring mommy and daddy while watching cartoons. And, of course, the time-honored tradition of parental disputes over how to get a 4.5 year old to do anything you want on a timely basis.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CULTURAL FEATURE/TRADITION OF YOUR SPOUSE'S RACE?
When it comes to Judaism, a religion which Camille came to by choice, I believe her favorite feature is my mother, with whom she is very close. Think Laverne & Shirley (except played by Mary Tyler Moore and Taraji P. Henson). I don’t know that I have one favorite cultural tradition when it comes to African-American culture. I suppose to the extent that people think I’m much cooler because I’m married to a Black woman, I enjoy that uptick in social status. Beyond that, I guess inasmuch as African-American culture is about overcoming oppression and belief in redemption, those are powerful and moving ideals that are inspiring.
IS THE COMMUNITY YOU LIVE IN DIVERSE?
Yes and no. NYC is about as diverse as you can get. At the same time, the neighborhood we live in is filled with yuppies who are pretty homogeneous. There aren’t that many people of color or, indeed, that many multiracial couples.
DO YOU OR YOUR PARTNER SPEAK IN MORE THAN ONE LANGUAGE IN YOUR HOME?
Well, at present there’s a lot of spelling of curse words (again, the 4.5 year old is very sharp). We both tend to use Yiddish (because sometimes English just is not descriptive enough). Otherwise, we basically stick with English, though every so often I trot out a Spanish word or two, just to prove I still remember everything I learned in 5th grade, some 38 years ago.
ARE YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY SUPPORTIVE OF YOUR MULTIETHNIC RELATIONSHIP?
Yes. Everyone’s very cool about things. Of course, it helped that we gave them a really cute grandson.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR PARTNER'S ETHNIC-CULTURAL BACKGROUND?
I think my wife’s favorite things about Judaism are: my mother, deli food generally (and pastrami sandwiches in particular) and our rabbi.
As for me, I love my in-laws, also, again, the “cool points” thing is a nice bonus. Beyond that, I don’t know that I have one favorite thing, though I do very much enjoy reading “African-American” literature and books (fiction or non-fiction) and seeing film about the African-American history and experience.
DID YOU FIND BIG DIFFERENCES IN THE WAY YOU GREW UP VS. YOUR SPOUSE DUE TO DIFFERENCES IN RACE?
Not really. Turns out, we’re both over-anxious, guilt-ridden, hypochondriacal people.
WHAT IS THE MOST SURPRISING/UNEXPECTED THING YOU'VE LEARNED ABOUT EACH OTHER'S CULTURE?
For Camille, I think she still struggles with correct Yiddish pronunciations. I don’t blame her -- hocking up a loogie to speak is an acquired skill to be sure.
As for me, I think what was most surprising was the lengths that Black women will go to in order to find and purchase hair care products.
ARE THERE ANY COMMENTS YOU ARE REALLY TIRED OF HEARING FROM PEOPLE IN REGARDS TO RACE/CULTURE?
We’ve heard just about all of them. Many have made their way into my comedy routine. I don’t know that there’s one that ranks more than others, though I’m always blown away by the “hair pat” (people touching my wife’s afro) and by the “nanny” comment.
WHAT ACTIONS HAVE YOU TAKEN TO TEACH YOUR CHILD ABOUT EACH OF YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
Mostly we just expose him as much as possible to both sides of his family and to children’s books about Judaism and African-American (as well as Multiracial) experience.
HAVE YOUR CHILDREN ASKED ABOUT RACE?
Not yet. Though the time, at age 3, that our son said “daddy is white, mommy is black, and I’m white”. It made me realize that we were going to have to have conversations with our son much earlier in his life than I thought would be the case.
DO YOUR CHILDREN IDENTIFY AS MIXED OR SOMETHING ELSE?
Right now, I don’t think he truly understands the concept of “race.” What he knows is visual observation. And, at this point, he seems himself as White because he is light, like daddy.
HOW DO YOU RAISE YOUR CHILDREN TO HONOR DIVERSITY IN OTHERS? Bribing him with snacks. Plus we just teach him to be nice to and respect everyone.
WHAT UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS DOES YOUR CHILD HAVE FROM YOU AND YOUR PARTNER?
Our son looks just like my wife (but lighter). He mostly acts like me, but thankfully he has his mom’s artistic talent.
HOW DO YOU PLAN ON TEACHING YOUR SON TO BE PROUD OF BEING MIXED?
Our plan is to teach him to be proud of himself, period. I don’t know that we will emphasize the multiracial-ness of his identity, but we will certainly not shy away from it either. I think the point is to expose him to the range of human experience and let him find his own way, providing guidance and advice as needed.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR YOUR CHILD'S FUTURE AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICA IN REGARDS TO RACE?
It’d be nice if we could end Climate Change and actually leave a planet for our son to enjoy. Also, if we could find a way to become billionaires, that’d be cool.