Below are the abbreviated comments from Project RACE in response to the current Federal Register notice regarding the 2020 Census. The comments were submitted on January 14, 21015. We are awaiting confirmation notification. Staying current with the planning for the 2020 Census and drafting responses to official notices is just one of the things Project RACE does for the multiracial community.
January 14, 2015
Re: Comments on 2015 National Content Test
Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally) respectfully submits the comments below regarding the 2015 Optimizing Self-Response and Census Tests. We are the national advocates for multiracial children and their families. We are often rendered invisible by federal agencies in the discussions and planning for racial and ethnic classifications. We are concerned with ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected in the 2020 Census regarding race and ethnicity.
As you know, the 2000 Census partially accommodated multiracial respondents by allowing us to check more than one racial box. The request by the multiracial community to use the preferred term “multiracial” was denied then and for the 2010 Census. As a result, multiracial respondents who checked more than one race are called “MOOMs” (Check One Or More), “Two or More Race People,” or “In Combination” respondents for purposes of tabulation. Tabulation wording does influence common usage because it is a descriptor of the total numbers.
OMB advised federal agencies to utilize “in combination” in its guidance for federal data on race and ethnicity in December, 2000. However, there has been much confusion about the nomenclature since 1997 when OMB specified, “When the primary focus of a report is on two or more specific identifiable groups in the population, one or more of which is racial or ethnic, it is acceptable to display data for each of the particular groups separately and to describe data relating to the remainder of the population by an appropriate collective description.”
Our requests for utilizing the word “multiracial” on the federal forms has been denied, even though it is important for multiracial children to see a descriptive word for themselves that is correct, respectful, and accurate. We work with many schools, medical facilities, clinical trials, etc. that do use the term “multiracial” on the forms with these directions: If you are multiracial, you may select two or more races. We would like to see testing of this wording on the instructions for the 2020 Census. Census Bureau personnel have indicated that will not happen. We have not been given any reason and our suggestion was not tested.
The instructions for indicating a person’s races are critical to the clarity of the category, which can affect the total numbers of people across all racial classifications. The multiracial population needs assurance that we will not lose numbers based on how the question is asked. “Mark X one or more boxes” proved to be confusing. Our hope is that the testing of “Mark all boxes that apply…note, you may report more than one group” will prove more effective for the multiracial population.
It would be very meaningful to the multiracial population if the appropriate term is at the very least used for tabulation, replacing “in combination.” Ironically, the Census Bureau often uses the term “multiracial” when discussing this population and in presentations, but not in its “official” data collection. If you seek clarity, the term “alone” should be dropped or changed to “racial,” and the term “in combination,” should be changed to “multiracial.” To give an example, consider that the decisions of the OMB and Census Bureau are often reflected by the media. When we see a racial and ethnic pie chart in a newspaper or Internet story, we want to see the multiracial community represented as “multiracial,” not “combination people” or “other.” Both OMB and Census personnel know perfectly well that proper nomenclature is extremely important when used to describe race and ethnicity, yet it is completely disregarded when it comes to only one population group—multiracial.
Additionally, it is reprehensible that OMB Bulletin No 00-02, Guidance on Aggregation and Allocation of Data on Race for Use in Civil Rights Monitoring and Enforcement (March 9, 2000) sets forth racially insensitive instructions in its EEO Enforcement instructions, whereby a person who checks more than one race is assigned to one of their minority races. Discrimination is often the result of a person designating more than one race, and to be reassigned to one race only defeats the purpose of enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unfortunately, we see cases where multiracial children are bullied because they are multiracial, and they have no protection in that eventuality under the OMB guidelines.
We ask that these issues be revisited in testing for the 2020 Census. Changing “in combination” to “multiracial” would mean government acceptance of a word that is very widely used by non-governmental entities. It would also indicate sensitivity for proper nomenclature that is given to other racial groups, which we have been asking for since 1990. Any consideration that can be given to this demographic group that is rapidly and substantially increasing would be appreciated by the multiracial community.
Not all leadership in the Multiracial Community are looking out for your best interests. Be very careful. One “leader” took a position recently about a report that came out by an unofficial source, a slick report called “Race and Ethnicity in the 2020 Census: Improving Data to Capture a Multiethnic America.” What’s wrong with that? Plenty is wrong in the 36-page tome and who is promoting it.
First, the small collaboration that supports this report is made up of three small organizations: The Leadership Conference Educational Fund (LCEF), Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), and the National Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).
Let’s look at the LCEF. Its president and CEO is Wade Henderson. Gosh that name sounds familiar! Ohhhhhh, wait, Henderson was the Washington Bureau director of the NAACP back when we were fighting for a place at the table and for multiracial people. He was adamantly against a multiracial box and/or multiple check-off boxes.
The AAJC is afraid of losing population numbers, just like the rest of us. I’m not sure they belong on this bandwagon except when it comes to adding Asian sub-identifiers.
NALEO is Arturo Vargas’ organization. Uh oh, his name is familiar, too. He’s on the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations. Arturo is a likeable guy—unless you cross him and/or the Hispanic population. They do deserve a place on the NAC Committee, and in this report, although it is just another reminder that the Census Bureau is really running the show instead of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where the decisions on race and ethnicity are really made. Arturo is the guy to do this, and we’re glad they didn’t choose somebody else like a Hispanic/Latino advocate who is pretending to represent the multiracial community.
Speaking of the Census Bureau, Terri Ann Lowenthal was the principal author of the report. Big surprise (yawn). Terri Ann was a staffer for Representative Thomas Sawyer during the 1990s. She was no friend of the multiracial community, although she shared with me once that she had a “mixed” kid. She left the government so that she could work for the government. Yes, you read that right. She became a kind of consultant to OMB, the Census Bureau. She is a good soldier and writes whatever the bureaucrats want her to write.
One more interesting thing about this report is that “the staff of the U.S. Census Bureau” helped with this report. OK, so the usual suspects are in bed together again and still. Business as usual. Just don’t get too cozy thinking this is an independent undertaking.
My job is to go through these things for you and report the truth. I have highlighted the most important parts. I do believe that anyone commenting on the report should read it thoroughly and report back to the multiracial community on those things that concern us, not only one race or ethnicity (i.e. the Hispanic question). So here we go.
First, the writers pat everyone on the back. They applaud everyone from A to Z, but that’s the custom. If you ever get a chance, listen to any Census Bureau Internet webcast and hear it for yourself. You’ll feel like a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader.
I will say that the report gives excellent background on the history of the U.S. Census until it gets to page 4, which is also the first of only a handful of times the word “multiracial” is used. The point of reading through all the text is to get to the standards that were set by the 2000 census, but then comes the BIG OMISSION: it gives the five racial categories and two ethnicity questions, and doesn’t as much as mention the big deal of checking two or more races! Trust me, it was the question leading up to the 2000 census, and they completely overlook it in an important place in the report.
So what does this all mean to us? It means that sometime between September, 2015 and April 1, 2017, revisions could (and let’s face it, will) set off an OMB review. They do this via a Federal Register notice, which will only be seen by those OMB intends for it to seen by. We are not on their list. Why? Because the one guy, Brian Harris-Kojetin, who handles these things at OMB will not answer our calls and emails. Hmmpffff, we’ve been ignored by bigger people! Like Nicholas Jones, who is the Chief of Racial and Ethnic whatever at the Census Bureau. The multiracial community is precisely the kind of stakeholder that should be notified so we can write letters.
PUT A NOTE ON YOUR CALENDER AFTER SEPTEMBER 1, 2015 TO CHECK BACK WITH PROJECT RACE ABOUT WHEN YOU WILL NEED TO WRITE A LETTER TO OMB. WE’LL TELL YOU EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW. THAT’S THE ONE CHANCE WHEN YOU WILL BE ABLE TO HELP THE MULTIRACIAL COMMUNITY WITH THE 2020 U.S. CENSUS!!!
They talk about AQE testing, which is yet another acronym for something that means testing. OK, I can share. It stands for Race and Hispanic Origin Alternative Questionnaire Experiment. They go into requests for new categories (i.e. MENA, which stands for people of Middle Eastern and North African descent), voting rights, redistricting, employment, education, fair housing, healthcare, poverty, and even criminal justice and how they are all affected by clarity in civil rights. They sum it up thusly: “First, for purposes of implementing and enforcing many civil rights laws—especially in the voting rights arena—data on the Hispanic or Latino population are treated on par with data on the five race groups, experts note.” Wait a minute. Where are the multiracial groups, which they refer to as “combination people”? Oh, that’s right. They don’t take our group into consideration for civil rights matters.
Stay with me now. Here it comes. Right on page 17:
“The updated Education Department categories do
not ask Hispanics to report a race; they also collapse
multiple race responses into one, unspecific category of
“Two or more races,” instead of assigning multiracial
individuals to their respective race choices.(Endnote 65) The latter
practice is especially worrisome to civil rights data users,
given the growth in the multiracial and multiethnic
populations. The percentage of the population reporting
multiple races grew by nearly a third (32 percent) between
2000 and 2010, compared to an overall 10 percent
growth in the U.S. population.(Endnote 66) Failure to capture multiple
race responses as part of specific race groups can
adversely affect the ability of educational institutions to
meet minority student enrollment thresholds under various
Do we really need to be reminded of what a mess the Department of Education (DOE) made with their interpretation of OMBs guidelines and the fact that OMB left enough loopholes land for them to do this? They don’t even mention that the Census Bureau not only collapses multiple race responses into one, unspecified category of “Two or more races,” but calls us Two or More Race (TOMR!!) people. This entire paragraph is unnecessary unless the authors are looking to follow DOEs horrible civil rights injustices like taking students who check Hispanic and anything else and making them only Hispanic. They conclude that: “Civil rights advocates note that census race and ethnicity data are the most comprehensive, objective tool for understanding the intersection of issues that can be barriers to equality of opportunity and social justice.” Oh yes! We get that, but are we included? Not so much.
We finally get to the RECOMMENDATIONS chapter. What are these folks trying to get to? What do they want to see? Let’s look at the question of whether there should be a combined format question. It’s really none of our business with the exception of whether they would retabulate the Hispanic numbers into only one category, in which case, it certainly is our business because we would lose numbers. We can play this game, too, if only we were invited to play. On the MENA question, again, not our business unless….By the way, if they decide not to add the MENA category, watch them blame us–little, insignificant in every other way, us.
There it is: our BIGGEST problem. They don’t have any recommendations about the multiracial community. They don’t address the evil retabulation. They don’t say a word about our request to be recognized respectfully as “multiracial,” and not “combination people,” “Two or More Races” (TOMR) folks, or their other name, the “Mark One or More” (MOOM) population.
My very favorite paragraph of the entire report comes on page 19:
The Census Bureau and OMB should keep civil rights
stakeholders apprised of research and testing plans and
outcomes, and establish opportunities for meaningful
and timely dialogue and consultation with civil rights
leaders, experts, and organizations, before key decisions
are made with respect to the 2020 census race and
ethnicity questions and the Standards for Classification
of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity and related
We’re civil rights stakeholders. All I could note in the space next to that paragraph is, “NO SHIT.”
There are 17 recommendations in all. But the endnotes are fun, too. For example, the report refers to a day-long roundtable in July 2014 hosted by the three organizations that ordered this report. It refers to them as “respected” civil rights yada, yada, yadas, Endnote 4 adds this tidbit:
The July 31, 2014, roundtable, “Race and Ethnicity
Data in the 2020 Census: Ensuring Useful Data
for Civil Rights Purposes,” was an invitation-only,
closed door, and off-the-record event. It took place in
OK, full disclosure, but come on! It sure sounds like they are pretty proud of their special invitation only, closed door, and off-the-record selves. I certainly understand how multiracial population leaders would not want to do the in-depth work to detangle this mess. Yes, this is still about the multiracial group. We don’t mind playing bad cop to a good cop, as long as that cop is doing the same in-depth work that we’re doing. It’s only fair.
A biologist, a chemist, and a statistician are out hunting. The biologist shoots at a deer and misses five feet to the left, the chemist takes a shot and misses five feet to the right, and the statistician yells, “We got ’em!”
I spent the better part of last week watching to a webcast of The National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations (NAC). It reminded me of the little scenario above, because the results in no way added up to the goal or the end result. OK, I’m not sure they actually had a goal, but they should have. Instead they spent more time talking about what they wanted to do without actually doing anything.
I do know one thing for sure: the United States Census Bureau has proven that the multiracial community does not exist. We have no representation on the committee, but all of the other populations are represented very well. They even added some new communities, such as the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) group and people with a brand new acronym, MENA (Middle Eastern and North African).
I think I heard the term “multiracial” uttered twice. “Mixed” was said once or twice. Two days of approximately 50 people in one room talking about race and ethnicity and not stopping to wonder what our group could contribute, including what they call us?
The speakers all followed the same format; one person would tell everyone what they were going to tell them. Another person would then read to the group whatever was on a slide in their slide deck. Someone would let the room know when they were done saying what they had to say and then it was time for questions. They had devised some kind of scheme for where to place their name cards, but apparently that didn’t work so they had to change it. There was actually a discussion about which way the tables should be placed. The sound quality was terrible.
Everyone cared about their own special interest group, which bogged down each discussion. Well, that’s not exactly right. The person representing the LGBT group wanted more attention paid to counting homeless Americans, but no one responded to that suggestion. One person called herself a “race and gender scholar.” Believe me, the place was full of them and they spent most of the time telling each other what a great job they were doing and thanking the Census Bureau folks.
The star of the show was clearly Nicholas Jones, whose real title is “Chief, Racial Statistical Branch, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau.” He makes the decisions about race. You’ll just have to trust me on this. He proudly proclaimed that he and his staff have met with the Arab, Asian, Latino, Afro-Latino, and Civil Rights groups in preparation for the 2020 Census. Can you think of a stakeholder group Jones did not meet with? Score yourself a point if you picked the multiracial group.
In thinking about this situation, I came to the conclusion that the government does not understand or believe that the multiracial population is a community. No, we’re not a community that usually agrees on all of the same basic principles, but we are a community nevertheless. The Census Bureau has taken the community out of the multiracial population and our community let it happen. As much as Project RACE has tried to stay on the radar, by monitoring the Federal Register daily, emailing our concerns to the various committees, nominating people to the NAC, and much more, we have missed the advisory committee boat. It’s just kind of floating out there wondering where it’s going.
There was a great deal of talk about “equity and balance” with all groups. Sorry, if it didn’t give me a warm fuzzy feeling, but we were not at the table to revel in it with the others. Yet, I did get a lot of information. I learned about the concerns of communities that were invited to the table. I also saw how full of themselves the government employees and academics really are. It was hardly wasted time. But as a United States citizen and taxpayer, I couldn’t help but wonder how much this ostentatious meeting of self-professed brilliant people who never did come to any good outcomes from this meeting cost.
Well into the final hours, everyone did agree that they all wanted to be on the Race and Ethnicity Working Group. Oh yeah, that’s where the action is. Who wants to deal with Administrative Records Modeling or figuring out how to optimize response to the Census, or designing the mailer when you can be discussing race and ethnicity? Then it happened. Someone realized that there is no longer a Race and Ethnicity Working Group! Its Chairperson had rotated off the Committee and no one really thought about extending this important group. That prompted a long discussion about whether they should even have such a group.
Ann Morning, an academic who has written a few things here and there about the multiracial population announced her feeling: it’s too much work. Yes, a working group is supposed to W-O-R-K. Does Ann Morning represent the multiracial community? No.
Someone did come up with the idea of a subcommittee (strike that, they can’t be called subcommittees) for the AIAN (American Indian Alaskan Native) category because they have some “name problems” much like the multiracial population. But then someone brought up the question of what should be done with “dissenters.” I swear. Someone else said they didn’t like the term “dissenters,” because it’s just too darn negative. Firing squad?
I honestly question the need for the whole lot of them. The real crux of the issues is what Nicholas Jones presented in a webinar four days before this meeting! Let’s face it, friends, Nicholas Jones has worked everything out to his satisfaction long before he even gets to these meetings. He’s not the kind of guy you would seek out to tell him he’s wrong.
I admit I did learn a lot from this meeting, mostly from the ideas of the participants from the other special interest stakeholder groups. Oh, and mark your calendars now—the next NAC meeting will be March 26 and 27, 2015. You won’t want to miss the show.
The U.S. Census Bureau released a report on the Population Characteristics of Fertility of Women in the United States in 2014. Where do they get this information? “This report utilizes fertility data collected in the June 2012 Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS), as well as the 2012 American Community Survey (ACS), to discuss these and other trends,” according to them.
This report represents hundreds if not thousands of reports the Census Bureau writes and disseminates that include racial and ethnic information.
What’s so unusual about this report? It gives the following information on women in the United States included in the report:
Race and Hispanic Origin
White Alone, non-Hispanic
All other races, race combinations
Hispanic (any race)
What?! “Race combinations” are suddenly lumped in with all other races? That was not supposed to happen. It was exactly what Project RACE warned would happen if the multiracial community settled for the check one or more only scheme. It becomes impossible to find out what numbers represent the multiracial population when we are merely lumped in with “other.”
This is not rocket science, it is common sense and if you’re not outraged by it, you should be.
This article appeared in Education Week. While it is sad that complete Hispanic history is not taught in civil rights history, at least some things are taught. The civil rights of the multiracial population is never taught. -Susan
Hispanics Are Forgotten in Civil Rights History
Whenever civil rights has been covered in history class, or when I’ve seen a documentary or read an article concerning such, I have always been very aware of what is missing, and it is something that I am interested in and looking for. As an American of Hispanic descent, I never see any information related to my ethnicity’s cause for civil rights. Where is the plight of Hispanics represented in the civil rights discussion and history of the United States?
In my household, I have heard the stories from older relatives about the treatment of Mexican-Americans in Texas in the 1900s. From what has been relayed to me, it was not much different from how black Americans were treated in Mississippi. Through my parents, I have heard of schools for Mexican children, separate drinking fountains, having to sit in the “black” balconies at movies, and not being able to go to restaurants and other establishments that were designated as “whites only.”
Even with ground-shifting demographic changes, many public schools continue to be highly segregated 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the principle of “separate but equal” education, but those shifts have also created opportunities to approach diversifying schools and classrooms in new ways.
But the public record of what the conditions were for the people of my background is severely lacking. It is as if we did not exist in this country between the Alamo in 1836 and the introduction of Freddie Prinze to the world in “Chico and the Man” in 1974.
When discussing civil rights milestones, where are the discussions about Mendez, et al. v. Westminster School District of Orange County, et al.? This 1946 case challenged the racial segregation that was occurring in Orange County, Calif., schools against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. This landmark litigation was instrumental in repealing many of the segregationist provisions in California law, but it is not presented at all in the canon of civil rights milestones. In fact, even as a Hispanic, I had not heard of this case until President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Sylvia Mendez, the daughter of the lead plaintiff of the lawsuit, in February 2011, and I searched for who she was and why she was being honored.
“It is as if we did not exist in this country between the Alamo … and the introduction of Freddie Prinze.”
When discussing civil rights milestones, where are the discussions about Hernandez v. Texas? This 1954 case established that the protection granted by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was not only for white and black Americans, but that all racial groups required equal protection. This case questioned the use of Jim Crow laws against other classes of Americans, and determined that Americans of Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, Inuit, Native American, and other nonwhite or black descent should also be treated equally.
Along with the discussions of the Freedom Riders and freedom marches, where are the discussions of the 1938 pecan shellers’ strike and the wrongful arrest and imprisonment of over 700 Mexican-Americans peacefully protesting a cut in wages and walking off the job in San Antonio? This action was seen as impacting the creation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which defines many of the occupational rules that govern workers’ rights. Should the name of the Mexican-American labor leader Emma Tenayuca be, at least, presented alongside other civil and women’s rights activists when the conditions that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are presented?
Considering that people of Hispanic descent make up more than 16 percent of the total population of the United States today, efforts should be made to shine a light on the history, conditions, people, and effects of Latino activists and legislation. It’s time to give a large portion of the population its due, so that maybe when educational resources are developed into lesson plans, Hispanics have an element of pride and purpose in knowing that our predecessors also played a role in shaping the world and civil rights that we enjoy today.
Nicholas Dauphine is a senior at Claudia Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson High School in San Antonio, where he is a National Hispanic Recognition Program Merit Scholar and a member of the National Honor Society.
Below is the official wording from the NAACP on its appointment of Cornell William Brooks to be the new National President and CEO. Should this concern the multiracial community? Yes.
Yes, because they have more clout with the federal government than we do. Yes, because certain leaders in the multiracial movement pledged allegiance—and multiracial numbers—to the NAACP in the 1990s and beyond. Yes, because they want the one drop rule intact (one drop of “black blood” makes a person black), and yes, because they set out to do away with multiracial people many years ago.
Yes, because we at Project RACE don’t think any racial or ethnic group should have the right to stomp on our civil rights! Yes, because the NAACP never meant to “bridge” our two communities as they sold that aspect to AMEA, hapas, and others. Yes, because the individual identity of multiracial children, teens, and adults is not dependent on acceptance from the NAACP. We do not need their blessing.
Brooks was quoted as saying, “I look forward to working with the dynamic board and staff, and continuing the important work of the Association in advancing racial and social justice and equality for all.” For all? Really? Or for those who check more than one race, then are re-tabulated as black?
The new tag line for the NAACP is this: “The NAACP fights for your civil rights – Stand with us.” NO THANK YOU.
Susan Graham, for Project RACE
New Leader of NAACP Named
The NAACP National Board of Directors announced its selection of Attorney Cornell William Brooks to be the Association’s next National President & CEO. He will become the 18th person to oversee operations at the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization in its 105-year history.
“We are proud to welcome Attorney Cornell William Brooks as our new president and CEO,” said Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors. “Mr. Brooks is a pioneering lawyer and civil rights leader, who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Association. We look forward to leveraging his legal prowess, vision and leadership as we tackle the pressing civil rights issues of the 21st century.”
Brooks, a longtime lawyer and human rights activist, serves currently as the President and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice based in Newark.
A fourth-generation ordained minister, Brooks has worked to pass legislation enabling previously incarcerated men and women to rebuild their lives as productive and responsible citizens, called a model for the nation by the New York Times. He successfully pushed for state legislation to reduce the effects of widespread foreclosures. Mr. Brooks has worked to develop social impact investing tools to employ more people in higher wage work.
Brooks served as senior counsel for the Federal Communications Commission, executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington and as trial attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. He has also campaigned tirelessly as an advocate for public education, affordable healthcare, and fiscal responsibility.
“I am deeply humbled and honored to be entrusted with the opportunity to lead this historic organization,” said Brooks. “In our fight to ensure voting rights, economic equality, health equity, and an end to racial discrimination for all people, there is much work to do. I look forward to working with the dynamic board and staff, and continuing the important work of the Association in advancing racial and social justice and equality for all.”
Brooks earned a Bachelor of Arts from Jackson State University, a Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology, and a Juris Doctorate from Yale Law School.
The Hollins Group of Chicago, Illinois, conducted the nationwide search for the new President and CEO that included a review of over 450 applications; meetings with 30 semi-finalists; and interviews with the National Board of Directors.
Attorney Brooks will be formally introduced to the NAACP membership in July at its 105th National Convention in Las Vegas, NV.
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan, grassroots civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities.
How South Africa is learning to live with mixed-race couples
Under apartheid inter-racial relationships were banned in South Africa. Journalist Mpho Lakaje, who is married to a white woman, reflects on how the country has changed in the 20 years since the end of white minority rule.
When I started dating the woman I was to marry many of my friends and some of her family – black and white – were united in opposition.
Some members of Daniela’s family were not at all keen. One even refused to let me into their home.
They told her that I was “not good enough for her”.
My peers from Soweto were equally opposed.
One of my childhood friends, Muzi, repeatedly told me he would never date someone who was not Zulu, let alone a person who was not black.
So when he first saw my white girlfriend, the reality of living in a non-racial country finally hit him.
The Mandela effect
Thankfully, most of my family members, including my grandparents who experienced the brutality of apartheid and racism first hand, surprised me by warmly welcoming my wife-to-be.
I was born in Soweto, the famous Johannesburg township that used to be home to Nelson Mandela.
I come from a family of freedom fighters and learned about prominent anti-apartheid leaders like Oliver Tambo, Solomon Mahlangu and Anton Lembede at an early age.
My whole life I was indoctrinated and made to believe that I would grow up, go into exile in Southern Africa and come back to my country to fight white people.
When I first saw an AK47 in my uncle’s room, my political beliefs intensified.
The same month that Mr Mandela left prison in February 1990, I celebrated my 10th birthday.
I remember vividly how some in my community thought that this was the moment for exiled freedom fighters to return home and drive white people out of South Africa.
But the tone in my family gradually changed as we approached South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.
Elders at home began to help the young ones understand the concept of forgiveness and reconciliation as advocated by Mr Mandela. These were profound lessons that gradually and drastically changed my views too.
When I went to college to study journalism, I was exposed to students from different parts of the world.
I was now living in a cosmopolitan environment.
As a young man in my 20s, I was in experimental relationships with girls who were not from my background. In later years, it did not matter to me whether a person was a white South African, Portuguese or Angolan.
However, many of my black friends couldn’t understand the logic behind hanging out with people whose languages we did not understand. Personally, I was fascinated by learning about a world different to mine.
As a result, I had a burning desire to travel.
Fortunately for me, many of my dreams came true. I became a journalist and joined the BBC World Service, getting an opportunity to see the globe.
In 2007 I met Daniela Casetti-Bowen, who had come from Chile to study tourism in South Africa. We became friends and later started dating. Two years later, against her family’s will, we moved in together.
Daniela’s uncle, who arrived in South Africa in the early 1980s, was extremely sceptical about our relationship. He refused to let me inside their house. Daniela’s white South African friends also warned her about dating a black boy from Soweto.
Daniela and I had to take a conscious decision to disregard those opposed to our relationship.
Most of my relatives told me it did not matter to them whether my partner was black or white, South African or not.
While I was a bit shocked by their open-mindedness, I also saw their actions as a demonstration of their authentic commitment to Mr Mandela’s dream of a Rainbow Nation.
But post-honeymoon, reality hit and we started experiencing challenges that come with inter-racial relationships. Some of Daniela’s relatives discouraged us from starting a family.
They said mixed-race children always had a tough upbringing because they do not have an identity.
Again, we ignored this advice and went on to have a baby, Mpho Jr.
Interestingly, relations between myself and Daniela’s family have improved tremendously in recent years.
However, problems started to arise from my side of the family. Questions were being raised about Daniela’s “lack of commitment” to our traditions.
Daniela and I both agreed that culture evolves and therefore we would only follow what is practical.
But some members of my family remain totally opposed to our views. They feel that Daniela needs to follow or perform most of our traditions.
For example, shortly after our son was born, Daniela was supposed to spend 10 days at my mother’s house with the baby. But for us, this was not practical.
However, there are many things that Daniela has agreed to do. For example, my family insisted on shaving our son’s head at three months as opposed to my wife’s belief that this should be done immediately after birth.
But my feeling is that Daniela and I have it easy compared to some of our friends in mixed-race relationships.
Bevin van Rooyen is a coloured (mixed-race) man who was born in Johannesburg. He met his girlfriend Jacqueline Louw, a white South African, while studying at an arts college in Johannesburg.
Born in 1984, Bevin, like me, did not experience much racism while growing up because South Africa was beginning to change.
“I only started experiencing racism when I met Jacqueline’s family,” Bevin tells me. “I was completely shocked. I did not know what was happening.”
While Bevin’s parents welcomed his partner into their family, Jacqueline’s did not.
“From the beginning, it was a problem with me not being white. I was not welcome in the house. Her dad had issues,” Bevin tells me.
When they started dating, the pair kept their relationship a secret from her family.
“When they found out, they kicked her out of the house and she had to move in with me and my folks,” Bevin remembers.
‘Engraved racial classification’
Another friend, Jake Scott, arrived in South Africa in 2009 and is now a citizen. He was born and raised in West Virginia in the United States. His mother is white and his father is an African-American.
Jake’s wife Mandi is a black woman from Soweto. Most days, Jake is in the shanty town of Diepsloot where he runs an organisation that introduces young people to theatre, sports and music.
“At times somebody would refer me as a white person. There are times I would say: ‘Wait a second, I’m black’,” Jake says.
He says they get “the looks” when walking through the shopping centre with his wife but he is not too worried about it.
“This racial classification is very engraved,” he says. “It’s like in the psyche of South Africans.”
As South Africans we still have a long way to go before we can fully embrace each other. I consider myself fortunate to be educated and liberal.
But the reality is, I have many friends, black and white, who are not ready to live in a non-racial society. I remain optimistic though.
My country is definitely not where it was 20 years ago. We have made progress.