On Friday, yet another ad popped up on my Facebook feed: Old Navy was promoting their latest sale — 30% off your entire purchase. But it wasn’t just the offer itself that caught my eye. This time, it was the models. There in the photo, stood a black woman, a white man, and a (presumably) bi-racial child — all together and smiling.
My reaction was instantaneous and unfiltered. As the white mother to three black children, I was thankful. I was grateful. The increase in advertisements we’ve seen featuring interracial and adoptive families all serve one great purpose: They create awareness and (hopefully) promote more acceptance. I spent a brief moment looking at the ad before continuing on through my newsfeed, not giving it much thought.
Cut to: this morning. It seems in the days since the ad first appeared, Twitter has spoken on the matter — and spoken loudly. While some, like me, found the ad uplifting, others were downright angry and hateful. Some Twitter users went so far as to say they’ll be taking their money elsewhere, while others deemed the ad “disgusting.”
— Old Navy Official (@OldNavy) April 29, 2016
The reaction to the reactions shocked many. But unfortunately, I wasn’t shocked in the least. Negative reactions to interracial families is nothing new to me. After all, my husband and I, who are both white, have been asked why we didn’t adopt “one of our own kind” (a.k.a. a white child) more times than I can count. We’ve also been asked if our kids are “full” or “mixed” (as though they’re a cup of coffee or a dog breed), and why we didn’t adopt a child from our “own” country. (For the record, our children were, in fact, adopted from the United States. But the assumption that interracial adoptions are also international adoptions is more common than you’d think.)
We’ve been asked about our “foster” children (our children were not and are not from the foster care system). And the assumption here is not lost on me: Many think that the foster care system is ridden with children of color, when in fact most children in the foster care system are white.
My toddler son was even called a “cute little thug” once by an acquaintance, and my daughters were called the n-word by a young white male while he was driving past our home last spring. All while my girls were happily riding their bikes in the driveway.
But for all of the hateful, ignorant, and racially charged tweets that were thrown at Old Navy in the last few days, there were at least 10 more that shouted their support.
Some users tweeted out photos of their own interracial families, along with the hash tags #lovewins and #diversity. And at the end of the day, sharing those images was way more powerful than reading any of the hateful words spouted from coward hiding behind a computer screen. The positive tweets thankfully trumped the bad, sending a clear and honest message: Interracial families exist and their love is just as real as the same-race family next to them.
What I love about the upheaval, though, is that it’s forced Americans to once again think about race — a topic that is usually avoided at all costs. America has a long, violent, and disturbing history when it comes to race and racism, and it’s certainly not easy or comfortable to acknowledge, dissect, and discuss it all. But sweeping such critical discussions under the proverbial rug has never served humanity well.
Companies like General Mills and Honey Maid have also produced ads featuring interracial families in the past — both by birth and adoption — and these advertisements, just like Old Navy’s, have created heated debates across the Internet on issues of race, racism, and ultimately, love. Let’s not forget the Cheerio’s ad starring a bi-racial girl and her family spurred the We Are the 15 Percent campaign, which encouraged more interracial families to post family photos celebrating diversity.
I doubt that Old Navy was trying to push any agenda or make a statement with the ad to begin with. The truth is that 15% of families are interracial, as reported by the 2008 census. Old Navy’s ad was simply representative of one of the many types of families in America and the “changing times” have spurred both anger and support.
Still, it’s a reminder that a picture truly is worth a thousand words. A single image can encourage conversation, and conversation can bring about change. I hope that one day the single word that comes to every person’s mind when seeing a family like mine is “beautiful.”