By Madeleine Bui
It was just an ordinary summer afternoon in the checkout line at Target. I was with my cousins, my brother Alex, and my mother. Target was obviously not our first choice for a place to spend our summer afternoon, but we were too young to be left at home alone. So, that meant being dragged along to any of the errands my mom needed to run. How fun.
To pass the time in the checkout line, my cousin Sam was pushing me in the shopping cart around the general area, which made waiting in line a little more bearable. Soon we were at the front of the line and to my disappointment, I was ordered by my mother to get out of the cart.
I should mention that my mom is an extremely outgoing person. She talks to anyone and everyone. So naturally, she struck up a conversation with the cashier, aka Target lady. I hope you’re familiar with Kristen Wiig’s SNL character Target lady, because that’s exactly who this cashier looked and acted like. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Target lady skit was based on this cashier.
As my mom and Target lady chatted, simultaneously holding up the line, my cousin Brianna and I shuffled through the trinket section at every checkout in Target. You know how they have chapsticks and pokemon cards there? Yeah, we willingly shuffled through this section. That’s how bored we were. This was the age before iPhones and iPads were how children passed the time while running errands with their mothers.
The point is that we were beyond bored. So as we combed through the baubles and knickknacks, we slowly tuned into the conversation my mom and Target lady were having, which went a little something like this:
“Sorry, my kids are a little rambunctious today. They are excited that their cousins came to visit from Massachusetts.”
“Oh, no worries! You know how kids are. Are these your daughters?”
Target lady pointed to my two cousins.
“Oh, no, those are my nieces from Massachusetts,” my mother said shaking her head. “These are my two children.”
She pointed to Alex and me. We looked at Target lady. Target lady looked at us.
“Oh!” exclaimed Target lady as she looked back to my mother. Then she looked back to us. Then back to my mother. Then back to us. She looked confused. And by confused, I mean completely and utterly baffled. Her brain must have been buffering like Youtube video, as she was just staring at my mom with a dumbfounded look upon her face and her mouth slightly open, allowing a soft gasp to escape. My mother hesitantly smiled and nodded, not quite sure what to do.
Target lady then leaned in closer to my mother and gestured for her to lend her ear. In not-so-much of a whisper, Target lady asked my mother in a low and very serious voice, “Are they adopted?”.
Cue the record scratch! You probably weren’t expecting that, right?
When I would reminisce about what I now called the “Target incident” when I was younger, I thought it was so funny that Target lady thought we were adopted, because I never understood how she came up with that conclusion. To me, it was such a completely absurd statement that I thought it was hilarious. How could anyone mistake my cousins as my mother’s daughters? And at the same time, think that my brother and I were not her biological children? Forget it, that’s pure comedy!
But, there’s something I’m not telling you. Now that I think about it, I probably should have told you earlier. My mom is white. Caucasian. European. Whatever you want to call it. However, my father is not white. He is Asian. Vietnamese to be precise. My brother and I both take after our father in regards to our looks. We both have our father’s dark, almond eyes, rounder nose, and fuller lips.
So looking back at Target incident, I get it. I understand why at first Target lady thought we were adopted. It’s completely understandable. But it was only after I truly understood the intricacies of the perception of race in America that I truly understood the Target incident. In fact, I can remember the exact moment I understood why Target lady said what she had said.
I was sitting on the couch in my family room. I was eating Goldfish. This has no significance to the story, but I just thought I would include this detail. Moving on. The TV was on, so I was watching while enjoying my afternoon snack. On the TV was the news; I don’t remember what channel it was, but I certainly remember the topic of discussion.
It was a Cheerios commercial. You must be thinking, WOW, a Cheerios commercial. How exciting Madeleine. Well, those were my sentiments exactly. Until I read the title of the news story, which went a little something like this: Controversial Cheerios Commercial Receives Backlash.
Oh, now something actually interesting on the news, I thought. Honey Nut Cheerios was my favorite cereal at the time, so this news segment peaked my interest right away. I was curious to how a Cheerios commercial could be dubbed “controversial”, so I sat back and watched.
The news segment was basically about how the Cheerios commercial featured a mixed family, one with a black father, a white mother, and biracial daughter. Apparently this commercial faced backlash from racist comments on youtube where it was posted. Disgusting. Gross. Looking at this family makes me want to vomit. These were some of the comments posted under the video.
I remember thinking, these people are posting these horrible comments because the commercial featured an interracial couple and a biracial child? Interracial couple. Biracial. Wait a minute. Hold up. Is this not like my family? My parents are an interracial couple, right? And my brother and I are biracial, are we not?
I never knew that there were terms for families like mine. I always just thought of us as a “typical” family. Yes, I knew my mom was white and my father was Asian, but I didn’t think about what that made my brother and I. And I didn’t think about how society saw me racially different from my mother, to the extent that this ignorant assumption inhibited them from seeing that she was my biological mother, like the assumption Target lady had made. Well, not until until I saw the Cheerios commercial.
I’m not going to lie, this was all very confusing to me. Why do people care about what a family looked like in a cheerios commercial? Did racists really watch the commercial on TV and feel a dire need to find the commercial on youtube and then proceed to type a racist comment under the video? I wonder if they felt fulfilled after they clicked submit. I bet one of the bigoted commenters thought Ahhh, there’s my daily dose of racism that I MUST send into the world! after typing their comment.
Although I found it confusing, I guess you could say that I found more humor in the absurdity of how a cheerios commercial could divide America, than how hurtful it was knowing some bigots thought mixed-raced children were a sin. Anyway, the typical “white” American family that a lot of commercials portray is not the only type of family in America. There is not just one typical American family. The family portrayed in the Cheerios commercial is just a portrayal of one of the many different types of American families.
In all honesty, I’m actually glad that Target lady overstepped her boundaries that summer afternoon and that the Cheerios commercial was the motivation for bigots across the youtube platform. These instances helped open a dialogue about the concept of race in society and the insensitive assumptions and prejudices that plague our country. When it comes down to it, race is just a social construct that, more often than not, divides us. Now, I know this Target lady will not be the last I will encounter (and hopefully I get to meet the real one in my lifetime; I’m a huge Kristen Wiig fan!) and that there will probably always be racists hiding behind their computer screens for a long time to come, but at the same time, there will always be Cheerios commercials pushing the frontier towards the acceptance of all families of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. I will continue to watch these “Cheerios commercials” while eating my Goldfish.