My husband and I met in college, which meant nobody cared that he was Indian and I was not. Most of my college friends drifted in and out of inter-racial relationships, but race rarely came up. It was the blissful insularity that only a liberal arts campus in the middle of nowhere can provide.
When we graduated and were still dating, my parents finally confessed their worry. This came in the form of a question: "We love him and want you happy, but...what about the children?" It was before Tiger Woods, Obama and the Pitt-Jolie family. The question sent the message that marrying the man I loved came at the price of confused racial identity for my kids.
Today the question is preposterous. Sure, there are moments of racial confusion in our family, like when I told my daughter we were having Indian food and she corrected me, "No, Native American food." But for the most part, race does not register. The kids use three crayons to color our faces, innocently rambling, "Brown...white....tan." We are one big multi-colored family, like puppies in a litter.
So this is how we entered the security check point at our local airport on December 24, 2014. Colorblind and excited to start our winter vacation. Since 9/11 my husband gets a second look from airport security, but we usually shrug it off, thankful the TSA is doing its job. This time was different.
I was ahead of him, preoccupied with the kids and our bags. From the corner of my eye I saw the TSA agents approach him and figured it was the usual stuff. When I looked back again, he was gone.
I asked where they took him. Silence. I didn't realize I was carrying my husband's backpack until an agent demanded I hand it over. "It went through, it's clear," I said. The agent ignored me and took the bag. The kids were eyeing the escalator. The clock was ticking towards our departure. My son asked, "Where's papa?" I did not know what to say.
Then my husband reappeared from behind a navy blue curtain. His soft, jovial face was stone stiff.
I want to be clear -- this is not a story about the TSA or racial profiling. This is about my shortcomings as a wife and mother.
"Why didn't you tell them we were waiting for you?" I asked as we rushed to the gate. "We had no idea where you were or what was happening."
I didn't let up as we boarded the plane. "You should have told the agents to send word to us. You have to think of your family, too." I was lecturing a man who had just endured a full cavity search.
"The scanner lit up for explosives," he finally said.
"Well, obviously it was a mistake. Who would blow up a plane with their wife and kids on board? You should have just said something."
"Duly noted for next time."
He sat down and I simmered. Why was he being so selfish? To me, the false positive was nothing more than a nuisance, a glitch that I later learned is quite common (especially after contact with baby wipes, a staple in our home). If the scanner had detected explosives on me, the error would have been clear. You can't get further from the terrorist profile than a white, mini-van driving mom from Long Island taking two toddlers to Florida for Christmas. I assumed the same was true for him. My colorblind eyes couldn't see that my Indian husband, my college sweetheart, fit the physical profile of a terrorist.
We agreed to disagree and retreated to separate camps -- I felt slighted, he felt misunderstood. Weeks later I read the account of an African-American male stopped by the police. That's when I got it. I saw my husband in the story I finally felt his fear. When he was taken behind the curtain he wasn't annoyed or amused as I would have been, he was afraid. I apologized, and he explained that by remaining silent he was taking care of us. An innocent request to inform his family of his location could have been mistaken for non-compliance, and who knew what would have happened then.
I still believe we can live in a colorblind world, even if only in our homes and minds. But we can't forget that the other world exists, and our loved ones have to live in that world, too. If we don't love them through the times when color does matter, we risk losing the love that made us colorblind in the first place.