FREDERICK — As peaceful protesters in downtown Frederick took a stand against racial injustice earlier this month, a white male driver in a burgundy pickup truck rolled past them.
But not before raising his middle finger in the air at the group standing on the corner of Market and Patrick streets.
This grabbed the attention of 9-year-old Parker Wenner, who promptly turned around and asked his mother, Terri, “Why did he do that?”
Parker, the inquisitive son of a white mother and black father, was holding a sign that read in bold, multi-colored letters, “MY LIFE MATTERS.” There was a heart drawn next to the words.
Near the bottom of the sign, in much smaller handwriting, there were three dots and then the phrase “AND SO DOES YOURS”, punctuated by five exclamation points.
In these challenging times, the questions don’t always have simple, straightforward answers. Conversations can be challenging and complex, even uncomfortable, especially for families and individuals that identify with both races.
Sometimes, the issues can be too heavy for a younger person like Parker. The negativity can be overwhelming. That’s why his mother tries to shield him from the news coverage as much as she can. She likes to provide proper context before he is overly exposed to something.
“I don’t want him to see the protesting and immediately think of the violence,” Terri Wenner said. “A lot of the news coverage focuses too much on the violence and not the actual message that is trying to be sent.”
On some occasions, there is simply no dancing around the issues.
For instance, Parker Wenner has a darker skin tone than his older brother, Asher, 24. That has prompted Parker to question why he looks the way that he does.
“He didn’t understand why he couldn’t be white,” Terri said. “He didn’t like his skin tone for a long time. I had to explain to him that we may look different, but we are all the same. What you are on the inside matters more than what you look like on the outside.”
During their everyday lives, the Wenners will still be subjected to a curious or even hostile glance. But multiracial families are far more common than they used to be.
Since they were legalized by a 1967 Supreme Court ruling (Loving v. Virginia), interracial marriages account for more than 15 percent of all new marriages, according to the United States Census Bureau.
According to 2010 Census figures, the most common interracial marriage was between an Asian-American woman and a white-American male (15.3 percent of all marriages), followed by a white-American female and an African-American male (8.6 percent).
Teaching diversity early
Dylan Diggs, an evaluation specialist from Frederick who does contract work for the State Department, met his wife while attending grad school at Georgetown University. They hung out in similar circles and eventually started dating.
Diggs, a Linganore High graduate, is an African American male. His wife Samira, who now teaches social studies at Linganore, is of Palestinian descent and has much lighter features.
Their diversity extends well beyond race.
“I am a (Maryland) Terps fan and she is a Duke fan. She went to Duke,” Dylan Diggs said.
But that’s not all. Dylan is a member of the Frederick Republican Club, while Samira is a Democrat. Diggs likes light blue, a prominent color for his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, whereas Samira prefers a darker shade of blue, such as Duke’s.
“We had to get used to each other,” Diggs admitted once they started dating in 2011.
The Diggs’ two boys, ages 3 and 1, are still too young to have much awareness about the issues of the day.
But Dylan and Samira try and introduce diversity into their lives by giving them toys and reading them books that portray many cultures.
“Sesame Street and books from Curious Iguana, or even the diversity in Marvel toys and books actually have been a real (asset) for that,” Dylan Diggs said.
Some of the books Diggs reads to them attempt to tackle more challenging issues.
“According to psych research, exposing them to diversity at an early age can help to combat some of the implicit biases that pop up, even at young ages,” he said.
“Kids, even at this age, tend to notice and absorb (more) things than we think they do. We try to treat it as a normal-but-important distinction, much like conversations around gender.”
Answering tough questions
Terri Wenner is a single-mother who grew up in an adopted family that embraced diversity.
She is one of seven biracial siblings. Her adopted parents cared for 50-60 foster children, many of different races and different backgrounds. So, inclusion was a normal part of her upbringing.
As such, Wenner is better prepared than most when one of her sons raises a difficult subject, or when an angry trucker flips them the bird.
Sure enough, she was well-prepared when Parker turned around and asked her at the protest, “Why did he do that?”
Terri calmly and carefully responded, “Not everyone believes in what we do. Some people don’t want you to be out here fighting for what you believe in.”
For now, Parker seemed satisfied with that answer. But there will be tougher questions ahead.