Desmond grew up in Sarasota. His parents met in the Northeast, then moved to Florida before he was born. His mother, Pattie Paradise, is white, and his father, Wesley Desmond, was Black, which did not sit well with his mother’s family, Desmond said.
When he was 18 months, and his sister, Nikki, was 3, their father died unexpectedly. Paradise worked two jobs, sometimes three, to take care of them. She married Chris Charron, who is white, when Ian was 5. (The couple divorced 13 years later.)
The family lived in a mostly white neighborhood. When Nikki and Ian were in elementary school, their mother transferred them to a private, Catholic school, where they were among the few students of color. Ian said he learned later that the school held a meeting with the student body to announce that he and Nikki would be enrolling. “They had to prepare the kids and say, ‘Hey, there are some Black kids coming, biracial kids,’” Desmond said.
Their family didn’t talk a lot about race. Paradise and Charron had two more children. “Our sister is eight years younger than me, and people would ask her, ‘Why do your brother and sister have brown skin?’” Nikki said.
Ian played soccer, with mostly white teammates and opponents. Nikki participated in gymnastics, which was mostly white as well. “It’s fair to say that my sister and I identified as white,” Ian Desmond said. “We knew we were biracial, but we just kind of felt like one with the white community.”
Still, he encountered racial profiling. As a young teenager, he was heading to a Sports Authority when he saw a woman approaching the entrance. He hurried over to hold the door open for her. Instead of thanking him, she clutched her purse.
“I was like, ohhh,” Desmond said. “It was really nothing to me, but at the same time it was like, man, this lady thought I was going to rob her.”