Black moms with biracial kids

I recently read an older blog post from Heidi Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. She brought up the issue of how black moms encourage their biracial (or multiracial) children to embrace their identity. What are their perspectives? As a side note, she published that post when I was pregnant with my first son, :). Now, with two mixed-race sons, I have some experience  in this realm.

It seems, she says, that the multiracial agenda is largely set by white moms of biracial children. I think there is definitely some truth to that. In my experience, some black women who have mixed-race children are not particularly invested in their children embracing a mixed identity beyond acknowledging the biological fact that one parent is non-black. They are very adamant about their children largely claiming their “blackness” and other cultural heritages, while not invisible, are secondary; in fact, I’d say the black community at large generally carries this mindset. The fear is that if one doesn’t claim their blackness, then that means something is wrong with being black.

As a society, we’ve definitely internalized the one-drop rule, which, it should be said, has zero scientific evidence to back it up. But even though this social construct is not based on biological facts, the idea of “race” is still a powerful force in our culture. And that is why some black moms of biracial children feel the way I described above. I, however, don’t share that opinion.

As a secular humanist, I despise tribalism or nationalism of any kind. At the end of the day, we have to all get along and someone’s family or country of origin should be a point of respectful interest, not division. I am not invested in how my children racially identify. I do want them to be compassionate, empathic human beings, so they do not have to be considered part of a group before they feel moved to support or fight injustice against that group. That might be another fear some black people have: if you don’t consider yourself black, you won’t be invested in our cause.

These discussions are interesting and definitely needed as more and more people identify as mixed-race.

 

Book Review: Disintegration, The Splintering of Black America

Journalist Eugene Robinson tackles what many African-Americans have noticed for a long time: the common interests of black America are becoming increasingly fragmented.

Why? According to Robinson (if I may sum up), it is mostly due to desegregation and social progress.

Desegregation opened up opportunities for individuals to seek personal success. Social progress led to more positive attitudes towards black people.

These changes created the fragmentation into what Robinson calls four black Americas:

1. Abandoned (those in poverty)

2. Mainstream (living the “American dream”)

3. Emergent (Black immigrants, mixed-race)

4. Transcendent (people like Oprah)

Obviously, the stakes are different depending on which group you fall into.

My thoughts:

In the beginning of the book, Robinson summarizes life for black people during segregation. One feature of life then was being unable to frequent any business, attend any school or college, and live in any neighborhood of your choosing.

This environment created the need for black people to create their own businesses and schools/colleges. It was not a love or desire to own their own stuff or to buy from our own, but a practical need.

Once the threads holding segregation together began crumbling, naturally black businesses started crumbling as well. Because we had choices.

I’ve heard many black people lament this change. And it was real. Desegregation had a negative economic impact on both black-owned businesses and HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).

However, segregation created one horrible reality and desegregation made that reality obsolete.

And that is Robinson’s main point. That in the past being oppressed and black held everyone together towards common goals. Now, because of more opportunities, both economically and socially, the goals and interests of individuals within the black community often differ. Sometimes drastically. Robinson offers his solutions on how to deal with these changes.

One thing Robinson did not touch on at all was this: a world free from racism, or any “ism”, will be filled with people that put a priority on their humanity above race, sex, or culture/religion/philosophy. Taking pride in, or representing your group, will take a back seat if it interferes with your ability to treat another human being with love, respect, and acceptance.

ITYC podcast interview

Michelle McCrary, from Is That Your Child Radio, interviewed me a few weeks ago and it was posted on July 6. I loved it! I had so much fun talking with Michelle about raising mixed kids, interracial relationships, natural hair and being a brown nerd. You can listen to the interview here.

Time was limited, so we didn’t get to talk about nerd stuff as much as I wanted to. As an African-American woman, I don’t fit the usual mold in a lot of areas; for instance I am not religious (I am, in fact, an atheist and secular humanist). And I have always loved science-fiction in any form (books/television/movies) and comics. I can’t think of one girlfriend during my childhood/teen years that shared my interest in any of these things.

Speaking of sci-fi, now that my religious/philosophical leanings have evolved, I’ve come to appreciate even more the creative genius of Gene Roddenberry and the future he imagined in Star Trek. I’m thinking that will be the subject of a future post!

Are those your children???

I’ve always said how I’ve never been asked this question and didn’t think I ever would.

But it finally happened.

While visiting family in Philadelphia, a woman asked me if my children were mine. This seems to be a right of passage for parents with mixed-race children.

We were leaving the hotel to go out to the car and one of the workers asked me, “Are those your children?”

I kind of hesitated and then said, “Yes.”

She said, “Oh.” And went on to say that they were light like their dad, so I guess that started her wondering about their genetics, I guess.

It was mildly annoying, but I didn’t get too worked up about it. It is interesting though how our minds are so focused on race. When we see a family of people who are of different hues, we start wondering if they are biologically related. We’re confused that someone very dark with nappy hair can birth light babies with straight hair or someone who is white with straight hair can birth brown babies with nappy hair.

I guess I get having the curiosity. But I don’t get this extreme need to verify, to the point of asking a stranger if the kids they are with came out of their birth canal.

Anyway, Philly is a lot different from Portland (working on a post about that). And all I have to say is I’m glad I live in Portland!

Loving documentary premiers on HBO

Sadly, I do not have HBO. *sobs*

No, it will be ok. The movie will be on DVD before we know it. But for those of you that do have it, check it out. The Lovings were an interracial couple whose legal battle to live their lives as a married couple made it all the way to the Supreme Court and resulted in the legalization of marriage between the races in 1967. Yay, right?

I’m obviously very thankful for their part in the civil rights struggle and really hope that sometime in my children’s lifetime, this “race” thing will be a distant memory.

 

On colorblindness, part 2

The first phase in the process of colorblindness is actually noticing that someone looks different. It’s not ignoring it. But recognizing someone’s color in this step doesn’t do anything because it can spur a negative emotion (such as with racists).

It is also an identification in a general sense because it usually results in stereotyping. They don’t see the person as an individual, but as representing characteristics they have attributed to this group (and this not relegated to race, btw) in their minds.

Seeing the person as an individual is the next phase. But that requires authentic engagement with the person. Most fail during the phase because they cannot move beyond their own assumptions, judgments, emotional baggage and cultural or group brainwashing. It’s not about pretending the person doesn’t look different and only engaging with them if they think like you do. It’s about accepting (without condescension) that not only do they look different, but they may have a different worldview than you.

And in order to do this, you have to be comfortable with your own sense of self.

I cannot stress that last sentence enough. I think that not being secure in your own beliefs and opinions is what causes so much of the sustained anger and resentment between people over various issues, not just race. For someone like that, if another person doesn’t look like them, think like them or have the same opinions about things, they feel threatened.

Why? I’m not sure, but I think that mindset is rooted in organized religion. A topic for another post!

So the last phase is where you embrace the person to the point where it doesn’t matter to you what they look like. You stop noticing that they look different. But, again, this is after going through all of the above. You can’t just skip to ignoring race.

Children are born with this all encompassing acceptance (which is why abused children continue to seek love from their abusive parents) until adults and society start warping their minds. I think this acceptance needs to be nurtured, along with a healthy emotional foundation. The latter will help multiracial children safely navigate the inevitable ignorance they will encounter in life; those “what are you?” questions will not cause a racial identity crisis but a bold answer of their choosing, not absorbing the possible negative reaction of the questioner, so they can keep it moving.

On colorblindness, part 1

I’ve read many accounts of parents of mixed race children talk about how their child had questions about why mommy and daddy look different at ages as young as two or three years old.

Never really gave this phenomenon a second thought because obviously we live in a very race/color focused society. Not having had children, I didn’t have any experience in this realm.

Until I had my #1 kid and he approached the same age range. Then I noticed something.

He has yet to ask us anything about skin color. He has met various relatives from both sides of our families. His playgroup friends are diverse both in race and religion. But still, no skin color or race questions.

Am I doing something wrong? Should I be talking to him more about race? But then I thought, why should I bring it up if he isn’t asking any questions?

This is what I am wondering: do some parents of mixed-race children unconsciously project their racial viewpoints onto their kids? And do social interactions at school and other places introduce non-authentic internal racial conflict for kids that is further reinforced by well-meaning parents?

Many minorities bristle at the idea of colorblindness. It is equated with downplaying or ignoring someone’s culture. But I don’t think so. I think colorblindness is something to strive for and I define it as being able to see beyond race or culture to connect with and accept the individual.

And do I need to say this is a good thing? Well, it is.

But you have to go through a process to get that point. More about that in part two.

The Broken Bridge

Another worn library copy

I love discovering new books. A recent one is The Broken Bridge by Phillip Pullman. It’s about a mixed race teenager living in Wales with her white father. It is a book for young adults, but since I am a bookaholic, I do not discriminate by reading level. I enjoyed it.

Bridge, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (by Heidi Durrow) and Nella Larsen short stories are the few pieces of literature that I have sought out lately about the mixed experience. Obviously being black, I never gave much thought to the mixed experience until I had mixed children. Now, I am very aware of it and seek out books of all kinds that I’d like to expose my children to.

Ever been mistaken for the babysitter/nanny/au pair? Nope

Several years ago, when I lived in Philadelphia, I watched a documentary by a local filmmaker whose children were biracial. She was black and her husband was white. She recounted feeling like she had to carry around her children’s birth certificate for people to believe they were hers.

She was being dramatic to make a point (I think, I hope) but a fellow Twitter peep (@euphoriaLuv) reminded me of this “phenomenon”; in the blogosphere a lot of mothers of biracial children continually, with lots of indignation, recount stories of people assuming they are the nanny or babysitter of their children.

Well, I can’t nod with understanding because this has never happened to me. I live in the Portland-metro area of Oregon, one of the whitest cities in the country, and no one has ever doubted that DS (and now his little brother) are mine. They may coo over how cute they are (too much of that gets on my nerves, but that is another topic for another post) but no assumptions about if I am the mother.

I wonder why that is? It could be that multiracial families of all combinations are fairly common here. In fact, families of any kind are common here (a friend of mine is friends with a lesbian couple who had a daughter together). So no one bats an eyelash at a milky papa, a cocoa mama, and cafe´au lait kiddos.

Or maybe I’ve just had the good luck of not running into incredibly ignorant people? Because of course I know it happens. I guess for me, when or if someone thinks I’m the help while out with my children, I wouldn’t be particularly scandalized. These awkward racial moments are sort of something to expect at some point if you have a mixed family.

So, has anyone else not had this happen to them too?

Children and multiracial identity

After reading the transcript of this interview on NPR about biracial/multiracial identity, I realized that the time for when my son will start asking my husband and myself questions will be coming up pretty soon. He will be two in May and it seems like yesterday that he was born. Before long, he will be turning four, then five and he’ll start asking away.

What will my husband and I say?

The answer is, I don’t know. We’ve discussed in general terms that we’ll teach him to embrace being both black and white (and the specific ethnicities those entail), be we don’t have it rehearsed, or anything. Plus, we have an idea of what he may ask, but I assume there will be questions we won’t be prepared for.

So how have other families out there parenting mixed kids handled these questions?