I am the mother of a two-year-old son. I am white and his father is
black. I would love some feedback on ways to give him the best of both
worlds. I would also appreciate any advice on how to handle "disapprovers".
Any input on multi-racial children would be a great help.
ANSWER: Your son's experience of being
a mix of both Black and White will be uniquely different from either
of his parents. The first step in raising children is always to attempt
to understand precisely what their experience is, rather than what we
might believe or imagine it to be. See the world through your child's
eyes. Seek to understand and support his unique sense of self and multiracial
experience. His initial self-image is founded upon the reflection of
those who love him the most.
The foundation of love and respect between his parents
represents his world and he will identify with each of you. The family
container holds authority for him and he will turn to the two of you
for answers as he grows. Naturally, your "answers" will evolve with
his age, and being truthful will give him reason to trust and develop
his character around the values you teach.
The family is the cultural container for heritage
and history. Intimate familiarity with extended family relationships
on both sides and celebrating rituals of his dual cultures will serve
to strengthen his sense of belonging in both. But there will be struggles.
As in many areas, children can be cruel and ignorance
is our worst enemy. The greater the cultural diversity in which you
grow up in and live, the less potential for discrimination as familiarity
and contact contribute to increased tolerance and acceptance. Still,
your child will become aware of racism and "disapprovers" over time.
If your family relationships are loving and trustworthy, your children
will look to the two of you for the interpretation of any negative
experiences and rely on you to identify ignorance. As with any hurtful
experiences, the family serves to interpret, heal and facilitate the
transformation of pain into growth.
Strength and courage are the result of facing the
challenges that are presented to us. As Martin Luther King said, "The
measure of a man is determined by how he handles life, not only when
things are going well, but when they are not".
Learn from others on your similar path. One client,
mother of three, raised her interracial children with many of her
own Jewish traditions and celebrations, but incorporated many of the
"soul" foods of their father's Black culture. Even when her marriage
dissolved and she was a single, white parent of three interracial
children, she provided a supportive atmosphere with connections to
both communities. Her eldest son immersed himself in his father's
culture when he lived with his paternal Aunt and Uncle for a summer
in his late teens. When her daughter was in her early twenties she
lived and studied in Ghana. Her adult children enjoy a strong sense
of their individuality based on acknowledgment and support of their
diverse cultural roots and just downright "good parenting"! This mother
believes that it was beneficial for her children to immerse themselves
in their Black roots for some period of time while growing up. She
also believes the "soul" food carried the roots of their African tradition
on a daily level. Recipes, stories and rituals may serve to hold the
power and flavor of history.
The family is the matrix for understanding our experiences
and forming a sense of identity. Open discussions provide a safety
zone for your children to achieve self-knowledge. The family's task
to serve as the "buffer" for our growing children provides a safe
place to seed self-esteem, rendering children less vulnerable to ignorance.
Your child will internalize the family's clear and strong message
of esteem and respect.
Another father of interracial children claims the
most critical part in raising his children was keeping in touch with
who they were, rather than who he was growing up as a Black American.
He warns parents against the myth that "one drop of black blood" determines
complete identity as an individual. Keep in mind that we are a very
visual culture. The fastest and most superficial judgments are made
upon first sight and can be divisive to an interracial child. To be
"all black" or "all white" will not be authentic, and though your
children may at one time or other identify more with one part of their
racial background than another, their need to integrate the reality
of who they are will be at the heart of their sense of self. Discussions
about identity, especially in adolescence should be encouraged.
Your children will experience the realty of superficial
classification by their "looks" as all of us are subject to, to some
degree. It is our job as parents to support our child's true and unique
identity above shallow interpretations. You and your husband must
discover your own ways of handling others who may stare uncomfortably
(for example) and be willing to discuss the effects of ignorance in
society and how you wish to respond. Developing a safe forum for discussion
of your child's bi-racial experience is crucial. Failure to discuss
these issues may lead to identity confusion and lowered self- esteem,
as with one Japanese-American client. Her family never discussed the
fact that she and her siblings were the only Asians in her high school.
Her own family's silence on this vital subject left her with a sense
of unspoken "differentness". Haunted by the unspoken, a legacy of
shame developed instead of pride.
Make yourselves the authority on your children's
experience as they are growing up, and they will turn to you for the
truth about themselves. Eventually, they will take this job over and
continue to develop a strong sense of individuality and authentic
belonging in their own families and community. See the world through
their eyes, talk with other interracial couples raising children,
integrate and honor both sides of your cultural heritage and your
vision of "giving your child the best of both worlds" will inevitably
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