To answer this question, I thought back to one of the few Biracial girls I knew when I was going through school. Her name was Kim and she was beautiful and all the boys liked her. She didn’t seem to have any problems at all. I remember once when a teacher had to report the racial status of all the kids in my class for some unknown reason and Kim was not at school that day. The next day she asked him what race he listed her as. He said he didn’t know what she was. At that time there was no box for Other or Biracial like there is today. I remember her declaring herself as Biracial and she seemed miffed by the fact that the teacher did not know how to classify her. Other than that I can’t remember her having any negative experiences. What I realized much later in life is that I was only seeing Kim from the outside and I had no idea what internal struggles she might be dealing with. I think this happens a lot with Biracial children.
Recently, while looking at pictures of my Biracial sons with a Black male coworker, I was telling him about some of the challenges they faced while they were growing up. He looked at me incredulously and said, “Light skinned guys had all the girls, what problems could they have faced?” So pretty much he was looking at my sons the way I was looking at Kim. Looking at the outside and not realizing they had very real struggles that go much deeper than their outward appearance.
But as any parent of a Biracial child knows, there are challenges. Our job as parents is to:
- Educate ourselves about what challenges our children will most likely face
- Create a healthy environment for them to grow and thrive
- Protect them as best we can
- Arm them with tools to protect their self-esteem
- Realize that although they need our love above all, that love is not enough
What are the problems they will most likely face?
Being forced to choose their identity
When I chose to marry my husband of 30 years, I had a family member tell me that it was fine if I as a Black woman chose to marry a White man but we should not have children because of what they would face going through school. Well, thank goodness I did not follow her advice because I would not have had my two wonderful sons that have full lives and are confident in who they are as Biracial adults.
But, I have to admit, they did have a tough time in school. When they were born and up until the time they entered school it was all fine. They were in our protective nest and had zero negative experiences. But when we had to release them to the world the challenges began. On his first day of Kindergarten, my son came home and asked me with a troubled look on his face, “Mom, what color am I?”
The thing about being Biracial is that neither of the parents can fully relate to what they face. The Black parent comes from and fits in with the Black community and the White parent comes from and fits in with the White community. The Biracial child does not fully fit in with either. During the school years, most kids just want to fit in. The Biracial child is forced to choose which identity they will identify with. This causes confusion. My children experienced the “too light to be Black and too Black to be White” issue throughout their childhood years.
I went through great lengths to help them to be able to experience their full heritage. I moved to an interracial community. Sent them to an Interracial school. Made sure that they experienced many extra- curricular activities that would allow them to engage with all races of people. But it always came down to people trying to make them choose a race. Are you Black or White?
My sons handled this question differently. My younger son would never choose. Instead he always said, I’m Biracial. If people didn’t like him for not picking a race, he didn’t care. This did cause him problems because if a Black person asks you if you this question and you don’t choose Black, then most automatically think you are not claiming your heritage and think you’re better. I can attest to this because I have been guilty of asking Biracial people what color they were and also of judging people that did not choose Black. That is until I had children myself and understood how awful this is. To expect people to choose between the two races that make them whole is ludicrous. My older son, always hated being called Mixed, but he would say he was Biracial or Black depending on who asked.
I’m embarrassed to say that I really had to ask my adult children how they handled this question. If I had it to do over again, I would have helped them think it all through and formulate a way to respond to this nosey and intrusive question. I am happy to say that as young adults they have worked through things and fully embrace both sides of their heritage.
Being asked Intrusive and Rude Questions
My older son casually told me one day that pretty much every day of his school life someone asked him, “So, what are you?” He explained how annoying it was that he constantly had to explain himself to others. There were many rude questions like this along this line..
“What color are you?” and “So, what are you?” are certainly not the only rude questions asked of Biracial people. My sons were asked by complete strangers if they could run their hands through their curls, or why their Mom was Black, or why their Dad was White, among other things. Some people would stare at our family so long that we would want to ask them if they wanted to take a picture.
My younger son is extremely fair with blue eyes and blond hair. He was constantly asked if he was adopted. He recently told me that for a while he believed it. When he was small, I had people constantly ask if I was the babysitter. We laugh about it now but at the time this was extremely hurtful to him and annoying to me.
It’s important to help your child understand how to respond to these things. Make sure you have an open ear and time to help them formulate comebacks or answers. For instance, when a complete stranger asks if they can touch their hair, the child can simply say, “No thank you” or “No, I would prefer that you didn’t.” That stops people in their tracks. If someone asks your child a rude question, deal with it as best you can but don’t ignore it, talk about it with your child. Tell them that the person was rude for asking that. Help them come up with a response for the next time.
Let’s face it. Everyone wants to fit in. Especially in school we want to blend in with everyone else. My sons both had beautiful curly hair. Adults loved their hair. The kids though wanted hair like everyone else’s. If everyone had curly hair, they would have loved it but pretty much they went to a school where the majority of the White kids had straight hair and the majority of the Black kids had fades or short afros. They stuck out. Now as adults they love their hair but it is difficult being a kid that is different and we as parents must realize that.
To illustrate my point in another way, when my son was in preschool he was in an all-Black class except one little White girl. This little girl had straight blonde hair but she wore it in braids with barrettes. Not two braids, but about 20 braids with barrettes on each one, because she wanted to look like every other girl in the class and the little Black girls wore their hair in braids. I loved that her parents allowed her to work out her own way of fitting in because everybody wants to fit in.
It’s not surprising that many little Biracial girls want to be White like their Mom, sisters, or aunts. If their If Mom has straight hair, it’s natural for the child to want straight hair. If Mom has white skin, it’s natural for a child to want to be the same. It’s hard to feel different even in your own family. Most little girls idolize and want to be just like their Moms whether they are Black, White, or Biracial. If the majority of Mom’s friends and the relatives that come around are also White, it makes it even more difficult for a Biracial child. Make sure that you are making it easier for your child to feel good about themselves rather than harder. If you don’t have any Black friends, you have to expand your friendship base for the sake of your child. Your life will be enriched as well. If you are already presenting your child a positive multi-cultural experience and your child is still wanting to be White, then continue to listen, learn, advocate, love, and empathize with your child as he or she learns to accept their unique identity.
As I said earlier, my sons self identify as Biracial or Black, but identified mostly with the Black culture because my family was more prominent in their lives than their Dad’s family. Although they did have a few strong relationships with relatives on their Dad’s side and plenty of White friends, most people in their family that they interacted with on a daily basis were Black. I don’t think they ever considered themselves rejecting their White side or their Dad in particular, and he never seemed offended. We both understood and taught them that they could identify themselves however made them most comfortable and they had every right to, but that the larger society would see them as Black. As kids grow up and learn to understand their identity they may go from wanting to be White like this parent at some point to Black like the other parent later on. I think we need to give them the freedom to do that as they are developing their sense of self. The main job we have as parents in regards to this area is to make sure they have positive relationships with people of both cultures. Also, it is important that they see you maintain friendships and working relationships with people of different cultures. They will see that you value and embrace diversity.
In America we are socialized very early on to associate White with goodness, beauty, and success, and Black with bad, evil, poor, criminal. Unless we know and admit this we can’t help our children to counteract this bias. Even I, as a grown woman cannot watch the news day in and day out because the media bias against people of color starts to get me depressed. The media portrays people of color in such a negative light that even as a Black person I can start to get influenced by it. Then I have to stop and think about the truth, by far the majority of Black people are hardworking, law abiding citizens and a few are criminals, not the other way around. This is the same in any race of people. You have to come against this bias by showing people of color in a good light. Make sure you live in a place where your children will see Black teachers, policeman, neighbors, business owners, and other people in authority. If you leave it to the media and others to teach your child about race, they will want to reject one side of themselves, understandably.
Also, from a very young age, kids are able to see that there is a disparity between the way that Whites and Blacks are treated in America and they want to identify with one culture or the other. They can also be influenced by how they see people treat other people, or maybe by their teacher treats certain kids better than other kids, or how the media reports things, and they want to identify with what they see is the better option. Sometimes that’s Black and sometimes that’s White. Kids are very observant and smart.
At the end of the day, you can only do your best and believe that it will all work out. My own sons are grown now and I believe we were successful in raising them to have good self-esteem and confidence in who they are. We did have bumps and bruises along the way. With 20/20 hindsight I look at the things they experienced while growing up. Yes, they were physically beautiful, they were even print models at one time. Yes, they had a Mother and Father that loved them immensely. Yes, they had everything they needed to be successful. But, they also experienced many struggles unique to growing up Biracial in a Black and White America. Many things that I was unprepared to help them with. They had to come to terms with and figure out many things for themselves. They are grown now and have shared with me many things that have blown my mind. Things that they went through that I didn’t even know about. But they are willing to share their stories so that others can learn from them and that makes me happy.