Raising Biracial Kids: Love is wonderful but it’s not enough.
One day in the grocery store, I was minding my own business in the cereal aisle when I heard the most innocent little voice in the cart beside me. I turned to see a Biracial child of about 5 year’s old sitting in the basket where the food usually goes. The first thing I thought of was that she was too big to be in that basket but my mind quickly turned to what she was saying. She was a cute, chubby little girl with tightly curled, dark brown hair and medium brown skin. Her mother was very White, small and petite and bleach blonde. She looked at her mother and said:
“Mommy, I wish my skin was White like yours, I don’t like my skin.” I felt a pang in my heart.
Her skin color matched mine. Her mother gave her the utmost attention and said her, “Honey, I love you so much and you are beautiful just the way you are.” I could tell she had told her that many times before. I could also tell that the mother was full of love for the child. Her answer did not appease the little girl though and she only repeated her wish to be White like the Mom. They moved on to the next aisle and I got back to shopping.
I ran into them again in the meat aisle about 10 minutes later and guess what? The little girl was still talking about how much she did not like her skin or her hair and the mother was still professing her love and the little girl’s beauty.
I was heartbroken for the both of them. Love was apparent in this situation but love was not enough, the little girl was crying out for help in accepting herself, and it was the responsibility of the mother to give her more. More knowledge, more help in forming a positive self-identity, more real listening and more real answers.
When I left the store, the situation stayed on my mind. I wondered if the little girl had any positive Black role models in her life. Had she experienced some type of negative situation with Black people? Did she witness her mother bleaching her hair and want the same thing for herself? Was she being picked on at school for her hair and complexion? Was she simply going through the process of forming her identity and just wanted to be like the person she loved the most, her mother?
Her issue could have been any one of these things or something else entirely. But her mother did not question her about it; she just kept giving her the same answer. Eventually this girl will probably stop asking and talking about her feelings and will just learn to internalize her negative feelings about herself while she works out her life as a child who looks different from her mother.
Her mother may think that since she stopped talking about racial matters that she’s doing fine. I’ve heard this story many times. The parent believes that everything is fine and raising a Biracial child is no different than raising a single race child. Some kids, I’m sure, do not have issues with being Biracial. But others, maybe more sensitive types, need help in navigating racial issues, identity, and society in general. A parent should be aware and ready to help if needed.
How do you help Biracial Kids?
Make their experience a diverse one.
Raising a Biracial child in a single race environment will usually make it a harder experience for the child. If a child looks different, or their family is different than their peers, it’s going to make it harder because kids don’t usually want to be different. When you’re growing up it’s all about fitting in. Having said that, some Biracial kids fit in just fine in a single race environment and everything looks good on the surface but many times it’s because they are suppressing whatever is different about them. For instance, a Biracial kid in an all White school may be popular and seem very happy but are they hiding, or suppressing their Black side in order to fit in?
It is better for a Biracial kid if their parents embrace and value diversity. If their surroundings are full of people of different ethnic backgrounds doing positive things, in positions of power, in all walks of life, it’s just going to make it easier for them to accept their identity as a Biracial person.
Do your own research. There are many books out there that tell about how people felt growing up Biracial, books about Biracial parenting, picture books with interracial families, movies showing all kinds of families as normal. Make sure you are aware of what to expect at different points in their lives. For instance, when my son was 3 years old, it was apparent that he noticed the different skin tones of the people in his life and that he met, but he did not associate a value of the person based on this.
By the time he started school, he noticed that people were treated differently because of their skin color. He noticed that people put a value on the color of skin and the texture of hair. When he asked me questions about this I needed to have age appropriate answers for him.
Understand that you will not have their experience.
Growing up Biracial is a very unique experience. I remember thinking when my children were young, that they were very lucky. They were beautiful and isn’t it true that beautiful people have a leg up in this society? They had gorgeous curly hair and perfect tan coloring. They were smart. They were a bridge across the races. They were loved by two parents who had their best interest in mind. I had no clue that they would experience some of the things that they did. They experienced racism at its best, both covert and overt. They weren’t Black enough, they weren’t White enough, and sometimes grownups subtly took it out on them because they were against the interracial union of their parents. Sometimes they wanted to be all White and sometimes they wanted to be all Black. It was rough.
I’m Black and have experienced racism many times throughout my life, but I have never been told that I wasn’t Black enough. Simply being born to two Black parents, I was automatically part of the Black race. My husband had two White parents and was automatically White. Being born of one White parent and one Black parent does not make you an automatic member of either race. Both my children went through great lengths to prove they were Black enough to be accepted into Black groups, and I have seen other Biracial kids shun everything Black about themselves in order to be accepted by the White race. This is an experience that Biracial kids face that a White or Black parent does not and cannot fully identify with, no matter how much they love their kids.
Finding where they fit while accepting their blended heritage, is something your kids will ultimately have to work it out themselves, but parents can and should be there to educate them and support them.
I was very careful to make sure that school, church, and our neighborhood were diverse. This helped but still the kids saw it as diverse, Black and White, and not mixed. There were a few Biracial kids and I couldn’t understand why my kids did not just befriend them. My son said, “yeah there were some others but, they always had a Black dad and White mom, I had a Black mom and a White dad.” Kids are very aware of being different. They have to travel the road to self identity on their own but you have to be there to guide and help them.
Learn to work with their hair.
This is a must. I recently met a White couple who had adopted a Biracial child from foster care. When they were showing pictures, I noticed that their daughter’s hair was just unkempt in all the pictures. Their love for the child was very apparent. I understood from the conversation that they had accepted that the girl’s hair was different from their own and that their acceptance of it was enough. Hair is so important to anyone. I can tell you when I’m having a good hair day; I definitely experience a boost of confidence. When my hair is not cooperating, I don’t feel quite up to par that day. It’s our crowning glory. It’s important.
When I dared to ask about what products they used for their child’s hair, the couple got very defensive. The wife blurted out, “We have no idea how to work with her hair, and yes, she might be upset with us about her hair when she grows up but in the grand scheme of things, we are offering her a life she would never have had, so we are doing her good.” They really believed this, in their minds, hair was a small part of the picture. I agree that they were giving the child a life experience that most could only dream of, I agree that they showed her much love, but I really disagree that hair should be dismissed as a side note.
Nobody expects a White person with straight hair to automatically know how to work with Biracial or Black hair, but it is expected that you learn, find a friend to do it, or pay a hairdresser to do it. Black and Biracial kids usually do not have the luxury of having wash and go hair. We have to work with it to bring out the beauty. And since there are so many types of Black and Biracial hair, we have to work with each child to find the products and styles that work best with their hair.
And finally….Give lots of love and acceptance
We are coming full circle here because what the mother did that was right was that she told her little girl that she loved and accepted her just as she was. This is so important. If the mother lived in a diverse neighborhood, did her research, learned how to work with her little girls hair, but did not show her daughter love acceptance, she would have failed the little girl. Love and acceptance is the most important thing but it just can’t be the only thing you give your Biracial child. ~ Reggie
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