How to Answer Difficult Questions About Being Biracial.
“Why do you have white skin and Daddy has brown skin?”
“Why do I have brown hair?”
Our children ask questions innocently, wanting to understand their world. As parents, we may feel unsure of how to answer. After all, their innocent questions can feel loaded to us, with years of history and baggage flooding our thoughts.
Even more difficult are the questions and comments that come from other children and sometimes strangers.
“What are you?”
“That boy has different colored skin, why?”
“Why is your hair like that?”
“Is she yours?”
When hearing any of these questions from your own child or from someone else, there’s a feeling of dread. Perhaps you get a knot in your stomach. Maybe you feel rising rage. Or maybe you’re one of those cool parents who just rolls with the punches, coming up with a quick and easy answer that is respectful and informative.
However, if you find yourself struggling for words, here are some easy tips to help you come up with a response that fits you and your style:
Acknowledge your feelings first. If you feel worried, anxious, angry or surprised, allow this to sink in. You’ll want your response to be something you’ll be proud of later. There’s nothing worse than feeling guilty or poorly about something you’ve said.
By acknowledging your feelings, you can come up with a response that conveys exactly what you want it to. To help, you can take a deep breath or count to five in your head while you come up with your response.
Try to sense where the question comes from. A question from your child or another child is likely innocent or learned behavior. No child is naturally offensive or cruel. Either they learned it from an adult or are genuinely curious. In these cases, it’s best to keep your response as constructive and helpful as possible.
For children, you’ll also want to ensure that your response is developmentally appropriate. Rather than going into great detail, keep things simple. You’re probably reading into the question, and will answer more than the child even wants to know.
When it comes to answering adults, the same rules apply. Is it genuine curiosity? Is the person unaware if they come across as rude? Is the person being nosy? With adults, you have a bit more freedom to speak your mind. They are responsible for their words and decisions.
On the other hand, keeping constructive is the road I often choose. If I can help teach someone about being sensitive, respectful and kind, then I try to do it.
I find the easiest way to diffuse difficult situations is with humor. By using humor, you can send a message, often without being offensive and giving an outlet for tension: laughter.
What are some examples?
So you or your child are asked “What are you?”, you can respond:
“Oh I’m a human, and you?”
Or “I’m human…do you mean what my ethnicity is?”
For kids, you can often show them how silly their questions are by asking back.
They ask “Why’s your hair like that?” you can answer “Because it is, why’s your hair like that?”
You can use this strategy quite easily and encourage your children to do the same.
The above strategies are great for curious people who want to know all about us and our biracial children. But, what about the questions your child asks? The ones that look for answers as to why there are different skin colors, why hair is different and what it all means.
Just like answering other difficult questions we get as parents, I believe it’s best to start young and keep answers simple. For your 3-5 year old, you can simply explain that people look different all around the world and so some people have light skin and others have dark skin. Some people have straight hair, others have curly hair.
For older children, you can explain that people living in different areas of the world developed different skin colors due to the amount of sun exposure they experience and their diets. The Smithsonian offers a detailed explanation of how skin pigments function.
Teach Diversity and Tolerance
Acceptance and tolerance of diversity is best taught at a young age. Try to raise awareness of diversity by reading books with a variety of people who look different. You can use geography themes to teach about different cultures and people. Eat foods from different places. Keep these themes fun and positive. That way, your child can learn to view diversity as a positive part of the human experience. Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same?
In this way, you’re answering some of your child’s questions pre-emptively. They won’t have as many questions about diversity, because it will be assumed as normal.
Find Your Style
It’s so important as a person to trust your instincts and follow your gut. As long as you won’t have regrets later, if you can find a style to answer these tough questions that fits you, then go for it! Authenticity and strength in yourself as a person will go a long way towards making you feel comfortable in your interactions with others.
So, if you like humor, use humor. If you choose to be silent at times, do it. You can pick your battles and choose your answers as you like. It’s your choice.
Personally, I enjoy using a mix of the above responses to these difficult questions. Sometimes, I just answer to relieve people’s curiosity. I turn on autopilot “Yes, I’m from the States, my husband is Guatemalan and YES my kids speak English and Spanish. Yes, they have nice skin tones…yes yes yes” because I don’t feel like dealing with it. And that’s ok. And other times, I change my tactic. “Yes, she’s my daughter, is that your son?”
With my own kids, we talk about diversity. We celebrate a variety of traditions. And we talk about being respectful. ~ Rachel
What’s your style? I’d love to hear how you answer the tough questions you get about being biracial or your biracial kids.
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