Tips on Parenting a Multi-Racial Child
Tips on Parenting a Multi-Racial Child is the second article in a two-part series by author & contributor Chelsea Tubbs
Allow discussions about skin color
In a racially charged world it is often the gut reaction to shut down conversations revolving around skin color and racial identity. This instinct is wrong. A six year old is apt to notice differences in color, gender, beliefs, etc. and talking about those differences doesn’t breed racism. Instead it creates possibilities (in age appropriate ways) to truly understand the concept of racial identity, how the color of one’s skin impacts lives and opens up a healthy family dialogue.
Putting an end to these conversations does nothing for growth,… rather it renders the topic taboo and can only lead to more confusion. Instead of saying, “we don’t talk about that,” to a child questioning why mommy looks different than daddy, use that discussion as a vehicle to lean into your differences and explain how we are all, in fact, different and why that is such a good thing. The failure to acknowledge these differences, the differences between you and your child, breeds the erasure of identity.
While it would be easy to sit back and teach our children not to “see color”, I think it is a major parenting mis-step and does a disservice to multiracial children. The act of denying that color, colorism, racism, etc. exist in our world is one that’s especially damaging to the children of mixed-race identities. You cannot learn to accept something that you refuse to see. Saying things like, “I don’t see color,” to your children conveys that they are not seen. Being seen and being understood are basic human desires and by refusing to identify the things that make them unique, you are refusing to acknowledge their very existence.
Discourage words like “exotic”
“She’s so exotic,” is a phrase I’ve heard leave the lips of many a rogue commenter on the appearance of my child. Condoning the use of these kind of “compliments” (exotic, worldly, foreign, tropical…) only serves to further commodify, fetishize and dehumanize our biracial and mixed-race children. It teaches them that their value rests solely in their “otherness” instead of in their character.
Understand that mixed kids don’t represent the end of racism
Touted as beautiful and the aforementioned exotic, multi-racial children are hailed as the solution to racism. If I had a nickel for every time I heard something along the lines of, “In 50 years all kids will look like her and there will be no more racism,” I would be a very rich woman. Racism is not something that simply disappears because the most common skin tone changes. The end of racism must be endlessly championed. It won’t be eradicated solely by the existence of little girls with deep brown skin and blue eyes or little boys with kinky, curly hair and fair skin. There is a long journey ahead and it is paved with tireless discussion and brave actions, not breeding.
Having multiethnic children does not make you the antithesis of racism
You are not the beacon of hope for the future and are not incapable of exhibiting racist behavior simply because you had a hand in the creation of a mixed-race human being. You are not exempt from racism. You will need to constantly check your privilege and unlearn the teachings of a world that hasn’t always been inclusive. You are not done simply because your child is multiethnic.
Begin your lifelong education
As the caretaker of a child with ethnic makeup that differs from your own, you must take responsibility to understand your child’s identity as best you can. You must also realize that you’ll never have a full scope of what being made of your child’s unique mix encompasses. It is your job to ensure that your child is exposed to cultural experiences and at times, you will need to be a champion for experiences that are different than those you might have experienced growing up. This will require you to be in a constant state of learning about all of the factors that have come together to create your child.
Lo’s paternal grandma is Filipino, a culture I know very little about, so I’ve taken steps to understand the paradigm of Filipino cultural identity. Lo has visited the Philippines and we use the Filipino word for “grandma” (Lola) when talking about my husband’s mother. These are small actions that make a big impact on the way my daughter sees herself. I know that I could do even better across the board and will continue to work to understand the parts of my daughter that are different from me. I worry that there’ll come a day that she doesn’t feel “black enough” or “white enough” or “asian enough” et al but all I can do is equip her with experiences and references to the best of my ability.
Ultimately I know that she must choose her cultural identity for herself and it will likely be one different from my own. My goal is to equip her with everything she needs to make a decision that feels right for her. In this pursuit, representation is key - find biracial/multiracial/multi-dimensional role models, expose your child to with positive role models of all kinds and create a world of uplifting examples of greatness regardless of race.
In the same ways that you are, your child will one day be on a journey to ask life’s most basic question: “who am I?” Your role in your child’s life is to provide him/her with a frame of reference from which to answer that question. Parents of mixed-race/multi-racial children have the social responsibility to advocate for all aspects of their child’s racial experience and when it comes down to it the most important thing that you can instill in your child is that he/she is so much more than the color of their skin.
Hud-Aleem, R., & Countryman, J. (2008). Biracial Identity Development and Recommendations in Therapy. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 5(11), 37–44.