Thursday, February 17, 2011

Interracial kids

I'm getting ranty, so grab a drink and hold on to your butts.

One of my friends over three years ago when we were pregnant asked to meet me at a Chapters. It was actually the first time we've ever met in person. She is a white woman who was trying to prepare herself for having an interracial child. I was impressed at someone taking this role so seriously, because I see so many parents just go into it willy nilly without much thought about their children and how they will be viewed as a brown skinned person in this world. They don't take into account the needs of the child, which is one of the things on my 3000000 mile long list of stuff that irks me. I can't claim I know what the experience of a white woman raising an interracial child, but I can certainly comment on what I as an interracial person think that interracial children need. And since my word is gospel, you know I'm right. :)

I see and get comments like how beautiful we are, what a wonderful sign of racial harmony, it's so wonderful that people are having interracial children, one day it will all be interracial people and we'll all be brown in an ebony and ivory song and doves will coo, bunnies will hop and unicorns will return singing My Little Pony songs. Blah blah blah blah blah! Really? While I agree that interracial people are a cut above and more beautiful than anyone else on the planet in my own unbiased opinion, these words are superficial labels spoken by people who clearly haven't put a lot of thought into this. And the scary thing is, half of these types of comments come from the parents of such kids. Now mind you, I am only one person and it's only my opinion, but us interracial folks tend to be able to launch into discussion about identity fairly easily because it isn't always fairy kisses and cuddles to be interracial and often the only people who understand that is us.

A lot of us struggle with identity. Like it or not, despite the coming together of two people cross race and culture, the rest of the world, still very much binary. Racism? Alive and well. Yes! In Canada! Really really! The other side of that of course is that a lot of people of colour are not all too eager to espouse the values or culture that still has a lot of racists. (Now, I swear to God, if anyone comments complaining about reverse racism, I will scream. Because that is NOT the point of this post). So a lot of us are caught in the crossfire and we're fair game. If I were to talk about my Irish heritage white people look at me funny (despite the fact that of all my heritage, white is the largest percentage). If I talk about my black heritage, black people look at me funny. My native heritage, well, I don't even bother. I'm not unique, many of us struggle to find a place to belong and it's only an experience of half belonging for the most part. We're often forced to make a decision as to which part of us to ditch to fit into either crowd. I do it all the time. If I talk about racism with my white friends, most of them do that polite Canadian "Oh shit! Smile and change the subject!!!!" If I am ignorant about various topics (nothing Earth shattering in case you're wondering) with my black friends, I get the stink eye. I don't pass anywhere, but I often pass everywhere. Any given culture/race/nationality where its feasible for someone to have my complexion, people have asked if I belong.

My mother certainly never kept me from discovering about my heritage, but it wasn't an ongoing or active topic of discussion. My dad insisted that I was black and that was the end of that. That left me confused as Hell for years. My hair, oh good grief, I know this is a superficial topic, but it's something many of us interracial kids have a big beef with. Parents with straight hair, if your kid has any chance of having curly hair, learn how to work with it! Go to a salon, online, one of your friends, a lot of parents of my day had a pass since no one really knew how to deal with curls properly, but there is no excuse now! But it's little things like that, the ignorance of how to deal with your kid's hair can leave your kid feeling like a freak of nature because their hair is so messed up, since mom/dad can't deal with it. I was genuinely shocked when I first went to Jonathan Torch and he exclaimed how healthy my hair was. I had thought of it as a wreck, but evidently not. Where you live, your friends, your family associations, how much you embrace different cultures, all impact on a child who has to straddle two races, two cultures. I can't tell you how many people I see who haven't even begun to do any bit of research on the culture/race their child will be of. They stick to platitudes, thinking that so long as they love the child enough things will be okay. And on many levels it will. But being loved and feeling understood, feeling that they have someone safe and educated to rely on to discuss experiences good and bad, research, knowledge are two different things. Personally I think parents should strive for both and not just simply rely on the easy route.

So, it's a pretty hard position to understand, but it's an important one to try and gain some level especially if it involves your children and it's absolutely worth the effort. So instead of using the cliches and assuring your children how beautiful they are the next time they come home upset because they're the only brown kid with curly hair on the playground, learn how to deal with the bigotry, teach them, validate their feelings, educate them, expose them to children and places where they won't be teased, and get out of your safe place, so you can create one for your child.

4 comments:

Mrs. Hardaker said...

My oldest nephew has a Guyanese father and a Caucasian mother. He has no relationship with his father or their families due to their volatile influence and many in our family say he is blessed because he doesn't carry many of his father's colouring or resemblance to that side of the family. He is now 15 and I worry that one day he is going to ask about what being Guyanese means and he will have no one to share that with him.

I often wonder if will have an identity crisis one day. Everyone wants to know where they come from, what is their history etc.

I feel like he could be missing out on a great cultural component of his life. I only wish I had answers for him. Guess we will have to learn it together.

He is so shy and so far hasn't asked many questions but who one day, maybe when he wants to be a parent, he will want to know.

Not really a comment was this, more like my own ramble, lol.

A Bookcase For Lily said...

In my case I am blessed with a large family on Sam’s side who help me learn and understand their culture so we can have it at home, not just at “grandma’s house” or “aunty’s house” but at our house too. And the book you recommended helped me understand some of the different issues, problems, scenarios Lily might encounter as she grows up. I won’t be able to keep them from her but at least I can think about them and hopefully won’t be so caught off guard when the problems present themselves.

I think it’s important in all families to make sure both sides are represented as best possible because like PP stated, everyone is curious about where they come from. I think it will help her as she grows to be able to talk about who she is as an Indian and who she is as a WASP as well, but that’s just my opinion :)

Stacey said...

I wanted to write that I enjoyed your post on this topic.

As white parents who will be adopting in a few years or so, we may be looking at an interracial family if our kids end up being non-white. This means we will be needing to explore ways to help with identity and hopefully finding outlets that would provide good role models of the same race, etc.

Although my homosexuality isn't necessarily obvious when I'm on my own (but wow you are outed everywhere as a family--kind of hard not to be), I do understand some ideas of bigotry and I hope that it can only help me to explore how things might be to any non-white child(ren) we may have. I try and read books about kids with white parents and purchase children's books about the subject (i.e. "Brown Like Me") or books that encourage learning about African/African Canadian/American culture/history (i.e. "Martin's Big Words"). I really want to go into this feeling like I am not just assuming "love is all you need." Because I know that's not true. We'll see...right now we're on a waiting list to do the homestudy and training which can take 2-3 years to even start! We may be adopting from either Canada or the US. I just think if we do adopt from the US, it's more likely our kids will be African American. So time will tell.

Stacey said...

P.S. This is an awesome blog of a white family who adopted twin boys from Haiti. They often post information on doing their hair, etc. and they always do various activities to explore Haitian and African American culture. http://johnson-mccormick.com/