How Will Your Children Racially Identify Themselves

In the last six years of my marriage, my husband and I have done what we can to blend two cultures. We have asked loved ones for advice and observed to see how other interracial families did it. We wanted to glean everything we could because blending cultures has always been extremely important to us. We wanted to try and have a lot of it figured out before we had kids.

We had our first child a few days before our second year anniversary. We still had so much to learn about bringing two cultures to one family. We realized we would learn it along the way. We would learn how to blend cultures as our family grew.

We have learned so much since we were married. We’ve learned a lot about traditions, cultural expectations, where to have grace, where to give a little, but we are still pondering one thing in regards to our children. How will our children identify themselves racially?

We now have three biracial children, three little boys who are half Indian and half white. Their racial identity has come up a few times as they’ve begun to ask questions about life. My oldest son asked me why he wasn’t black like daddy or white like mommy. I had to explain to him that he’s both. He’s so special that he has a little bit of mommy and daddy in him. After that, he loved going around to people telling them that he is a little bit of mommy and daddy!

It came up again this year. My husband, kids, and I went to go and see my husband’s side of the family. Every one was excited because we had recently had another little boy. No one had met him yet and they couldn’t wait to get in some baby cuddles. When we got there, our little guy was instantly handed over. Everyone started calling him our little Indian boy. They said that he looked the most Indian out of all of our kids and deemed him the little Indian boy.

I didn’t think anything of it at first. I agreed! Out of all of our kids, he looked the most Indian. He has the sharp little nose, dark skin, and beautiful dark eyes. The more it happened, I started to realize something stood up inside of me when they said that. He isn’t just Indian. He’s white and Indian. He’s both. He’s a beautiful blend of both.

That’s when it hit me. Our children will be faced with a choice. The day will come when our children have to racially identify themselves. What will they say? Will they choose a race to simplify and avoid questions? Will they choose the race they identify with the most? Or will they say they are mixed?

Their response will depend on the way we raise them. If we allow a competition between races to occur, they will be prompted to choose one. If they are embarrassed about being different, they will choose one.

We, as their parents, shape how our children see themselves. We have to raise our children in an environment where the cultures in their lives don’t compete; rather they complement each other. You can’t try to make your culture more important than your spouse’s. We have to show them the beauty of the cultures in their lives.

We do this through hands-on experience. We make food from both cultures, although we try to make more Indian food at home because they are exposed to American food everywhere they go. We dance around in our house to Bollywood and American music. We watch movies from both cultures. Some of our favorites are Bollywood musicals because our kids copy the dance moves! We take our children to different Indian festivals in town. We take our children to art museums to learn about history. We want them to see the beauty of each culture and become passionate about them both.

Each family may have a different preference when it comes to how their children racially identify themselves. In our family, it’s very important that our children embrace both of their cultures. When the time comes and they have to racially identify themselves, we want them to proudly say, “I’m White and Indian.”

You have to talk about this as a family. How do you want your children to racially identify themselves? Do you want them to blend cultures, choose a culture, or something new? Your decision needs to shape the way you teach your children.

 


almostindianwife@gmail.com

Brittany Muddamalle is the mother of three boys under four years old. She has been in an intercultural marriage for six years. Her and her husband are currently raising their children in American and East Indian culture. She is also the writer of The Almost Indian Wife blog. Her hope is to make a change by sharing her experiences with her own intercultural marriage and raising biracial children.

Check out her blog: The Almost Indian Wife                                                      Facebook Twitter Google+ 


Netflix Binge Watch with Mixed Roots Stories

Do you binge watch shows and movies online? We do! We found these 6 programs on Netflix  that feature mixed roots discussions. Check them out, critically discuss them with others, and learn more! We have provided some questions to consider while watching each one, as well as further reading/resources to keep you thinking and critically looking at mixed roots stories!

 

We are just getting started with our Netflix recommendations, and we’d love your contributions. What films/TV series have you seen that are relevant? What critical questions can we explore when/after watching them? What mixed identity groups aren’t represented here? Send us an email to info@mixedrootsstories.org.

 

Trevor Noah: African American

From Trevor Noah:
Trevor Noah brings to film his unique brand of observational humor born of his mixed-race experience under the South African apartheid system. In his most recent stand-up special Trevor weaves together compelling stories with wicked smart observations on the inanity of the racial construct in the United States. The theme of Trevor’s presentation is his journey to America, because he believes he can be fully black here. A clip from Gabriel Iglesias StandUp Revolution:

Mixed Roots Stories Questions to consider while watching:

1) Can humor be an effective storytelling tool for change, especially on matters of race, culture and ethnicity?

2) As you watch Trevor Noah: African American, do you think his point-of-view effectively challenges our racial assumptions?

3) How does idea of mixed/blackness transfer between countries?

4) What does it mean to be “fully black?”

For Further reading/discussion:
Nancy Goldman makes an argument in her paper that humor can be a powerful tool for social change – Comedy and Democracy: The Role of Humor in Social Justice. 


 

The Fosters

From abcfamily.go.com/shows/the-fosters:
The Fosters is a one-hour drama about a multi-ethnic family mix of foster and biological kids being raised by two moms. Stef and her partner Lina have built a close-knit , loving family with Stef’s biological son from a previous marriage, Brandon, and their adopted twins Mariana and Jesus. But how will things change when they meet troubled teen Callie and her little brother Jude?

Mixed Roots Stories Questions to consider while watching:
1) What responsibilities do parents raising kids from different cultures than themselves have in teaching their children about those cultures?

2) Lina identifies as biracial – how does this affect her relationship with her partner, Stef, and her children? Do the conversations she has with her African American mother surprise you, or not? Why?

For Further reading/discussion:
Lisa Marie Rollins is a TRA (TransRacial Adoption) Activist. Her blog, poetry and live performance provide lots of insight into the TRA experience. Learn more here: https://birthproject.wordpress.com/


 

The Loving Story

From lovingfilm.com:
The Loving Story, a documentary film, tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving to examine the drama, the history, and the current state of interracial marriage and tolerance in the United States.

Mixed Roots Stories Questions to consider while watching:
1) What do you think were the most compelling arguments made by the Loving’s legal team to persuade the Court to rule in their favor?
2) What are some of the other Supreme Court decisions that have had a strong impact on the mixed community?

For Further reading/discussion:
For a more in-depth analysis on Loving v. Virginia and the people involved, see Race, Sex and the Freedom to Marry by Peter Wallenstein (mixedracestudies.org).


 

Parenthood

NBC recently aired the final season (season 6) of Parenthood. You can catch up/re-watch the first 5 seasons on Netflix. “Parenthood bravely and delicately take on the complexities of family life leaving viewers full of emotion after every episode like all good comedy/drama stories should! In addition to other major topics (cancer, post traumatic stress disorder and more), this series follows an interracial marriage and their child, the process of a transracial adoption and has explored an interracial teenage dating situation.” (http://mixedrootsstories.com/parenthood/)

A few key seasons/episodes:
Season 2 – Crosby and Jasmine (an interracial couple) are trying to figure out how to raise their child and if they are going to work on their relationship or continue to be separated. Addie begins dating Alex, and her parents begin to question the relationship, pushing her to move in with her grandparents. But are they questioning it because he is a different race or because he has a history of substance abuse?
Season 3 – Crosby and Jasmine work out their differences. Julia and Joel interracially adopt a son.
Season 4 – Crosby and Jasmine have a discussion with their son about race (Episode 4). Julia and Joel take on the challenge of raising their adopted son.
Season 5 – Crosby and Jasmine expand their family with a new baby girl. Jasmine’s mother has ideas of how religion should play a role in the families life.

Mixed Roots Stories Questions to consider while watching:
1) If your child brings home a partner with a mixed background (different race, culture, religion, gender orientation, country of origin, etc.) than what you expected, would you be concerned? Why? Would you voice your concern? How?
2) In Season 4 Episode 4 Crosby realizes there are situations his mixed race son will have to deal with that he won’t be able to protect his son from. How would you or do you answer these/similar questions?

For Further Reading/Discussion:
Raising Biracial Children by Kerry Ann Rockquemore & Tracey Laszloffy, takes on identity development with mixed-race individuals within a historical context and creates a framework to assist parents, educators, social workers, counselors and anyone who works with multiracial individuals.
Donna Jackson Nakazawa wrote Does Anybody Else Look Like Me: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Multiracial Children out of frustration in a bookstore, when she was unable to find a book that provided guidance on how to address the situations she was facing in her mixed roots family.

The appendix of both books have lists of useful resources!


 

Rabbit Proof Fence

Set in 1930, western Australia, Rabbit Proof Fence tells the true-life story of two “half-caste” girls who were taken from their families, by the government, and placed in a camp where they are trained to be servants for white families. The hope is for these children to end up marrying white Australian men so their aboriginal blood can be bred out. The girls escape and take off on a journey to find their family.

Mixed Roots Stories Questions to consider:
1) The United States is not the only country that has had a history of hiding unspeakable events around race/color differences. What value, if any comes, from being aware of a global mixed roots history?

2) In what ways do institutions continue to support and enforce the separation of different people?

For Further Reading/Discussion:
“My Place” by Sally Morgan

“Daughter Dies With Her Story Still Incomplete”


Black in Latin America: with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

In this PBS 4 episode series, “Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. Discusses the massive influence of African ancestry on the history and culture of Latin America and Caribbean.” He goes to: Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

Mixed Roots Stories Questions to consider:
1) As Gates interviews each country, how does his North American views of “Black” influence his questions, interactions, and expectations on what answers he is looking for in South America?

2) Both North and South America have a history of slavery with “Black” or African people. How are these histories similar and/or different? What lessons can be gleaned from both continents mixed roots histories?

For Further Reading/Discussion:
“Black In Latin America” by Henry Louis Gate Jr. http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?p=31565

“Latining America: Black-Brown Passages and the Coloring of Latino/a Studies by Claudia Milian
http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?p=25463


“I’m What?”: The Adventures of Raising a Racially Ambiguous Bi-Racial Child

The deep rooted nature of racial segregation and inequality in the good ole U S of A can hurl certain individuals right through the black & white, past the shades of grey and often into the complex, multihued road less traveled: Winding, rugged paths riddled with rusty old warning signs like “Do Not Enter” or “Dead End”. My husband, David and I began our journey 15 years ago and my Lawd was it a heck of a hike… Kinda endemic amongst Black/White interracial couples, no?

Perhaps what makes our union unique from a purely surface perspective is our apparent racial/cultural ambiguity. Essentially, we’ve been asked to unravel the ‘mystery’ of our racial make-up a lot throughout our lives. David, who is Pennsylvania Dutch & Italian is often mistaken for being Latino, Jewish or Arab. When folks openly assume I’m bi-racial, Latino, and so forth, I let ‘em know in so many words that I’m just a paler shade of “Black” & occasionally disclose the details of my deep rooted mixed heritage when the spirit moves me.

So naturally, when we decided to start a family 7 years into our union, David and I were hip to the fact that this issue of racial/cultural ambiguity was about to get put on full blast – particularly in this racially hostile culture obsessed with labeling and division. We wanted to help our children embrace the fullness of their heritage, develop a sense of inner harmony and take pride in their uniqueness. To that end, we moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco’s East Bay shortly after our first son, Rafi, was born. ‘Twas our very own quirky paradise: It ain’t perfect but the East Bay is home to communities that exemplify social & environmental progressivism – attributes completely aligned with our values and beliefs.

So while we relocated miles away from our close knit, multicultural village of family and friends, our commitment to immersing Rafi (and eventually his baby bro Armand) in a world brimming with a veritable array of family units was absolutely solid. We’d entered a sphere in which the mixed experience was a common one – the figurative cherry on top.

See, as a West Philly native, I knew countless youths, both mixed and otherwise, grappling with identity issues to some degree. Maybe it was the time in which I came up, but the process looked quite uncomfortable (to say the least). The internalized ‘race based’ battles I’d witnessed were the last thing I wanted any child of mine to endure. The realization, however, was that perhaps the whole predicament was completely out of my hands. My suspicions were justified, fears confirmed and empathy enhanced the day I observed my son’s reaction to learning he was half Black.

Our Eldest Son

It may sound like plain old mamma pride, but I gotta say that Rafi is one of the most sensitive, perceptive, creative and hysterical people I’ve ever known. Like most children, he views the world with eyes of pure innocence and openness. In that vein, David and I became hesitant to introduce him to matters with inherent mind-warping qualities like religion or racism. We thought such topics should be addressed when he was mature enough to grasp the overall concepts involved. “Why not develop a healthy sense of identity in this fractious society before slipping down any rabbit holes?” we justified.

There’s this excellent Sesame Street book titled We’re Different, We’re the Same that pretty much sums up the outlook of young ones (or perhaps the extremely rare adult who somehow avoided the mental shackles of self-loathing, ‘otherisms’, etc.) This innate ability allows individuals to view themselves and the world around them without judgment. Now at the age of 5, Rafi became acutely aware of varying skin tones. For example, he began noting if someone appeared pink, tan, brown or “orange” – it was all about the rainbow. We were unaware that Raf picked up on the institutionalized race-culture-color connection until one morning when he asked about a classmate of his named Tim, a Filipino child whose adoptive mother looked markedly different from him.

“Mommy, what color is Tim?” Raf asked. Unaware of li’l Tim’s background at the time, I replied, “He’s sort of a dark caramel color.”

“Yes, but his mommy is white.”

Whomp! There it was… “Yes, she is white. She is his adoptive mother.” I proceeded to explain that his buddy Keith was a Black child adopted by a white woman.

“Well,” Rafi continues, I’m glad everybody in our family is the same color.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, daddy’s White, me and Armand are White and you’re White.”

I was shocked and amused. No one ever mistook me for being White before. Warmly I asked, “You think mommy’s white?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“Why is that Rafi?”

“Because we are all the same color.”

My li’l man had a point. Despite the ‘opposing’ categories David & I had been assigned to, we shared some similar physical characteristics, including our complexion.

So I continue, “Actually, mommy isn’t White. I’m Black which some people call African American.”

“But you’re not brown,” Rafi said bewildered.

“That’s true, but neither is Grand [my father], but he’s Black too. Daddy is White and mommy is Black, and you and Armand are half White and half Black.

At this point, tears began to well up in his Rafi’s eyes. It was as if I told a long-time believer that jolly ole Santa was a lie. Cuddling next to him, I asked his why he felt sad. The more I inquired, the deeper he burrowed himself into the living room couch. I longed to understand what he was feeling. Could it be shame, the pain borne of confusion? Perhaps it was a sense of deceit? I was in unchartered territory. I’d never questioned my racial identity, especially at that tender age. In an attempt to soothe his apparent anguish, I began to highlight other playmates that shared mixed (black and white) parentage, but to no avail.

It must be the melanin factor, I thought. It seemed that Rafi couldn’t quite grasp how someone who was not brown skinned, could be considered Black. It just didn’t compute. Welcome to Race Relations U.S. 101, my love. First up on the syllabus: The one-drop rule…. Ok, I didn’t go there. He was only 5 and this was our first collective step in this direction. As the tears continued to well up in his eyes, I warmly asked Raf to catch my gaze. I felt damn near speechless as I witnessed his entrée into this area of self-discovery trigger such discomfort.

“You may not know this now, but your heritage is something to be extremely proud of not just because it’s unique, but because it is yours.” Lovingly, I urged him not shy away from the complexities of his lineage, but celebrate his embodiment of them.

The resilience of a youthful spirit is no joke. Shortly after our talk, Raf was back to the business of boisterous play with his little brother. I, on the other hand, remained on the living room couch a spell longer in contemplation.

I realized my desire to see the world through the eyes of my children was outweighed by the foolish aspiration to manage their perception. I don’t want my boys to be crippled by prejudice and racism. I pray they stand tall and allow the foul byproducts of institutionalized racism simply roll off their shoulders fortified by the strength of authentic self-love.

I'm What-OberCamFam
By: May 2014 Guest Blogger – Sky Obercam
sky_one

Born & raised in Philly, Sky currently resides in the San Francisco

Bay Area. A full-time mamma, and creative spirit, she’s lent her voice

to The Source, Format Magazine, Bossip, Black Web 2.0, Vibe Vixen,

Frugivore, XO Jane and co-founded art & culture blog,

Visual Culture. Peep her blog, Mindless Culture vs. Sky Obercam, for

updates on new (and hopefully exciting) endeavors, as well as

entertaining tid-bits, info, and arbitrary rantings from the

self-proclaimed eccentric.

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