Quote

"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Monday, October 8, 2007

How does a white mother best prepare her bi-racial children to face issues of racism?

I've been guilty of procrastinating an awful lot, lately. I have a good excuse, mind you. The number of interesting blogs out there is simply mind blogging, euh, no, boggling. Anyway, I came across an interesting new one - for me - titled My Sky - Multiracial Family Life

Of course, the question raised was bound to hold my interest: how important is racial identity?

I could not help but add a comment, and as I wrote it, I realized, once more, the extraordinary magnitude and complexity of the issue: are white people as aware as they should be of the need to actively fight racism?

Actually, having now lived in India for a while, with a Black husband who's had to deal with the blatant racism of people barely darker than he is, I wish I could widen the debate, because the white/non-white approach seems to reduce it. But of course, that would make things even more confusing... as if they weren't already.

There was an interesting conversation on the same topic on Alvina Ling's blog, last year.

My interest in the issue is two-fold. First, I can't imagine not fighting racism for simple human reasons. Racism is NOT acceptable, period. The fact that I married someone from a different race had basically no incidence on that statement. I was always shocked by racism. Did marrying a black person make me more aware of racism in general ? Frankly, I'm not sure. We met in New York, ten years ago, and lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which was home to a wonderfully diverse population of artists, mixed-race couples, same-sex couples, etc, etc. Whenever we went to France, I never felt that people were bothered or shocked to see us together - now, I'm NOT saying that France has no problems of racism, far from it. But, again, I never felt directly concerned or threatened by any particular racist attitude towards us. My take on the issue was basically that racism must be fought at all costs, and that means racism coming from anyone. I read books about that because I'm curious. And that was it. But then, of course, I realized that if we were to have children, I would have to think long and hard about how being bi-racial might affect them. I'm the type who searches for answers in books. I always have. I have dozens of books on races, racism, color issues, and raising bi-racial children, on my shelves. And so, I started approaching the issue a bit differently: as the mother of children who may suffer from racism, some day.

This is where things become far more complicated. Because it's very, very hard to get out of one's white skin. Even when that white skin belongs to a person whose natural inclination is too denounce and cry in outrage against any form of injustice, and racism is one of the worst forms of injustice there is, it is extremely difficult to view the world through eyes that are not coloured by our whiteness. It takes an active decision. It is a conscious choice. And even then, we'll need to fight a natural tendency to overlook things, to maybe shrug and overlook a situation that we'll think is borderline, but that the person who is not white will judge hurtful or unacceptable.

But as a mother, I want to protect my children. Of course, I want to prepare them for the times they might have to fight prejudice. But I don't want to traumatize them with heart-breaking stories of slavery and inhuman suffering. Not before they are a little older, a little stronger. I do realize that avoiding an issue in hopes that it will not present itself is not a good option. I have read to them all the books I could find about diversity, about the beauty of living in a world with children of different colors. I tell them frequently that their skin color is gorgeous. When I comb their hair, I tell them how I love all those lovely curls. And I suppose that the fact that we live outside of the US, in an expatriate and multicultural community, also makes it easier for us. And yet, when I read posts like the aforementioned one, I can't help but wonder if I'm doing enough.

Time shall tell, I suppose. My second-grader asks more and more questions, and probably, questions about race will soon pop up, and I'll know the time has come to tackle that issue. But, frankly, I'm in no hurry. And I don't know if it's because I'm a mother who'd rather avoid painful, difficult issues, or because I'm a white mother who'd rather avoid painful, difficult issues.

7 comments:

Rilla said...

Hey katia,
tough subject. funny thing is, I've never asked my white mother how she thought she should deal with issues of race with her bi-racial children. Frankly, I don't remember her ever bringing up the subject when I was little. I think she basically convinced us that we were worthwhile wonderful people who could do whatever we wanted and left it at that. Whatever she did, that I didn't overtly notice, it worked even though we were always made overtly aware by everyone else around us, that we were different. I do think that's the best thing you can do for your kids. You can never protect them from racism but you can always help them realize that they don't have to let it affect them.

Katia said...

Hey, Rilla,
Maybe I should ask your mom, when I see her. Then again, as you mention, if you don't remember it being a major subject at home, that ought to mean that it wasn't broached more than necessary. That said, you grew up in India, at a certain level of the society, not in mainstream USA. I do believe it makes a difference. I know there will be more posts on the subject. Thanks for passing by.

hdurrow said...

i am the biracial daughter of a white (Danish) woman and an African-American man. i hadn't found a way to discuss the issues of my mother's ideas about raising us, her biracial children--first overseas and then in an all-black neighborhood--until the last year or so. i started blogging and then started a podcast www.mixedchickschat.com with a friend-- talking about it has helped me and i hope help others dealing with the same issues now.

flora said...

hi i am a mom of two biracial kids and we live in italy. it is such a racist country and people totally unaware of issues of race. They don't even use the word...
they deliberately insist that racism don't exist and "kids are all the same", you know, that sort of colour blind approach that is most dangerous, because it totally ignores white privilege. There is not even the hint of a debate about this. They even mistify their colonial past...teaching still nowadays in school that colonialists brought roads and school to the rough somalians and ethiopians....I was shocked to see that they even built a monument to a general who massacred thousands of people during italy's colonial past....
at school, teachers call my kids "little chocolate", six year olds tell them "you are brown as s***", and everybody asks me why don't i straighten their hair....
school books hardly have any black characters, and italian born black children of first generation immigrants, are called in official papers "foreigners" or "immigrant"....(italy don't give citizenship to kids born in the country from immigrant parents till they apply for it at 18...)
so i found your post very interesting...also because i take a different approach, being the only black kids at school, i have been forced to talk about race very early on, since at six ys old one of my kid was told by a classmate : don't sit next to me, nigger....
she came home and asked me . "what's a nigger? " and from there it all started....
now my kids are aware, conscious, and proud black kids....and my goodness won't they need that pride, to get them through teenagerhood in this environment?
ps i live in the capital town rome, not in a rural village....imagine that..!!!!!!

Katia said...

Flora, thank you for stopping by, and most of all, for sharing your experience. I'm horrified by what you describe, and yet, I'm myself of French and Spanish origin, and when I married my black husband, one cousin in Spain said : did she really have to go and marry a black guy? That said, my husband, our children and I went to Spain a couple of years ago, and not only were we welcomed with open arms, we never felt any animosity from anyone, anywhere. Still, we were there on holidays. I can imagine how hard it would be to have to deal with such blatant racism on a daily basis, and for sure, in such circumstances, you HAVE to make sure your children are aware and conscious, AND proud of their mixed heritage. Is this the reason you so insist on their being black? For me, this is the puzzling, hard part. The whole Obama debate in the US, now, somehow touches that issue, too. Personally, I strongly reject the colonial "one-drop rule" which is an absurdity devised by white people to keep their privileges. It has nothing to do with not being proud of the black heritage, but rather to do with the fact that if I declare my children to be black, where on earth am I supposed to stand in that picture? I'm not black, I'm white, and I'm the one who carried these children in my body for nine months, before I pushed them into this world. Why should I be made to disappear? Of course, one can object that this is not about me, but I fail to see how basically erasing half of one child's heritage can possibly help him or her to work out identity issues. This is why I prefer an approach like Tiger Woods, who acknowledges each of his heritages when he calls himself a Cablinasian. It has nothing to do with rejecting or preferring one heritage over another, but rather with being true to facts. Because the fact is that he's only part black, and why should he forget about the rest, or why should one part take over the others. This is the reason I never tell my daughters that they're black. See, not only don't I see them as being black, but the fact is that they are not. They are cinnamon colored, and I remind them constantly that they are French/Spanish/Haitian, and the order changes according to the conversation we're having. But again, I understand that the environment has a strong influence on the way one deals with such delicate - and heartbreaking - issues.
I went on your blog, and I'll try to return, but my Italian is far from perfect, so reading the posts takes a bit of time.
Good luck with everything and thanks again for sharing your story.

Flora said...

Hi katia, thanks a lot for your reply . you are right , it's the environment who makes all the difference, i think...
i insist on my children bein proud of their blackness because they live in a society which will try to assimilate them and to teach them that they need to strive to be as white as possible if they want to succeed...
it was all different when we were living in multiracial london...
there i did'nt need to stress anything....
but here , altough as you saw on the blog they are quite light, people only see their blackness. Stop me in the street to ask me whether "did you adopt them ? you know because they are sooooooooo dark"
Even , a kid , almost the same shade as my daughter, but caucasian, told her : I don't like your skin colour, i don't like your hair

(the hair and the features are sometimes the only elements that distinguish them from southern italian kids, but still every body insist on seeing their "Foreigness" their otherness....)

and also here nationality gets confused with ethnicity, therefore everybody assumes that if you aren't white, you cannot possibly be italian...
every supply teacher asks them : where are you from, where is your mother, father from
thing they never ask the white children

so , i insist that they call themselves italian, black italians, afro-italian...because it's about time italians learn that you can be both things...

I don't know about spain and race, but i do know that culturally Spain has made enormous progresses and advancement in the field of civil rights and liberties in the last ten years , it has become a modern european country, while italy unfortunately has gone severely bakcwards: we are the oountry in western europe with the fewer number of women in parliament....
it takes at least three years to get a divorce...single people cannot adopt and common-law couples or gay couples have no legal rights...
i tell you , coming back from london, where i lived for over ten years it seems to me i stepped down in the past...
but i didn't know , i couldn't possibly imagine that they could be so unaware of the damages of race prejudice....

maybe you saw it on the blog, i set up a self -help group for black and biracial kids and their parents....
and i was amazed at first to discover the lack of awareness also among some parents of mixed-race children, you know, the minimising attitude, the attitudes that equal an attack towards the racial identity of a child to the comment regarding having glasses...
or i even had the white mum of a biracial kid who told me :"you re lucky, yours are not too dark...."
can you imagine???

you know, the other day,when we were commenting another of the covertly racist incident, and i was advising them to stick together not only as sisters but also as the only black kids at school, to counter the stupid comments some whitey (and i believe i did use a derog term to define them, the whities) may make, my daughter who is ten, told me :"mum , but you are white...."
i did'nt know what to say, there on the spot, and i only said, :"yes , but i made a choice on which side to stand on...."
i don't know whether it was the right thing to say or do...but sometimes i do despair...

thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, i do so need to exchange with someone who knows what i am talking about.

kiss to your girls..

Katia said...

Flora, thank you for replying. Would you like us to exchange emails and move our conversation there? My email is katianovet@gmail.com
My heart goes out to you, when you describe some of the blatant ignorance and racist attitudes that you - and your children - have to experience. And your daughter's reaction is so similar to that of my daughter, when I rant about Barbie (I wrote a post about that, too, in the blog) because I too am blond with blue eyes and, as I say in the post, could be Barbie's mom, so why do I hate her so much??? What bothers me is the notion that in such racist society, a biracial child has to choose sides ! It seems that either ways, he's doomed. Because, how can the child be as proud of being white as he or she's of being black, if one has to be the enemy of the other, so to speak! How can parents of such children help them be comfortable with both sides of that heritage without favoring one over the other, and without creating further inner conflict? It's very hard, and I can imagine how upsetting it would be for you. Especially after living so long in London, where things are different, as you point out. You put your finger on it. And you're right to say that things have changed in Spain. Actually, the same cousin who made that derogatory comment about my marrying a black man has now married a woman !!! And I was the first one to send her flowers - even though it is now legally recognized in Spain, the whole thing did not go down too well with my family there :) But still, the momentum is there. I had not realized that Italy was lagging so behind. What a shame. It's such a gorgeous country.

Please, don't hesitate to write to me. I'd love to be in touch with you. Do you know Valentina Acava Mmaka. She's an Italian writer married to a man from Africa - I don't know which country. I also "met" her through my blog. Anyway, let's keep in touch if you'd like.