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Parenting a Mixed Race Child

February 17, 2015

I feel as if I’ve been on a rollercoaster, riding the wave of emotions involved in the volatile topic of racial strife. In the midst of the killings of unarmed minorities, which led to debates and protests across this nation and around the world, I feel as if I need to switch gears a bit by addressing a topic that can, in itself, be just as volatile, yet hasn’t been given the stage for people to debate openly.

The issue is… parenting a mixed race child in a country that is clearly not over its history of racial inequality in the year 2015.

Sometimes I feel as if people may have used the basic logic that if our country, given its systemic views and issues on race, could elect an African American to the office of President of The United States of America then we are somehow renewed, and our nation is somehow past its history of prejudice and racial inequality.

When you consider the fact that we routinely list our President as the first African American President, and completely disregard the fact that he is actually bi-racial, we create a divide by perpetuating the issue of being caught up in the color of his skin, and by denying who his mother is/was. We also illuminate the issue on either side of the racial lines involved, as to how we accept, or deny an individual simply based on the color of their skin, and how we create an identity crisis for the individuals who find themselves torn between both sides of themselves.

We, many times inadvertently, force them to choose one side or the other, and when we look at these dynamics… is this really healthy, or even fair for us to do to a child, who in most cases does not know who they are as a human being, let alone as a member of any ethnic group, at the beginning of their young life? I remember when I met my future wife at church. I wasn’t looking for an African American, Puerto Rican, Caucasian, or a woman of any particular ethnicity, I was simply sold on the fact that whoever I was considering had to be a Christian.

One day this beautiful stranger came into my home church, and I found myself trying not to pay her any attention because I didn’t want her to get the impression that I was interested in her. I actually tried my best not to even talk to her, the first few times she came to visit, outside of the customary greeting we give visitors in church. I had no social life outside of the church, and my pastor actually asked me if I had considered getting to know the beautiful young lady that had begun frequenting our church. I gave him some diatribe about ‘not interfering with my dedication to church’ jargon, after which he sort of pulled me aside and told me it was ok if I at least got to know this young woman.

Ironically, when I finally considered talking to her she didn’t come to church for several weeks, and I thought that I had perhaps missed my opportunity to get to know this young woman. A few weeks later, one of the older mothers in our church asked me for a favor. She wanted me to give her a ride to visit her daughter, who coincidentally was a friend of the very woman I had finally decided to talk to, but hadn’t seen in nearly a month. They lived in the same apartment complex.

As fate would have it, neither of them were at home that day when we went by to check on them, and I nearly took it as a sign to just keep on moving, but something happened though, that for me was a big deal. I took one of our brochures, and wrote a short note explaining why we had come by, and even wrote my phone number on it. That was a big deal for me because I didn’t do stuff like that… ever… but there was just something different about this young woman, and I gave it a shot.

She called me the following week to inform me that she had been out of town visiting a sick family member, and from that point on we began to finally talk, and get to know each other better. I remember a month or so later we were talking, and she asked me how I felt about dating someone outside my race. I remember feeling a little silly because until she mentioned it, I didn’t even realize that she was not Black. I really didn’t even think about, or even care, what ethnicity she was.

I proposed to her after nearly a year of courting, and we were married in the very church that we had first met. I was 24, and she was 21 when we got married in the summer of 1995. Despite the fact that some family told us we should have waited to have kids, we had our first child that following April. Little did I know all of the issues that we were about to discover together as a family.

My wife and I had this inside joke that we could have starred in an African American/Puerto Rican version of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” With our two big families, and their own unique family dynamics, we could have had enough comedy and drama to give that original film a run for its money! I often joked with friends that the only difference between my mother-in-law, and my own mom, is that my mom does not speak Spanish; they are both short, and despite their unique backgrounds, they share a lot of similar qualities and experiences.

I remember talking to a co worker at the time, and he made a mention of my son being Black. As he explained it, “the world was going to treat him as if he were Black” because he believed it was solely about who the father is. I remember thinking, really? How short sited that view point was. My wife had her own unique perspective on race as she explained how her mother’s ancestry came mainly from African and Taino decent, and her father’s from Spaniard; and how in her own family they were considered the darker children, and somehow less desirable.

We both came into the marriage with our own version of prejudices and racial issues. Now, we were embarking on something that was new to both of us. We were actually creating an even more complex dynamic for our children that neither of us at the time were even aware was going to put them in a distinct category more diverse from that which either of us could really understand.

I’ll never forget when my son was about 6 years old, and he and I were at a local Burger King. There was a group of Hispanic kids around his age playing in the play area, and he went to join them. He was so excited that he came saying to them “hey friends, I can speak Spanish, I can speak Spanish”! A few minutes later he came back to the table nearly in tears telling me that they didn’t talk to him, and they didn’t want to play with him. I remember feeling hurt for him, and I was about to let my own issues about race cause me to tell him that perhaps they just didn’t want to play with him because of his skin color.

Just as I was about to let that thought come out of my mouth, I thought for a second, and told him “hey, why don’t you actually talk to them in Spanish, and tell them what your name is.” He went back, and talked with them; this time speaking as much Spanish as he had learned to that point, and he eventually came back to the table happy because it was merely the fact that they didn’t speak fluent English. I was on the verge of injecting my son with a dose of my own reality, when it was just an issue of miscommunication.

While I was brought up in an environment in which, outside of school, we didn’t have many non-African American people at our house on Thanksgiving or Christmas, my kids grew up accustomed to interacting with Puerto Rican, Caucasian, African American, Native American, and a countless number of mixed race people; and all of the above were members of their family!

My kids grew up in an environment that made them far more adaptable to the way the world is today than I ever was as a kid!

Where some kids would gravitate to what is familiar to them, Black kids playing with Black kids, White sticking with White, my kids would play with whomever wanted to play with them; often acting as a bridge or buffer to the ones who didn’t seem to want to accept anyone different. As much as I would like to claim that my wife and I instilled that in them, I have to be honest, and say that this was just a part of who they were as individuals.

We even had an incident nearly a year ago when my oldest son’s Caucasian friend went on a Facebook tirade after his little brother’s PlayStation was stolen. He, an otherwise good kid that has stayed overnight at our house on multiple occasions over the years, exploded with an angry rant, even suggesting that his brother’s game device was stolen by “some thug nigger.” He was blaming some random black person he remembered seeing around their house that afternoon.

My wife told me to go on Facebook and read his comments; when I did, I was caught off guard. I honestly didn’t know how to take it. I immediately thought to myself, I know how I feel about this, but what does my son think of his friend’s comments? I sat both my older kids down, and asked them to give me their honest assessment of the situation. My daughter, who for whatever reason tends to take more after me, simply grabbed her bat and sort of jokingly said that she would take care of him if he ever said anything like that again. My son, his friend, said that he believed it was just an isolated incident, and while it bothered him, he wanted to give him a chance to apologize and redeem himself.

I realized that while it was a serious situation, I did not want to let my own issues with race influence my kids own experiences to the point that I grandfathered my own personal views onto the backs of these young people that had to figure these situations out for themselves.

A few of the boy’s family members chimed in and sort of validated his initial “heat-of-the- moment” racial tirade; while other of his more rational friends told him to calm down, regain his emotions, and delete the post! In the end he reached out to us. He spoke with first, my wife, then me, and then he talked to the kids when he came to stay with us again several months after the situation died down. Does it make anything better to report that he and I talked in more detail about what he did and that he has never again embarrassed himself or his family with misguided racially charged rants since?

Some people would have suggested that the way we handled the situation was wrong, but when you’re purposely trying to raise your uniquely blended child with a sense of who they are, even though who they are is so diverse to who you are, the rights and wrongs are never as cut and dry or Black and White as you would hope them to be. I had to remember the way he felt as a little kid; initially feeling rejected by the Hispanic kids, because he was different, and also knowing he had been set aside from many African American kids due to his hair and skin tone being slightly different.

Perhaps no other example illustrates the unique dynamic for mixed race children than the issues that stem from within the family itself.

I recall an emotional, yet teachable moment that came from an offhand comment my mother made about my daughter’s hair when she was about seven years old. My mother told her, “You got rough hair like your daddy” pointing out the difference between her hair and her brother’s hair. My son has naturally curly hair, which no doubt came from his mother; while my daughter’s hair and even her skin tone was more closely related to that of my own.

My daughter took offense to this, and went in her room to cry without my mother ever picking up on the situation. From that time on my mother went on to wonder why my daughter began to be more reluctant to be affectionate whenever granny came to visit. My mother even once uttered the accusation that my children “didn’t like Black people!!!” This accusation, which I believe she never fully understood the true implications of, or the idiotic overtones involved in them, really, for lack of better terms, pissed me off!

I immediately explained to my mother, (hurtful intentions applied), that my children had nothing against “Black people,” they just didn’t like cranky old ladies with no filter!!! My wife tried to get me to calm down and be civil, but I felt she had that coming! Listen, I love my mother, but I had to protect my children from stupidity, even if that stupidity was coming from someone I held dear. It’s a uniquely troublesome dynamic to have situations within a family that, if not monitored and addressed correctly, can severely impact the dynamic of who our children are, and how they see themselves.

Then there’s the issue of languages. What some closed minded people think is a detail that will separate children, and make them stand out from their ethnic group, could actually help them to be more dynamic and astute. Can you imagine? People initially thought that my children learning Spanish was actually considered a hindrance. Only in a society as culturally shut off, and psychologically rigid as our society can be, would speaking another language be considered a bad thing!

In many countries around the world, a common man who has no social standing to think of, could demand a high salary in the U.S. based on the fact that he/she speaks multiple languages. On the other hand, the fact that my children were taught English and Spanish simultaneously was not well received by some family members, nor the schools! My wife came from a culture who never disregards the mother’s maiden name, let alone her culture, so how could we get a proud Puerto Rican woman to accept that she was in a society that basically considered a child’s cultural identity to be solely based on who the father was?

I remember when I went back to school, I had to do a PowerPoint Genogram presentation. One of my presentation facts was on how my children embraced the unique cultural dynamic when they realized they got to celebrate both Christmas, and 3 Kings Day!

A Hispanic classmate began laughing while many others didn’t get the significance of what we were referring to. What kid wouldn’t want to basically celebrate Christmas twice? My kids embraced all aspects of their unique upbringing; they call my mother Granny, and my wife’s mother Abuelita. When asked what ethnicity she was, my daughter in her distinctly ‘matter-of-fact’ way, simply stated that she was African American and Puerto Rican. She was not one or the other, but both at the same time.

In a world that covertly promotes you to take one side, or the other, my children have definitively elected to create a new category; one in which an entire new generation of American kids can relate to wholeheartedly… a mixed race generation.

This generation does not see things merely in over-tone gestures of Black and White, or outward appearances based upon skin tone. They address fundamental issues that affect not only how the establishment views minorities, but how sub-groups within their own unique demographics view them, the product of interracial unions. I encourage parents of these distinct unions to understand the full ramification of, not only passing on our own issues with race to our children, but also the consequences of not using sound education and instruction to our children.

We have a friend who casually mentioned that she raised her mixed race children as “White,” which in retrospect is no better than having the same child, and having them behave as if they were “Black” and all that goes along with that distinction. There are so many misguided misconceptions of what is considered “White,” and what is considered “Black” in our society, and we as parents have to educate our children, and simultaneously, our society, about these misconceptions.

Why do we endorse the sentiment that if a mixed race youth is using correct grammar, or is capable of articulating proficiently, he/she is somehow trying to sound “White”?

In my opinion, this is not only self-deprecating for a mixed race person to feel about themselves, but perpetuates the notion that minorities are inferior. Much like the incident in which my daughter didn’t like her grandmother distinguishing between her and her brother’s texture of hair or skin tone, mixed race children don’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable because they speak correctly, nor should they be made to feel awkward simply because they understand when it is acceptable to talk properly vs. how to talk when simply hanging out with their friends. I’ve seen and heard members of sub groups being just as condescending to each other as any prejudice person has ever been to a minority simply based on ideology, and passed-on prejudice.

While it may sound like a literal paradox, hate is actually just as colorblind as love. No one has the market cornered on hate. It’s quite capable of existing in any group or sub group, and it is not exclusive to members of opposing groups. Which is one reason I believe parents should take care not to pass their own quirks, and views on race to their children. If you are not careful, you risk the embarrassment of having a child that exercises their rights as a citizen in the most foolish of ways. Channeling efforts into the wrong causes that divide, more so than inspire the greater good or equality.

Imagine my surprise when I had three 3rd graders get into a spirited debate about why they hated President Obama. The kids were not even old enough to accurately spell ‘Democrat,’ or ‘Republican,’ but they went off on a diatribe about why they hated our President. It all came off much more like what they’ve heard their parents saying, more so than any real opinion they’ve formed on their own!

When I asked them what their main concern with the President was, they couldn’t articulate any real issues, and so finally one kid just stated that they should just simply kill President Obama and be done with it! This is a prime example of why I say we should be careful in the area of allowing our issues to filter to our children. All parents should take this example into consideration, and take precaution as to not pass on our more misguided, unfounded views unto our children.

The reality of this life is… parenting is a hard enough job on its own. Regardless of your specific circumstance, parenting a sick child, parenting a mixed race child, adopting a child of another ethnicity, etc… I believe that God gives us grace to deal with those distinct situations if we open ourselves up to that help; but we must first realize that we don’t have all the answers, and that one size does not fit all. The world can be a crazy, chaotic disaster waiting to happen on a daily basis, and when we don’t properly educate ourselves on how to deal with what we know is already out there lurking, how can any parent be an effective parent?

My wife and I feel as if we’ve prepared our children for what lies ahead for them; and though any parent would like to shield their children from any and all things that may come their way, the excruciating reality of the situation is that we will never really know what our children are capable of, or even the lessons that they’ve learned, unless we allow them to go out into the very world that we’ve tried to warn them about.

Another harsh reality is that, even though we can teach and educate our children, they can still succumb or be made casualties of the more unforgiving realities of life; yet still, we also know that if we never made the effort to prepare them, we would regret that fact all the more. Regardless of the distinct culture or ethnicity, raising children overall is one of the most beautifully rewarding excruciatingly thankless, and most emotionally draining exuberant rollercoaster ride experiences you can ever hope for. We should be so blessed as to have experienced every emotion that comes with being a parent; my hope is that we prepare ourselves and continue to educate ourselves on how to be the best parents we can be.

When our kids eventually grow and mature we inadvertently get to take credit for the wise productive citizens they (hopefully) become, the only problem is, we also get the distinction of being blamed when they don’t live up to their full potential. So, we should endeavor to educate our beloved children, and pray that they retain the sound instruction and advice that we give them so that they become productive members of the most culturally significant race that they can ever aspire to be a part of, the human race.


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