My kids are amazing. I mean, sure there are some times when I just want to sit them down and read them the riot act, but that’s the nature of being children. They will try your patience. My kids are unique. I don’t know if I’ve ever met kids exactly like mine (and that makes sense because I see them in such a different way than I ever have any other kids). My kids are smart, and getting smarter every day. And I’m not talking book smarts. Sure, that can come in handy sometimes, but just having deductive reasoning and working toward accomplishing goals, that’s what I mean. My kids are creative. If there was an award for artfulness and craftiness, I would give them all away to my kids, and leave none for myself. And my kids are also multi-racial. But what can I say about that?
That’s the problem I was faced with when I sat down to consider what kinds of questions they might ask someday, about their heritage, about their history, about their place in the world. Their identity. How do they identify themselves, and how will they identify themselves in the face of so many others who will automatically slot them into a position and leave no place for wiggle room? Will they be strong enough in their own identity to shrug off the “haters” and make their own place. I’d like to think I’m preparing them for that and so much more, but like all parents I still worry.
I read this amazingly insightful book, called Does Anybody Else Look Like Me?, by Donna Jackson Nakazawa, that deals with just this topic. She talks about how people will automatically judge, even in our society, those who don’t fit into a certain mold, and they will force them into whatever mold they think is close enough, not wondering if what they’re doing is racial profiling, or worse. And I can’t begin to understand how my children feel when someone says something about them, when they’re pigeonholed like that, because while I can know what it’s like to be black and pushed into that box, I can’t begin to know what it’s like to be black AND white, and to be placed there too. I was talking with my sister tonight about it, and she said it all begins with strong connections at home to both heritages (and in some cases more than even two) and with communication from all sides when questions are raised.
“I can’t begin to know what it’s like to be black AND white…”
So my daughter asked me one day, “Daddy, if you’re black and mommy’s white, what am I?” I replied, “You’re whatever you feel you are.” Smart as always she said, “I can’t choose that.” And she’s right, but while she can’t choose what she is, she can choose how she defines herself, which is in some respects even better. While she isn’t white like the other children in her school, she can still identify with that aspect of her history and heritage because her mother spends time explaining that to her. And while she isn’t black like me, she still gets that aspect of her history and heritage from me. We both answer all of her questions on the subject, and I think she is finally forming connections that will help her define her own identity in the face of this changing world. Then this process will continue with my younger daughter and her own journey to self-awareness and self-identity.
The biggest thing you have to do if you’re in a relationship and considering having children, regardless of your ethnicity or background, is ask yourself if you know who you are, if your own identity is as well-formed as it can be, because your children look to you for answers, and waving them off isn’t good for them or for you. Whether or not they look similar to others around them, they need to recognize that they are loved for who they are, not for their appearance.