Disclaimer: In this blog post I touch on aspects of racism & reverse racism. This post is not meant to discuss the above subjects in its totality or in detail. I am not trying to compare the struggles of different segments of our society or suggest anything not directly implied. Please do not assume my wife and I’s opinions on anything race related. Such conversations would take more than this blog post. This article is about parents helping their multiracial kids establish their identity.
As Olivia’s father when I look into her eyes I want so much for her. My wife and I made a vow to not push any of our ideologies on her, but instead to expose her to as much as we can and help her navigate through life and allow her to come into her own truth. More than anything, we want our daughter to be a strong woman that does no harm but takes no shit.
Despite the opinion of many with male or white privilege on their sides, sexism and racism is alive. And if our history is the precedent we use to determine our future, then things don’t look optimistic, in regards to race relations. Race is an issue, I doubt will be reconciled in our lifetime due to the lack of honest, objective dialogue. True, I would agree in the last few years there has been an authentic awakening around issues of racial justice in America, but I wouldn’t put my hope in these optics. One can argue we the children of the multi-cultural 80’s and 90’s are fluent in colorblindness and diversity but illiterate in the language of anti-racism. Tolerance does not equate justice and diversity does not equal progress. The fact Barack Obama was elected as president is not proof racial discrimination no longer exists. Racism is not a relic of the past and although some segments of our generation are colorblind, that doesn’t help the issues at hand. Ignoring and denying we have a race issue in America only helps perpetuate the false narrative of a post racial society.
As someone who was adopted by an African American family, attended black schools, lived in black neighborhoods and only had black friends growing up… my perspective is unique. The ways in which I think about my identity and history have shifted substantially over the years. It’s now common to see kids of various backgrounds playing together, dating and attending school, but when I was growing up in the 80’s and 90’s our generation wasn’t so open and accepting. I was the only white kid in all of my summer camps, in my family’s neighborhoods and church. I had no white friends growing up and did not visit the inside of a white persons home until I was an adult. Being white in an all black environment, I had a unique vantage point. I was often able to view life through different lenses and often suffered from identity issues. Some that persist even to this day. I had the privilege of being born a male and with that, I had the opportunity to confront anyone in my path who dared to offer their unsolicited opinion of me. Should my daughter be as vocal or confident as I was growing up, she would be considered rude, mean, or a bitch. Religious dogma teaches our girls to worship in silence and “obey” their husbands. It also teaches them they cant teach, wear pants and other similar gender perverse dogmas. The media is no better. Marketing campaigns tell our daughters they should dream of being princesses and cooks, while our boys are taught they can be astronauts, scientists and heroes.
Well, not in our house! Our daughter will be raised knowing that she is just as worthy and equal to any of her peers. She will know she is no better and no worse than any of her future classmates. But how do I prepare her for the identity issues she will face. Issues that only people of biracial roots can attest to. I cannot tell her how she should identify herself, that’s a decision she’ll have to make. For everyone of non African American decent she’ll always be considered black… but in the black communities will she be accepted as black? How do we prepare Olivia for racism and all its subtleties?
The two generations preceding the birth of my daughter consists of African American, Caucasian, Filipino and Haitian lineage. In addition to those ethnicities, the two generations before her grandparents consists of relatives from Denmark, Ireland, Virgin Islands and Africa. The reality of the human condition is that we are cliquish and often form groups based on race or common interest. The sad reality is my daughter will never be accepted by White, Black, Filipino or Haitian people as their own. I’m broadly speaking and there will always be exceptions, but generally she will never be fully accepted, although she contains the DNA of all those ethnicities. Only people of mixed backgrounds can attest to what that can do to you mentally, if you let it.
I know many believe that reverse racism cannot exists on the grounds it’s difficult to compare incidents of random race based violence verses systemic racism. I’ll also agree that the oppressive forces in America deny the idea of reverse racism as a way to deny they have any privilege. So lets just agree, that in addition to racism there is prejudice, bigotry and ignorance. And brown, black, red and white people can all exhibit those qualities within their own circles and to others. An easy example of such prejudices is the brown paper bag test, which was based on something the person being judged had no control over. I agree racism and prejudices are not interchangeable and I hope I’ve made that clear. The point I want to make is my daughter has no choice but to be strong and no matter how she identifies she will be subject to bullshit from her own people. All of them. As her father, I want to shield her from the cold realities of our world but I know I’d be doing her a disservice and ill preparing her for adulthood. Truthfully speaking, there are assholes in our society and protecting Olivia from them is an illusion.
How do I shield her from some for the rehoteric she’s bound to encounter like:
“You’re just White, because that’s what your father is.”
“You’re mixed. You can’t identify as Black because that’s dishonest.”
“Why are you saying you’re mixed? Girl, you’re Black.”
“If you’re only 25% Haitian, you’re not really Haitian.”
“How can you be Filipino when your Dad doesn’t even speak the language?”
As most families from the south are, my family is very race conscious. Both of our grandmothers worked as maids when they migrated to Florida because that’s the only job a woman of color was eligible for. My grandfather needed a work permit ID card just to work on Miami Beach at night. Yes, black folks were harassed and incarcerated for being black, in what is now called South Beach, at night. Although I’m White, my perception and views are very different than other white people. I can’t give my daughter other points of reference and experiences from the other races she carries in her DNA because I never had them myself. I saw the police brutality and racial injustices being carried out by white law enforcement. I remember working for my uncle and sitting in the back of his van when the police pulled us over in an affluent neighborhood, just to be told we could drive off after the cops saw me. I know what white privilege feels like. I can attest that it is real.
Being racially mixed can have has its advantages at times, but it also makes it harder to fall back on the tribal identities that have guided so much of human history. How do we prepare Olivia for an unjust world? As a child you internalize your world; you often become what people believe you to be. I remember people assuming my maternal and paternal grandmothers were my Nannies. How will Olivia interpret people assuming Nicole isn’t her Mother? How do we explain that to her? The sad truth is Olivia will not always be judged based on her character and I can’t save her from that pain. Olivia will have to straddle cultures and multiple kinds of belonging, in a way I never did. Identity is a complex conversation and it’s something she will come to question, navigate, craft, and ultimately claim for herself one day. As her parents, it’ll be our job to gently put dents in her innocence to build her strength. As harsh as that sounds, we don’t have a choice.