ThreesBy Francis Wardle, Ph.D.
They say things happen in threes.
This certainly happened to me recently. First, I received a letters from a legal assistant in Chicago, wanting information to support a legal case. Second, I struggled with a colleague with whom I am writing a book. And, third, my feedback on a masters research paper was summarily rejected.
All these incidents had a similar thread running through them: the simplistic notion that all the struggles experienced by minorities - including multiracial and multiethnic children and their families - are caused by evil white folk. More specifically, by evil white men - since women are often considered minorities. While this is a nice, neat, comfortable formula, its not only inaccurate, but it belies the complexity of the human condition.
Letter of support
The letter from the legal assistant requested help in a case involving the death of a biracial child. The assistant wanted me to provide research and other information regarding biracial children being raised in white homes and black homes. The case involved a biracial child whose white mother remarried a white husband. It was very clear from the assistants letter that the case depended on a belief - and solid research evidence - that biracial children who are not raised in their biological home must be raised in black homes (blended, adoptive or single) for them to develop a healthy self-identity.
Of course I dont believe that biracial children must be raised in black homes, and the research I have seen does not support the idea.
Ironically, I received this letter shortly after writing a piece for New People E Magazine about the large number of single, white mothers raising biracial children alone, with no support from the childs minority father and his extended family.
I wrote back detailing my belief that the most important thing for any biracial child is to have a father - regardless of the fathers race or ethnicity. I also expressed my concern in the letter about the number of biracial children being raised without a father in their lives. To me this is truly tragic.
I never heard back from the legal assistant.
Writing with a colleague
Im writing a book with a colleague for teachers and prospective teachers, on the needs of multiracial and multiethnic children in our nations; schools. My colleague is a professor of education, and considers herself a multicultural educator. Those of you who have read my work in the past know I am highly critical of much of multicultural education - primarily because they have dropped the ball on the most multicultural of all children in our schools - multiracial and multiethnic children. So my coauthor and I have struggled in writing this book.
The biggest struggle has been around the concept of white privilege and the powerful dominant (read white male) culture. Multiculturalists interpret both of these sociological concepts in absolute terms - all white people are powerful, privileged, and institutionally racist. My view of race and power in this world is more complex. Further, I believe the notion of white privilege and domination, interpreted simplistically and emotionally, is extremely detrimental to multiracial and multiethnic children with some white heritage.
And the reality today is that the most vocal opposition to interracial relationships, multiracial and multiethnic children claiming a multiracial or multiethnic identity, and having a multiracial census and OMB (school) category comes from minorities, not white men.
After I spent the weekend carefully reading and critiquing a students research paper, I sent it off in the mail. I am occasionally asked to be an expert reader for college students from across the country. This paper was about how the media stereotypes minorities and does not represent the diversity on this country - a common theme that both the NAACP and La Raza have taken on as primary issues.
About a week after I sent the article off in the mail I received a terse email from the student, saying she had decided not to use me as a reader, and that her expert advisor concurred whole heartedly with her decision. The student attends one of the more liberal colleges in the east coast.
She didnt like my feedback. (Its interesting to note that academics dont seem to want a debate - they simply ignore people who disagree with them.)
Most of my critique was that her paper blamed all stereotypes, biases, inaccuracies and omissions regarding representation of minorities in the media on white men. I suggested that several TV shows and movies that are highly biased and exhibit the worst of the stereotypes about minorities are produced by minorities. Jungle Fever comes to mind. And, of course, most of the fare on BET - until recently a black owned station, and still called the Black Entertainment Network - perpetuates some of the worst stereotypes about black people that I have every seen!
Anyone who has watched current hip-hop videos will have to agree they perpetuate very negative stereotypes about black men, women, and sex.
White mans guilt
All these examples have the same thing in common: everything that is wrong with this country and the world is caused by white men. Clearly the concept of the dominant societys control, oppression and marginalization of minorities is this country is a valued prism through which to view the world. But it is not the only one. Life is complex - multiple prisms must be used, especially by academics who are paid by hard-working taxpayers to be scholars with intelligence and perspicacity.
There are many situations, groups and contexts where whites do not have power. Any white student applying for college scholarships knows exactly what I mean. I had a very good friend who tried desperately for years to work on minority issues in the city of Denver. But, because she is white - and, heaven forbid, Jewish - and city jobs for the last 20 years have been controlled first by a Hispanic mayor, then a Black mayor, she could never land a job, and eventually moved.
And, of course, this discussion always leaves multiracial and multiethnic children out of the debate. How many minority owned media present interracial families and multiracial and multiethnic children in a positive light? Boondocks, and black authored comic strip has said very negative things about a character who has the audacity to claim to be biracial; Bill Cosby is known to claim multiracial children as ours, and the National Association of Black Social Workers has often come out against interracial marriage, multiracial children, transracial adoption, and a multiracial label. And, of course the womens magazine, Essence, has time and again published negative articles about interracial families and multiracial children.
Deconstructing a society and system fixated on a singe race view of the world requires critical thinking at the highest and most rigorous level. To simply assume that all our problems are caused by white men is not helpful. Certainly, for multiracial and multiethnic children who have white fathers, grandfathers and uncles, this view is extremely negative.
Power, prejudice, human worth and liberty are complex concepts. To analyze them through a simple, non-critically examined lens is not only lazy and sloppy thinking, but does injustice to these complex issues. Racism, while vicious and cruel, is not simple.
Notes from the field: Diversity
By Francis Wardle, Ph.D
Some time ago a multiracial young person complained in this E-magazine about the difficultly of growing up biracial. She went on to explain that her life was a struggle, despite the fact that she grew up in New York City, a place well known for its racial and ethnic diversity.
She clearly believes a diverse environment should be more tolerant towards multiracial and multiethnic children than a homogeneous racial/ethnic environment.
Recently our local paper profiled outstanding young people from various high schools, and described their contributions to their school and community. One of these outstanding young people was a student originally from India, whose contribution she explained was teaching Americans about diversity. I was struck by this idea. Every year hundreds of people in India die from religious intolerance and class hatred, while America has a history of religious tolerance bar none. We have set the standard for people with different religious backgrounds living together peacefully and productively a rich and proud part of our national history.
Yet this student is going to teach us about diversity!
Wandering the halls of my daughter's high school on one of the several occasions I'm called on to bring her something critical that she forgot at home I noticed a sign encouraging students to join the Asian Culture Club. Among several reasons given for joining was, to foster diversity.
So - what is diversity? And, is diversity really a good thing?
According to R. D. Bucher, a writer of college textbooks, diveristy is, all the ways in which people are different. This includes individual, group and cultural differences. And this, of course, is the problem, because diversity has come to mean studying differences. In many schools this translates into studying racial and ethnic groups, and how each group differs from other groups. We are even led to believe that each group has its own culture one people from other cultures can't understand: It's a Black thing you won't understand. Many so-called experts think this is a very good idea for our public schools to do - that it teachers students about each other, and provides minority students with a sense of self-esteem and importance.
No wonder so many people disapprove of interracial marriage and multiethnic and multiracial children. How could people from such different groups - cultures - possibly succeed, and raise successful, well-adjusted children?
And no wonder some places that are very racially and ethnically diverse, such as New York City, are not necessarily the best places to raise multiracial children. (Obviously places that lack any racial and ethnic diveristy are not good places to raise multiracial and multiethnic children - a fact most enlightened people accept as self-evident). Any place that focuses on group differences will both pressure our children to join one of the traditional racial/ethnic groups, and accuse those who don't of not being Black, Hispanic, or Asian enough, or of trying to be White. Often minority students in diverse middle schools and high schools continually harass multiethnic and multiracial children because they dont join single-race groups and act like single-race students.
True diversity is about how we are the same, how we can find ways to overlook and overcome differences like skin color and hair texture, and how we can embrace the beauty that makes all of us part of the rich and diverse human condition. School books, classes, and clubs that focus on differences of groups and individuals are undoing our attempts to raise healthy multiracial children.
Recently I traveled to testify in a divorce case. An interracial couple was separating, and the white mother intended to return to her white, rural roots, taking her multiracial children with her. The African American father contacted me because he believed his young children needed frequent, direct, positive exposure to their African American heritage, which they would not receive from his infrequent count-approved visits. I agreed.
I've talked a lot in this space about the need for multiracial and multiethnic children to have their minority father and his extended family in their lives. Too often after a divorce or separation, single, white mothers, along with their extended families, are left raising biracial children alone. So when this minority father asked for my support as an expert witness, I gladly agreed.
While we were waiting for the case to go before the judge, I noticed that the wife had two lawyers. After inquiring about this arrangement, I was told that one woman was her private lawyer while the other was provided free by a woman's organization. This not-for-profit group automatically assumes that in any divorce case the woman will always be at a disadvantage and need extra help, and thus provides assistance for any woman who requests it.
This is political correctness gone haywire. It's the same as assuming, as many do, that any time there is conflict between a white person and a minority, the white person is wrong, and the minority correct.
This faulty thinking comes straight out of the academic view of the world that assumes all power is with males and whites; all lack of power with women and minorities. Based on this viewpoint, interracial marriages cannot work, because the white member in the marriage will always have too much power. And in any divorce proceedings, the woman will always be the victim. The same thinking argues that the only reason a white family would ever want to adopt a minority child is to control minorities.
In this particular divorce case the net result of this faulty thinking would be that the children would be denied regular, positive and natural interaction with the minority side of their background, contact disparately needed in a race-conscious society that disapproves of multiracial children. Luckily the parents settled out of count, allowing the father much more input into the lives of his children.
True Multicultural Book
I've often complained about the lack of truly multicultural books for young children, high school students, and even college students. There really are very few books that cover a diversity of issues and peoples and, most importantly, provide content and illustrations about multiracial and multiethnic people, heroes, and families. I recently found one, a college textbook: Introduction to Early Childhood Education: A Multidimensional Approach to Child-Centered Care and Learning, published by Allyn and Bacon. This college text for students at 2-and-4 year colleges studying to become teachers of children, infancy to age 8 - has an entire chapter devoted to diveristy (the richness and variability of people and families), includes other diversity issues scattered throughout, and is illustrated with over 100 photos, including families and children in Brazil, Mexico and Guatemala, and lots of interracial families, biracial children, and extended interracial families.
Who's the author, you might ask? Me!
When I started to write the book over 3 years ago, I focused on the traditional early childhood literature, and did not intend to provide a multicultural emphasis. However, because of my understanding of the rich diversity of families and children in this country and the world, and because of the way I view the world based on considerable travel and my own multiracial family- the text turned out that way. Additionally, when it was decided to use my photos almost exclusively to illustrate the book (partly for financial reasons, although my work has been published in a variety of books and magazines) the rest, as they say, is history.
Ten Do's and Don'ts to Raising Healthy Multiracial/Multiethnic Children
By Francis Wardle, Ph.D.
Last month my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. During these 25 years we have raised 4 children, now 23, 21, 18 and 16 years old. And, I believe, our children are fairly successful - one has graduated from college, two are currently in college, and the youngest is a junior in a highschool international baccalaureate program. So I believe my wife and I know a little about raising multiracial/multiethnic children.
But, in my years of writing, teaching, and speaking, I have discovered there is nothing more precarious than giving parenting advice! Every parent thinks they are an expert. There are parents who swear by home schooling; others who believe moral children cannot be raised without rigorous religious indoctrination, and those who feel gifted programs are for elite snobs. And parents certainly won't listen to advice from someone who doesn't have a best selling book, and hasn't appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Add to these people, parents raising multiracial and multiethnic children. Interracial parents' deeply held beliefs run from rasing a child as color-blind, not seeing race or ethnicity, to raising a child as black, because our racist society requires it. Then there are parents who will let their child decide. Finally, there are parents who simply don't know.
So - feeling somewhat like an NFL linebacker on thin ice, I'll give my advice for raising healthy multiracial and multiethnic children.
1. If you are in love with someone of another race or ethnicity, and feel you have what it takes to create a loving and nurturing family, marry and have children.
Know that its very possible to raise healthy, secure, self-confident multiracial children in this society, provided you support their unique identity development.
Do not have children if you do not intend to stay together, or don't feel there is a high probability you will make it as a couple. It's hard enough to raise healthy mixed children with two parents; a much bigger challenge with one. Children are concrete learners - they learn about themselves and the world through real experiences, not words and lectures. In a society so polarized by race and ethnicity, our children must have lots of direct contact with both sides of their family. The easiest way for this to occur is through experiences with both parents.
When two adults cross the racial divide to have a child, they can never go back. Your child represents an in-your-face challenge to racism and the belief of every racial, ethnic and national group that ingroup marriage is somehow normal and better. It is particularly difficult for single, white mothers to raise biracial children. Clearly there are successful examples, and courageous women doing their best to raise their biracial children. It's simply much more difficult - for all involved.
2. Do all you can to maintain contact with both extended families.
Again, children need concrete experiences with both of their racial and ethnic backgrounds - and extended family contacts and experiences are the best way for this to occur. It's difficult for a child to develop prejudicial beliefs or inaccurate information about one side of their heritage if they have positive contacts with both sides all the time. Its easy to develop prejudices when the child is around people from only one of his/her backgrounds.
Do not destroy bridges with grandparents! Many interracial and interethnic couples declare their love despite parental objection. Be careful. If you can leave an opening for your parents to become involved, do so. Many parents who initially object to their children crossing the racial or ethnic divide, return when a cute grandchild arrives. And these grandchildren need their grandparents!
3. Start affirming a child's multiracial/multiethnic identity at birth.
Use decorations that convey a positive message; when you hold and talk to your infant, talk about her pretty skin, beautiful eyes, and curly hair. Tell her how much she looks like her father and mother. Sing songs about a beautiful, brown, curly headed baby. Lap read books about multiracial children, families of the world, and all aspects of her heritage. Give her mirrors to see herself; when you talk to others affirm her positive multiracial identity, "she's so cute, has her fathers nose and my eyes", etc.
Don't wait until your child is a teenager to discuss his multiracial heritage - that's too late! Many parents of multiracial children seem to believe that, because adolescence is the time when the search for racial identity and the incidence of harassment are the strongest, that's the best time to deal with these issues. It must be done earlier, so that when children are confronted with ugly comments and putdowns they are confident in who they are, and can say, "yes, my mother's black and my father's white, and that makes me biracial", and, "no, I don't see anything wrong with wanting to do some 'white' after-school activities and some' black' ones.
4. As children grow older, talk about race, racism, prejudice, and the need of people to put everyone into neat racial and ethnic boxes.
Children need to understand that in our culture there is a deeply held belief that everyone neatly fits into existing racial and ethnic categories, and, by claiming their multiracial identity, people are threatened and confused. Stress that every single-race and ethnic group is uncomfortable with the notion of a mixed-race identity, not just white society.
Don't teach children that color does not matter. It does! - in this country, and most countries in the world. And color matters not only in the greater society, but within every single racial and ethnic group (Blacks, Hispanics, Natives Americans and Asians). People's initial reactions to other people are based on physical characteristics - what that person looks like (skin color, hair color and texture, facial features). Further, in this country most people use physical features to place a person within one of our traditional racial categories - which are totally unscientific. My children have been labeled Vietnamese, Latino, Native America, Indian (Asian) and Black. People usually don't do this in a mean way - it's simple how we are taught to process information.
5. Find professionals who enjoy your children and respect their total heritage.
Human contacts throughout a child's life are a critical element in each child's healthy development. More than anything else - color of skin, ethnicity, language, etc - the adult needs to like the child for who she is. Children respond to people who care about them - regardless of their background. It certainly helps if these adults know about multiracial children and how to support their healthy identity development.
Do not entrust you child to adults who do not respect their need for a full identity. And, do not assume minority adults support multiracial identity; many do not. While this understanding is important for teachers, scout and church groups leaders, etc, it's absolutely critical for social workers, counselors and psychologists. If your child needs to see such a professional, make sure they support your efforts before allowing them to work with your child.
6. Celebrate your family's mixed heritage.
Every racial and ethnic group and many religious, professional and national groups, strongly support within-group marriage. Thus our families and children challenge all types of people - who are very vocal in their unease and disagreement (stares, articles, TV shows, movies, ministers, single-race advocates, silly questions, etc). To counter this constant harassment, we must celebrate our multiracial existence continually, affirmatively, and assertively. Take every opportunity you can to expose your children to other diverse families, cultures and religions; talk about diversity, read books, and celebrate all examples of mixed families.
Do not simply 'let your children decide' on their identity. This is like never teaching a child right and wrong, because they must eventually decide for themselves (which they do, anyway!). Just because each generation rejects some of the values of their parents does not stop us from teaching values to our children. A child raised feeling proud of a mixed identity may well select a single label as she grows older. That's fine - but, in so doing, she will feel good about her choice. I constantly hear from young biracial and multiracial adults who do not feel good about themselves, because their parents did not support their mixed identity. The rest of the world does not ignore it!
7. Expose your children to all sides of their heritage.
This is particularly critical if only one side of the child's background is represented in the home - just one parent and one extended family. Children need classmates, neighbors, playmates, etc, who represent both racial groups (or more). If this does not occur, children develop an unrealistic - and overly romantic - view of the part of their heritage that is missing, and then want to discover 'being black', 'being Native American', 'being Hispanic', etc. The problem is they truly don't know what it means to be one of these minorities, so they become attracted to the stereotypes of the group - music, behaviors, clothes, language, etc.
Do not raise a child in a single-race environment - especially if its white. As I said earlier, as soon as you have a child with a person from another race/ethnicity, you have become part of a multiracial family, and cannot return to you previous comfortable existence in a single race environment. Find ways to live in integrated neighborhoods, and have your children attend integrated schools and join integrated community groups.
8. When your children become teenagers, encourage them to interact with members of the opposite sex from a variety of backgrounds.
Let your children choose friends from their various social groups - school programs, sports teams, work colleagues. The teenage years are a good time for children to have lots of friends, learn social skills and appropriate graces, and begin to develop an idea of the kind of person they would like to marry.
Do not worry about your child dating. Many interracial parents worry about their children dating - believing their multiracial and multiethnic status will make it very difficult. First, most highschool students are far more open-minded towards mixed dating than they were when we (interracial parents) were teenagers; second, most multiracial children learn to move comfortably between different racial and ethnic groups, and, three, I don't think dating in highschool is necessarily healthy (certainly we don't need to be advocating it). None of my children dated in highschool, and they are fine. American culture pushes children to date and become sexually active far too early.
9. Insist the school support your child's total heritage.
Interracial and interethnic parents know that early childhood programs and schools do not know how to support their children and families. You have to educate them! This is simply one of the responsibilities parents must accept when they have mixed-race children. Further, this educational process will continue throughout your child's school experience, and involve all manner of people - administrators, teachers, psychologists, diversity coordinators, etc. You need to educate them about your child's mixed heritage, their (and your) pride in this heritage, and the school's responsibility to use the new census process ('check all that apply') in collecting official school data.
Do not allow schools to push you around! Most schools are not knowledgeable about our population, and, therefore don't know what our children need. You know far more than most schools. Further, as a parent of a child in school you have a right to make sure the school provides what is best for your child. This means what you believe to be best; not what the school thinks is best. Be very careful when the school makes your child's mixed heritage an issue - especially in counseling, psychology or special education situations.
10. Acknowledge and support your child's unique racial identity.
Our children are minorities, have direct personal connections with the dominant group, and are something new - what many are calling third culture children. To nurture this unique identity, our children need sensitivity, support, guidance and understanding.
Do not fixate on your child's unique racial status. Ninety five percent of our children's experiences - good and bad - have nothing to do with race and ethnicity. Our children progress through the same developmental stages, learn the same school-related tasks, and have all the same challenges as single-race children.
They just have one more experience: being multiracial or multiethnic.