Oh, It’s Tuesday: Raising Bi-Racial Kids

So at #1 on the Top 5 things that I’m worried about as a soon-to-be mom is raising Betty to be a happy and well-adjusted bi-racial child. The only problem is that I have no idea how to do this. I read books to teach me how to do everything from writing to cooking — and yes, I even read Blogging for Dummies before starting Fierce and Nerdy. However, there are very few books on raising bi-racial children, and none that I can find with a publish date after 2005. Note: for this post only, when I say “bi-racial,” I mean half black and half white.

Back in the 80s and 90s when I was growing up in St. Louis, I knew few bi-racial kids, and the few that I did know struck me as sad and confused about their identity. All but one of them had white mothers, absent fathers and went out of their way to be “black” — usually in negative ways that were detrimental to their self-esteem and educational development.

In college I met a few bi-racial women, who were secure in their identities, happy, well-adjusted, intelligent, and most importantly, generally awesome. However, they also had extraordinary and worldly parents with globe-ranging back stories. And to tell you the truth, I encountered even more bi-racial chycks in college who were uncomfortable around most black people — which was understandable, since I’ve seen first-hand that many in the black community can be severe in their emotionally-traumatizing unkindness to bi-racial children. However, the black community at Smith was very open and accepting, so I was saddened that they carried this discomfort with them into college.

So here are my main concerns on this subject:

biracialkid1) Should we encourage Betty to identify as black? There was a huge backlash in the black community when Tiger Woods identified himself as “Cablinasian” as opposed to black. I heard a lot of black people say, “Well, the world sees you as black, so that’s what you are.” And then there’s our “first black president,” Barack Obama. And our “first black female Oscar winner,” Halle Berry. Now, until recently I’ve been firmly in the camp that Betty will be a black baby, but lately I’ve been wondering if that’s not a bit unfair. Though, there’s a ton of identity to being a black person, why should I deny her her white heritage?

CH’s family is basically a font of Santa Barabara-Carpenteria history. I love that when we drive to these places, that CH can say, “Yeah, my grandfather built this house” and “my father used to play on this land near Hearst Castle.” It’s a wonderful and rich history that dates all the way back to Scotland and Germany — depending on who you ask. Should Betty be taught that this is less important than her black history, which is mostly contained to St. Louis and Mississippi?

Also, Cassandra from “Baby Smiling in Back Seat” was kind enough to send me this Times piece, which claims that children who identify as multi-racial tend to be happier and better adjusted. It occurs to me that I should probably be encouraging Betty to embrace being different as opposed to fitting in by taking on the label of “black.” And I don’t think that’s a betrayal to my race, I think that might simply be what’s needed. So far the happiest people I have met in this life are those that are most comfortable in their own skin and those that don’t go out of their way to try to fit in. I would love for Betty to be one of those people.

2) The Beauty Factor. Now this is something that a lot of dark-skinned black mothers don’t talk about very often. But I had horrible problems growing up, with people telling me that I was ugly, simply b/c I was dark. For a very long time (more than half my life), I had issues with light-skinned people until I became world-conscious and realized that light-skinned women have their issues, too. I might have been called ugly growing up, but at least I grew up in a huge mostly-dark family and I always felt like I belonged. A lot of light-skinned and bi-racial girls didn’t have this luxury. So now, some of my best friends are light-skinned and/or bi-racial, blah, blah, blah.

However, I have had so many people say that Betty is going to be beautiful because she is bi-racial that I already want to scream. I know for a fact that this almost never happens to black mothers expecting one-race babies, and I don’t quite understand why people feel that claiming that bi-racial babies are more attractive than one-race babies is an appropriate thing to say. Halle Berry is attractive, yes, but is she more attractive than Gabrielle Union, simply because she is bi-racial? I would argue no. Beauty is a complicated thing. Believe it or not there are places in this world where men would pass up Halle for a chance with Gabrielle. I think my dark-skinned, best friend Monique is the most attractive woman I know, and I don’t think she’d be any more attractive if you lightened up her skin.

Also, I don’t think women should be raised in general to think of their beauty as something that defines them on some kind of societal hierarchy. It’s much better to develop other facets like intelligence and personality — in that order. So what to do about this beauty situation? If it’s this bad now, sight-unseen, I can already see random people telling Betty all the time that she’s so very, very pretty because she’s bi-racial.

My extended family has a really embarrassing story they like to tell about me. Basically, when I was a child, I had a really awful habit of informing other children and adults that I was smarter than they were. My mother ignored this, but one of  my many aunts was always like, “So, that don’t make you no better than anybody else” — and I’d judge her for her bad grammar and decide that I was also smarter than she was. Often out loud.

I cringe at the thought of Betty ever doing anything like this where beauty is concerned. I can see her calling a dark-skinned black girl ugly to her face and it drives me crazy.

I would really like her to be the kind of woman that thinks all women of all races are beautiful, period. But what to do when the world isn’t telling her that?

3) The Undue Pressure. I’ve had the feeling lately that more is expected out of bi-racial kids than one-race children. My father was thrilled when I told him I was pregnant. “Maybe you’ll have the next Obama.” He’s not the only one that has said this. If she’s athletic, will she be expected to be the next Tiger Woods. If she becomes an actress, will she be expected to be the next Halle Berry? I spent a lot of my 20s, feeling like I didn’t measure up to all of the expectations put on me, because I was an intelligent child. I don’t want Betty to feel the same way.

And last but not least:

4) I don’t know any other black and white parents in Los Angeles. In fact, I barely know any black people in Los Angeles. I’m not quite sure how this happened, and I’m rather ashamed to admit it, but somehow my life has become rather white-washed. Sometimes I go days without seeing another black person. This used not to bother me. I talk to my sister and by BFF on the phone a lot, almost every day. I Facebook with many of my black friends from St. Louis and other places. But somehow, I just don’t seem to know a lot of black people out here. I mostly stopped making deep-connection IRL friends after grad school, and for whatever reason a lot of my black friends are still on the east coast or in other parts of the country or world.

However, Betty probably won’t learn a lot from my long-distance black community. I’ve been feeling very, very confused about this. On one hand, I don’t want more friends. I have a lot of friends and I’m always feeling vaguely guilty about not making enough time for them. Also, I find something distasteful about going on a black friend hunt, just to up my Los Angeles numbers. However, how weird would it be for Betty to grow up with just me?

CH, interestingly enough, came up with the solution that I couldn’t see for this dilemma. As much as we love Silver Lake, the schools are mostly white and Latino. We need to move to a neighborhood with a more diverse school district before Betty turns six, so we’re working on that. I’ve also decided to up my annual 4-day visit to St. Louis to at least twice a year. And when Betty gets older, I’ll probably send her to live with my sister for 2 weeks every summer.

Still, I wonder if I’ll be able to pull off being a good mom to a bi-racial kid. It’s actually been keeping me up at night. But I guess in the end, I’m no different from every other mom on the planet. You can only do the best that you can and hope that it all turns out.


flickr.com photo credit: Everett Harper