Three Shades of Family: How We Address Interracial Challenges

Kyle and his wife didn’t worry about their racial differences. They were simply in love. But when their son was born, they had to consider the implications.

We honestly had no idea.

When my wife and I started dating, we weren’t thinking about how our relationship was part of a growing trend that is currently changing the cultural landscape of America. We didn’t think about how as early as our parent’s generation, a union like ours would have been punishable by exile from friends and family, imprisonment, or even death. We just knew we were in love.

We didn’t really consider these implications… that is, until we had our son.

Before this, our lives were our own and we couldn’t care less about feelings and perceptions of others that disapproved. She didn’t care that I was an African-American who grew up in the inner city and I didn’t care that she was a Caucasian country girl from Maine. We were confident enough as individuals to see beyond color and culture. But now things are different. We brought a new life into this world. A world, while still evolving, unfortunately consists of people who will disapprove of who he is.

Interracial children tend to face adversity for many reasons, which include but are not limited to:

1. Identity. People (like myself) born from parents of one race tend to take their identity for granted. My skin color is just the same as my parents and most family members. From an early age, my “identity” was no mystery to me. However, if you are interracial, with your mom looking one way and your dad another, your identity can be confusing, especially at a young age.

2. Lack of Exposure. It is quite common for an interracial child to be immersed in one culture more so than the other. This can be due to growing up in a single-parent household, or to growing up in a neighborhood where a particular race is the majority.

3. Isolation. Children are naturally curious and unwittingly cruel. If you are a child in a school where you look or act different from the mainstream, you will likely be a target. This concept is no exception when you are an interracial kid in a class room full of other kids that look different from you.

With that being said, In addition to our regular duties as parents, my wife and I have another very important responsibility: To find fun and interesting ways to teach him about his different heritages, and instill within him a confidence of self. The idea is that love and acceptance from his parents and family will be enough to combat any negativity that he may face in this world.

Here are some of the things that we have done or are doing so far to prepare him.
Choosing the right neighborhoods
I mentioned earlier that I grew up in an inner-city area of New Jersey. The community that I was a part of was essentially a melting pot of cultures, religions and ideals. In elementary school, I remember doing book report with a kid Pakistan, bartering lunch with a boy from he Philippines, playing Mortal Kombat with my best friend from Guyana and playing baseball with my neighborhood kids from across the street that happened to be from Puerto Rico.   I truly believe that being exposed to these different experiences at an early age taught me to judge people by their character and not by their skin color. I want that upbringing for my son as well, which is part of the reason I chose the area that we currently live in. Not only will he learn the valuable lessons that I did growing up, the chances of this being ostracized will be drastically decreased in a in a multicultural setting.

Education through reading

 We find that books are a great way to educate our  son about his backgrounds that he shares with his parents. We also use reading to teach him about other ethnicities and cultures as well. Here are example of our favorite books:
 Shades of Black- Primarily a picture book, Shades of Black is a celebration of the many colors that make up the African- American race. The pictures consist of children with a variety of skin tones that range from light to dark and proves how beautiful they all are.
***
GoodNight Maine- This also a picture book. However the images of both coastal and inland Maine are so strong, not many words are needed. We visit my wife’s family in Main often, so it is cool to connect the images that we see in the book with what we actually see while we are there. An excellent bedtime read.
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WhoeverYou Are – This is a book that I believe should be in every child’s library. The book has pictures children from all over the world and stresses the point that no matter where you come from, we are all have the same wants, needs and cry the same tears. The illustrations are beautiful and the lessons taught in this book will reverberate well into adulthood.
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Visiting Family
My wife and I were lucky in the sense that our parents were very supportive towards our relationship.  I have heard horror stories where people were forced to choose between their families or the person that they loved.Partly because of this, we make it a point to get out and visit them as much as possible. Our son gets to see firsthand how well people of different backgrounds can get along. Also, by visiting both families frequently, he gets to experience the different cultures. This way, he is familiar with both aspects of his identity, which I hope will develop his confidence as he gets older.
While race relations in our country have steadily improved over the years, they are by no stretch of the imagination perfect. There are still people in this world who will say and do things in order to make our son feel as though he does not belong. While we can’t protect him from everything, what we can do is our best to prepare him for what he may encounter.
Originally published on Fatherly Stuff
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About Kyle Wiley

Kyle is a dad who regularly writes about his experiences on his blog www.fatherlystuff.com. He currently lives in Connecticut with his wife, his two young boys, and a bunny.

Comments

  1. It’s funny, I’ve been married for 38+ years and have never thought of my wife and I being interracial. But according to society, we are. She’s 100% of Mexican heritage and I’m German French Norwegian. My wife didn’t learn English until she started grade school but you wouldn’t know it today.

    We have two kids, my daughter looks more Caucasian whereas my son has often times been thought to be black. In fact, several years ago when I picked my son up from his high school and asked that I give a friend a ride home, his friend did a double take at me and said, Charlie, your dad is white! I just laughed.

    I have to admit that if a heritage got lost in the shuffle, it was mine. I love Mexican food and am a damn good cook. Yes, I am a better Mexican cook then my wife, my mother-in-law said so. My wife and I grew up on the west side of Chicago. My family through the years became the minority. I went to a predominantly black high school and it was the best experience I could have asked for.

    I think a lot of people are losing out by not exposing themselves to different cultures. I’m happy to see that you’re doing what you do ….

  2. Dan Flowers says:

    I am not a believer in “hyphenated” Americans. My children are taught just to be who they are, and embrace everyone as people regardless of color. I think we worry too much about race identity when our children are in their formative years. It would love to see more children raised with a common national identity (American) rather than any subcategory identity.

  3. I also never think of myself when interracial marriage is mentioned even though I have been married to a filipina woman for 30 years. It just isn’t something that even remotely registers. Hard to imagine it was once illegal for us to have married. And while I may be the biased father my children are beautiful inside and out and if someone doesn’t accept them for being biracial then they are just stupid and it is their loss.

  4. Re: Visiting family

    My son is a mix of Asian and Jewish heritages… we chose not to go kosher or go to synagogue regularly…although he is exposed to bar mitzvahs, seders, Hanukah celebrations, and of course, Jewish funerals… sometimes during family gatherings I will overhear some of the relaxation of rituals and dietary restrictions with each younger generation…and how scandalized the older and more orthodox ancestors would have been to hear/ see what we do or don’t do ["If you tried to eat pork in those days....!"]…all I can do is expose my son to some of those traditions but let him know also that following all those myriad rules and restrictions is a lot of work and time (supposedly guaranteeing you entrance to the place where you walk amongst your ancestors and G-d), but that it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a happy life….[my son's grandparents followed all the rules and regulations (it all sounds like magical thinking to me!), but they still suffered and made each other suffer miserably in the last decades of their lives]….

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