I recently read a blog post written by a white woman with adopted black children. The post is about how no one had prepared her for the true reality of adopting black children as a white parent - that her children could be killed by police for walking down the street, that they would be labeled as gang members or sluts for doing the same things as white teenagers, and that she would have to teach her children to be guarded because they would be treated differently than their white peers.
This got me thinking about my own mixed race children. While I suppose I’m “lucky” that my mixed children probably won’t have quite the same challenges as the black children this woman adopted – my half Chinese children are more likely to suffer from stereotypes of being good at math and science rather than being identified as dangerous gang members - there are still people in this world that will hate them for what they are, because more often than not, people with multiple ethnicities are simply classified into whatever they “look” like – usually based on skin color.
I never truly understood the significance of what this means (or the additional challenges it can add to parenthood) until my mixed race son was born. Although he looks like his Dad, he is light skinned like me, and often this is all people see. The worst experience I’ve had yet was in the restroom of a rest stop in Montana when on my way to my parent’s house. I was changing my then, 6 month old son, on the changing table and an older white lady came out of one of the stalls and came to stand over him while I was changing him. At first she was very friendly, and just kept commenting on how cute he was. Then she proceeded to tell me that her daughter had just had a baby, and that the baby had come out looking CHINESE, as she wrinkled her nose in disgust. Somewhere between the urge to punch her in the face for simultaneously insulting the two loves of my life, and just being too stunned to say anything at all, I managed to reply sweetly through gritted teeth that her grandbaby must be beautiful since my son is half Chinese. She spluttered something about how yeah, but her grandbaby isn’t Chinese, so it was weird she came out looking that way. Then she went quickly on her way out the door.
As we are expecting our second little boy, I can’t help but wonder if this baby will look like me and have Nando’s skin color. How would that have changed this interaction? Would she have assumed he was adopted? Would she have just kept her mouth shut? Or would she have been more blatant in her racism? I know this is not the last time my children will experience prejudice based on assumptions made from their skin color, and it both makes me sad and enrages me at the same time.
It also raises so many more questions for me. How do we as parents of mixed race children help them identify with all of their cultural heritages? (I personally identify with much more than just “white”). How do I, as a blond, white mother, truly understand the prejudice my half Chinese children will face throughout their lifetimes? Or can I ever understand how deeply it could impact them? How do I help them to be strong enough to overcome it without taking away any single piece of their identity?
I try hard to make sure that my son and I are at least trying to learn his father’s Chinese dialect. We eat foods that I grew up with and I’m trying (albeit not very successfully) to learn from Nando’s Mum how to make the dishes he grew up with. We follow both Chinese customs, and my family’s holiday traditions because Nando and I both want our children to grow up identifying with their whole self. Yet, I still can’t help wondering if they will someday have an identity crisis because the world will categorize them by their skin color and treat them accordingly. Will my light skinned son shun his Chinese self for an “easier” life as a white man? Will this second baby, if he’s darker skinned, identify more as Chinese and forget that part of him came from a different world?
Ultimately though, I can’t prevent any of it even though I desperately want to protect them. All we can do is love them unconditionally, teach them where they came from, and raise them to be the men we want them to be regardless of skin color. If we are successful at that, they will be strong, confident gentlemen, capable of dealing with anything life throws at them and of defining themselves by any identity they choose.