Now, first of all, your family is your family and no one else’s business but I think this topic comes up a lot for multiracial families, so let’s talk about it. Sometimes it’s in the form of a stranger asking the parent if “it is their child?” or “if they are the nanny?” or even worse often triggered by racism questioning the child’s safety with the adult of color that they are with (that is, of course, their parent!). It’s not only parents but it affects kids and their siblings too. Kids are may be asked by other children how 2 kids that don’t look alike are siblings or have a different skin color.
Multiracial kids often may have to deal with the question “where are you from” really meaning what is your background as someone tries to figure out what “box” to put them in. Even though we are in 2019 and multiracial families are becoming more and more common this is still the reality. For multiracial families that are formed by children born into them, through adoption, and both ways often have to deal with situations that come up.
So what does it feel like for us when these situations come up. From personal experience, to be honest it usually sucks and feels uncomfortable. I have vivid memories of being a teenager going places with my brother and wondering what people were thinking when they looked at us funny. Being that I’m white and my brother is brown (he’s Mexican-American) combined with just having the insecurities of being a teenager. I remember feeling like I had to describe our relationship even when we were interacting with strangers (this included small everyday experiences like when shopping feeling like I should tell the cashier). Sometimes, my feelings were valid that we did receive some funny confused looks and other times it could have just been in my head. But I’m sharing that to say that we often feel like we have to defend, represent, educate, or inform the person that is inquiring about what a multiracial family is, looks like, and sometimes even look for their validation. And that’s as adults, for kids it can feel even more confusing.
But that wherein lies the opportunity and solutions to this challenge that we face.
1. It is not our responsibility to educate or explain our family to anyone. We don’t need anyone to validate us for being who we are. We don’t have to share our life story with anyone we don’t want to. It is our choice to make in any situation if it is something that we want to do. Assess the situation and see if it is worth your time. The way you pick and choose situations to address will also be a way for you to model for your children how they respond. If you decide it’s not worth your time you can ignore the comment or the look, you could say something like “I’m really busy, I don’t have time to talk about family right now,” and then just keep on going. Take all the emotions (usually frustration, anger, confusion but I know there are others) and share it with someone else that’s in a multiracial family. Vent to them, laugh with them about the absurdity of it all and let them tell you how awesome you were when you just left the person hanging with their mouth open or how nasty the person was after you responded. Whatever it is share it with them so you don’t have to deal with it alone.
2. If you choose to respond do it in a way that feels comfortable for you. One way of doing this is having a few go-to responses and helping your children to develop this as well. Brainstorm answers and responses that each member of the family is comfortable with. Talk about it together. Role-playing these types of scenarios at home can help your children feel more comfortable with the answers. Even as adults if you practice a few different scenarios with your partner or a friend it will help you feel more prepared when those situations arise.
3. Educate and Advocate. Connect with multiracial communities. Expose your children to multiracial communities so they know other young people like them. This way you have someone to vent with and laugh with and feel angry with when these situations arise. Be around other people that “get it.” Include books, tv shows, cultural events that celebrate the multicultural experiences that make up your family and help normalize these crazy experiences for us. Advocate for change on where it can make a systemic difference to prevent these situations that keep happening. Maybe that means including more discussions and education in schools around race and multiracial families or maybe that means seeing more people of color or multiracial families in children’s books or other media. Support and be part of organizations that advocate for issues that will change this narrative from happening.
If you are looking for a multiracial community to join or want to learn more about organizations that do advocacy work, you can join the new facebook group that I recently started here: U Power Change: Mutiracial, Parenting Network.
But most of all, know that you are not alone in these situations. Know that you are not crazy or emotional for feeling a certain way about it when it comes up. Don’t be hard on yourself or feel like you have to take on the responsibility of changing the world by explaining and convincing every person that gives you a look or questions you that your family is “real or valid.” Parenting and life can be hard enough to save your energy for where it will truly make you happy. Put that energy into organizing and advocacy with others which is how we will truly get it to change.