A 2015 Pew Research Center study found that the 2010 United States Census may have underestimated the nation’s multiracial population by an astounding three hundred percent. More than 21,000 adults were surveyed in the study, which included more than 1,500 individuals of mixed race. Yet a surprising finding in the study was three out of every five respondents of mixed-raced background did not actively regard themselves as multiracial. In fact, many mixed-race adults chose to identify themselves as being of only one race, and for mixed-raced individuals of black lineage, the majority reported identifying only with the black community.
As parents of mixed-raced children who are half black, we could not raise our children in a way that allows them to forget any part of their heritage.
In 1988, when I asked my future father-in law for permission to marry his daughter, he said, “Have you thought how the world will view your children?” While I eventually did receive his blessing, my future father-in-law did forecast the challenges that a black woman and a white man having children would face in the coming years. We have been married for 28 years and have three wonderful children, Gregory (24), Gabrielle (19), and Garrett (18). Over the years, we diligently educated our children about their unique heritage and explained how there would be times when people of both races might not embrace them fully.
Twenty-five years ago, we realized that society generally perceives mixed-race children primarily according to their skin color and/or actions and less so according to who they are inside. As our children grew older, we were honest with them about their place in society. Long before the Bank of America coined the slogan “Higher Standards,” we reminded our children of how other people in society might see them based on their skin color. Before walking into a store, event, or any public gathering, we would tell our children, “You have higher standards to set because of how you look.” As the years passed, all we needed to say to them was, “higher standards.”
Here are seven points for parents to consider when raising mixed-race children:
- Organized meet-ups – Encourage multiracial children to meet, play, and become friends with children of other races, especially with those who share the same racial make-up. We sought out families that were similar to our own so that our children would have friends with whom they could relate. Long term, these relationships complemented and enhanced the friendships our children made on their own.
- Uniqueness – Celebrate and educate your children about the national holidays or heritage months related to their race and ethnicity. While attending elementary school, our children became interested in Black History Month because it addressed something society was missing about their heritage. This was a time of celebration for African Americans as the country celebrated the wonderful accomplishments of the black Americans before them. For our children, it was a time to remind them of the challenges their grandparents, great-grandparents, and other ancestors experienced as blacks in America in the early 1900s and in prior centuries. This was intentional on our part, because our children needed to know how that part of their heritage had evolved to this point.
- Reinforcement – Provide children with dolls, action figures, and other items that are closely aligned with their races. Even before our first child was born, our first Christmas decoration was a black Santa that lit up. Our children commented that our black Santa reminded them of their black grandfather. We still have that Santa, and it proudly serves as a reminder of one of our children’s very first black symbols. Growing up, our daughter received Barbie dolls that looked like her, which tied into her heritage. We still have those black, white, and tan Barbies and are keeping them to share with any future granddaughters. Finally, we shared with our children how forty plus years ago, mostly white symbols existed for children and therefore minority children didn’t have many of the options they enjoy today.
- Religion – Most places of worship are very inclusive and can be one of the best places for children to receive reinforcement that they are special in the eyes of the congregation. It was important that our children went to our church, but in many cases, traditional Roman Catholic churches were composed mostly of white congregants. We also wanted our children to worship at predominately African-American Catholic churches like the ones my wife attended while growing up. While visiting these churches, our children were able to experience another side of their faith through vibrant music and more spiritual songs than they might typically have experienced.
- Ancestry – Ensure that children understand and appreciate the importance of the ancestors on both sides of their family. This can spark their interest in where the two sides of their families originated. We take this a step further to encourage conversations among our children and their oldest living relatives. When we took our children to Louisiana for the first time, where we both were raised, it was important to us that we visited with both our white and black families.
- Cooking – Children generally love to help with cooking. Introducing them to select dishes and foods common to their heritage might create an interest in learning more. Being from Cajun country, it was easy for us to entice our children to learn more about how to make boudin, gumbo, jambalaya, and etouffée. Cooking together takes time, and inevitably it leads to talking about and experiencing some of the same dishes that the children’s grandparents and great-grandparents cooked for their families.
- Embracing of cultures – It is imperative that both parents in an interracial relationship fully embrace both cultures. In order to gain the utmost trust and acceptance from their mixed-raced children, each parent must want to learn about and accept the culture of his or her partner. In our case, each parent became a student of the other parent’s culture and heritage. The first time attending services at a predominantly black church and then at a predominantly white church was an eye-opening and positive experience for each of us.
Even as our children grew into young adulthood, there were still teaching opportunities. For example, when our daughter visited the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for her driver’s license, she ran into a problem. She was asked to mark a single box for her race, and only one choice was allowed. After everything we had done during the previous 16 years to have her embrace both her black and white heritage, our daughter had a serious problem with this dilemma. She shared with us her feeling that the world wanted to fit mixed-race people into a box and that many institutions did not seem to have a box as an option to represent her or others with mixed-race heritage. Her solution was to write a letter requesting that governmental agencies begin allowing citizens to properly identify themselves by more than one race.
Parents of mixed-raced children have an incredible responsibility to help their children understand the greatness of their heritages and to build a lasting foundation that will be handed down to future generations. The acronym we’ve shared with you here, “OUR RACE,” is symbolic for our family. We have always continued to encourage our children to embrace their mixed-race heritage and to fully experience the value that they bring to the world.
Co-Authors: Gregg Falcon is the Campus Director of the University of Phoenix and Angilique Falcon is a Pediatric Nurse for Continuum Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.