Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

Helpful resources for raising biracial children

When I first became a mother, I knew I’d need a lot of help so I consulted a wide variety of resources from friends to family to professionals.  They were all immensely helpful in helping me understand and prepare for raising children.  With regards to raising biracial children, however, I felt distinctly alone.  No one I knew had done this before, and I was blazing a completely new trail.

So, I turned to my trusty friends The Books.  They gave me access to a world I didn’t know, and taught me about things that those from my world could not.  The internet and I became quite friendly too, for I was living in quite an isolated world where the internet became my only access to families like ours.  These were life-changing gifts, ones that offered me deep insight into how my children’s childhoods might be different than my own, and what I could do to help them develop a healthy identity and view of themselves.

The resources below include some of my favorite resources, as well as some new ones I’ve found.  Feel free to add resources that you’ve found helpful in the comments below!  books for parents header

raising biracial children

Raising biracial children
by Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tracey A. Laszloffy (2005)
 

I'm chocolate

I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-concious World
by Marguerite Wright.

While this book focuses on black children, I found a lot that is quite applicable to biracial children from any background.  It’s by far the best book I’ve read on the topic.

Black Books Galore: Guide to Great African American Children’s Books
by Donna Rand and Toni Trent Parker

My sister-in-law just recommended this series to me and loves it.  Be sure to check out all the other titles in the series.

Check all that apply: Finding wholeness as a multiracial person
by Sundee Frazier
 

A great resource for biracial children and their parents that reflects on how to develop wholeness in biracial identities.

books for teachers

Since teachers spend so much time with our kids, I’ve often longed for teachers who are more aware of how to encourage and affirm my biracial children.  These are some great books that help teachers begin to acquire this knowledge.

we can't teach

We can’t teach what we don’t know: White teachers, Multiracial Schools
by Gary Howard

A seminal book in the field, the title pretty much says it all (though the book is worth reading too!).

why_are_all_the_black_kids_sitting_together_in_the_cafeteria1

 
Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? and other conversations about race
by Beverly Daniel Tatum

I’ve quoted this book a lot recently – it’s another classic that is a great introduction to an understanding of race and psychology.  Definitely a must-read for teachers and parents alike.

books for children

The book market for books including biracial children is expanding slowly, and these are a few of my favorite ones for younger kids.  You can preview all the books on Amazon.

whoever you are

Whoever you are by Mem Fox

skin you live in

The skin you live in by Michael Tyler

how my parents

How my parents learned to eat by Ina R. Friendman

two mrs gibsons

Two Mrs. Gibsons by Toyomi Igus

amy hodgepodge

Amy Hodgepodge Series by Kim Wayans and Kevin Knotts

Here are a few great lists of multicultural children’s books as well:

organizations

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 9.24.50 PMInterracialFamily.org

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 9.25.46 PMMultilingual Living Magazine

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 9.26.57 PMMultiracial Americans of Southern California

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 9.27.53 PM

Project RACE: Reclassify All Children Equally

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 9.29.00 PM

Swirl Magazineblogs header

A life with subtitles by Sarah Quezada.

Bicultural Mom by Chantilly Patiño.

Biracial Families Blog by Amber

Multiracial Sky by Natasha Sky

Musing Momma by Ellie

SpanglishBaby: Raising Bilingual and Bicultural Kids

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What other resources for biracial families do you know about and love? If you have your own blog on raising biracial kids, please leave a link to your blog in the comments! 

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Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

Speaking with children about race and some tips on how to start

Being biracial in a predominately white environment, my children began noticing race as soon as they could form thoughts more complicated than, “I want my sippy cup” and “I watch a movie?”  Having worked with plenty of biracial college students who were just beginning to discover their dual identity, we’ve intentionally spoken openly with our kids about their biracial identity from the beginning.  Like their bicultural identity, we wanted it to be something that had always been a part of who they are, not something that they suddenly discovered one day.

In an effort to help them embrace all sides of themselves, we’ve had some great chats with our kids about their identity over the years.  A Latina girl in my daughter’s first pre-school class named Rachel did cause some confusion for a bit when our daughter began telling people that she was “bi-rachel.”  We also faced quite the drama attempting to explain to her that Jesus wasn’t actually white.  Yet even in the midst of confusion and drama, we’ve found it essential to talk with our kids about this aspect of themselves and their world regularly.  

Growing up white in a mostly white community, I never talked about race, so it was a steep learning curve for me.  Because I hadn’t spoken or thought about race as a child, I was initially skeptical about the value of the conversation itself. “Aren’t we brainwashing them?” I’d asked my husband. “Why don’t we just let them notice what they notice without bringing it up?”

He’d assure me that it was quite a normal – even healthy – reality to talk about race as a family and I’d acquiesce, acknowledging that my culture’s silence on the matter hadn’t helped race relations much.  We also couldn’t really skirt the conversation easily since even our extended family is made up of a variety of races.  The kids were going to see it, and we needed to give them words to help frame their understanding.

Because of the reality of living in a racialized society (make sure to watch the video above to understand the full impact of this on children), it’s imperative for all families to speak openly about raceespecially white families. As a teacher, I learned that it was helpful to have a few ‘speeches’ prepared for a wide variety of situations, and parenting doesn’t feel that different.  Knowing how to talk about hushed-up topics with our kids like sex and race and disappointment and doubt is important. In that vane, here are a few suggestions for speaking about race to stick in a back-pocket for the day that conversation does arise.

Engage, don’t shush.

Psychological studies show that children notice racial differences as young as 3.  Sometimes, they might say embarrassing things that make parents nervous like “Why is that guy’s skin dirty?” or “You don’t match your mom.”  Psychologist Beverly Tatum suggests that if white parents are uncomfortable talking about race and respond by silencing them that the children learn race is not to be talked about at all, even if they do notice it.  The better way is to engage children on the topic and help them understand.

Speak factually.

Teach your kids the word melanin and explain how it works in human bodies.  It’s a great science lesson!  Just like sex, if we don’t explain the basic facts about how race works, young children are likely to develop their own theories like thinking others turn brown from things like eating too much chocolate or simply being ‘dirty’.

Speak figuratively.

To help our kids understand their biracial identity as young children, we would pour a glass of milk into a clear glass and then add chocolate syrup.  “Mama’s the milk.  Thaatha’s the chocolate,” we’d explain.  Then we’d stir it together.  “And you’re what happens when we mix it all together!”

Beverly Tatum (1997) would explain race to kids by cracking white and brown eggs, talking about how they’re different colors on the outside, but the exact same on the inside.

When our kids were younger, we also talked openly about the inaccuracies of racial classifications.  “Mama’s not really white, I’m more peach, right?”  Then we’d brainstorm what colors we could use for their skin: caramel, butterscotch, tan.  We’d adjust song lyrics and sing together:

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Brown and caramel and peach,
Chocolate and  coffee,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Define race without deficiency

When we speak about differences between people, it’s important to be careful to speak without making someone else seem less than.  Statements like “her skin has too much melanin” suggest that something is wrong rather than just different.  Instead, it’s far more affirming to everyone to say things like, “We all have different colors of skin.  Isn’t it pretty like a rainbow?”

Pay attention to the surroundings you create

In simple things like choosing library books or decorations, be aware of creating a space in the home that represents a wide variety of people.  If children don’t see diversity in their immediate communities, they can at least see it in books they read and movies they watch.  This is especially important for families who live in areas that don’t have a lot of diversity where children are more naturally exposed to people of other races.  See this post for more ideas on how to incorporate diversity more deeply into family life.

Discuss discrepancies

When people of color are portrayed stereotypically or negatively in the media, bring it up. When a nativity scene or Bible shows all white people, talk with children about how this isn’t actually accurate.   We don’t always prevent our kids from seeing such inaccuracies because they’re great conversation starters when we do see them.  We also then make attempts to find other resources that balance out the inaccurate stereotype they’ve been exposed to.  For example, our kids love old sitcoms like I love Lucy and the Brady Bunch.  Many of these shows carry subliminal messages or microagressions about race that were common to their time.  We’ve made sure to also introduce shows (like the Cosby Show) that portray people of color with positive and empowering messages and talk about the how each show portrays the people in it.

When it comes to race, we must remember that our children learn from both what we say and what we don’t say.  Silence doesn’t always mean approval or acceptance.  Sometimes it creates a whole-lot-of-ignorance and breeds significant misunderstanding.  If we ourselves don’t know how to talk about race in productive, healthy, non-stereotyping and respectful ways, we won’t be able to teach them how to talk about it either.

Related Posts

Tatum, B. D. (1997). Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Books, Families, Children & Marriage

The gift of seeing themselves: Strengthening children’s identities through multicultural literature

It’s quite likely that I can attribute roughly 30-50% of my faith to writers, and I must also credit the same to the growth of my understanding of culture. As a result, I have a special love for the beautifully told stories in children’s picture books, so multicultural literature has naturally played a huge role in our family’s life.  (Check out some of our favorites here.)  It’s been my way of helping our children to see both stories of themselves and others reflected in their lives.

One of my very-favorite essays on the value of children reading stories in which they see themselves reflected in the stories is written by Mitali Perkins, an author of quite a few young adult fiction books on children living between worlds.  I used to read it to classes of teachers-in-training that I taught and would swallow my tears every-single-time I read it as I felt the intense emotion in her words.  It’s one of those pieces that just never leaves you, and I’m quite pleased that she’s given me permission to share it here.

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The Magic Carpet

by Mitali Perkins

I had a magic carpet once.  It used to soar to a world of monsoon storms, princesses with black braids, ferocious dragons, and talking birds.

“Ek deen chilo akta choto rajkumar,” my father would begin, and the rich, round sounds of the Bangla language took me from our cramped New York City apartment to a marble palace in ancient India.

Americans made fun of my father’s lilting accent and the strange grammatical twists his sentences took in English.  What do they know? I thought, perching happily beside him.

In Bangla, he added his own creative flourishes to classic tales by Rabindranath Tagore or Sukumar Roy. He embellished folktales told by generations of ancestors, making me chuckle or catch my breath.  “Tell another story, Dad,” I’d beg.

But then I learned to read.  Greedy for stories, I devoured books in the children’s section of the library. In those days, it was easy to conclude that any tale worth publishing originated in the so-called West, was written in English, and featured North American or European characters.

Slowly, insidiously, I began to judge my heritage by colonial eyes.  I asked my mother not to wear a sari, her traditional dress, when she visited me at school.

I avoided the sun so that the chocolate hue of my skin wouldn’t darken.  The nuances and the cadences of my father’s Bangla began to grate on my ears.  “Not THAT story again, Dad,” I’d say.  “I’m reading right now.”

My father didn’t give up easily.  He tried teaching me to read Bangla, but I wasn’t interested. Soon, I no longer came to sit beside him, and he stopped telling stories all together.

As an adult, I’ve learned to read Bangla.  I repudiate any definition of beauty linked to a certain skin color. I’ve even lived in Bangladesh to immerse myself in the culture.

These efforts help, but they can’t restore what I’ve lost. Once a child relinquishes her magic carpet, she and her descendants lose it forever.

My children, for example, speak only a word or two in Bangla.  Their grandfather half-heartedly attempts to spin a tale for them in English, and they listen politely.

“Is it ok to go play?” they ask, as soon as he’s done. I sigh and nod, and they escape, their American accents sounding foreign inside my father’s house.

“Tell another story, Dad,” I ask, pen in hand, and he obliges. My father’s tales still have the power to carry me to a faraway world. The Bangla words weave the same colorful patterns in my imagination.

My pen, however, like his own halting translation, is unable to soar with them. It scavenges in English for as evocative a phrase, as apt a metaphor, and falls short. I can understand enough Bangla to travel with my father but am not fluent enough to take English-speakers on the journey.

My decision to leave mother tongue and culture behind might have been inevitable during the adolescent passage of rebellion and self-discovery. But I wonder if things could have turned out differently.

What if I stumbled across a translation of Tagore or Roy in the library, for example? “Here’s a story my dad told me!” I imagined myself thinking, leafing through the pages. “It doesn’t sound the same in English. Maybe I should try reading it in Bangla.”

Or, what if a teacher handed me a book about a girl who ate curry with her fingers, like me? Except that this girl was in a hurry to grow up so she could wrap and tuck six yards of silk around herself, just like her mother did.

“Wear the blue sari to the parent-teacher meeting, Ma,” I might have urged.

Chocolate-colored children today have access to more stories than I did. A few tales originating in their languages have been translated, illustrated, and published.

Characters who look and dress and eat like them fill the pages of some award-winning books. But it’s not enough. Many continue to give up proficiency in their mother tongues and cultures.

“Here’s a story from YOUR world,” I want to tell them. “See how valuable you are?”

“Here’s a book in your language. See how precious it is?”

If we are convincing enough, a few of them might transport us someday to amazing destinations through the power of a well-woven tale.

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This essay was originally published here.

Read more by Mitali Perkins

Books, Families, Children & Marriage

Resources for raising a family between worlds

One of my primary reasons I began to write here in this space was for the connections it provides to others in similar life circumstances.  When we lived in the rural Midwest, we felt very culturally isolated and it was my only means of connecting to those who understood.  Having just started out in marriage, family, career, my husband and I often felt alone on the road without any role models of people walking this particular road ahead of us.

I am grateful to live in the age of Amazon.com and the internet, for it allows me to find some ways to integrate more of our family’s multi-cultural identity into our very monocultural context.  Every so often, I get an inquiry about good resources for children and resources for global families.  Since I’m an educator by profession, books are an easy and immediate way to bring the world to my family regardless of where I live.  I thought I’d point you to a few of my favorites.

  • I did a presentation several years ago on incorporating the world into daily family life.  The link is a power point with a lot of recommendations for how incorporated into our children’s lives when they were very young.  It’s a bit old, but my recommendations still stand.
  • I’ve also created a few Amazon widgets to keep on the sidebar which link to my absolute favorite multicultural children’s books and books on intercultural marriage, along with a few reasons why I like them.

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