Recently, Zippy has become more aware of race. I don’t know if other parents of biracial kids share my experience, because, unfortunately, I don’t have many friends who are parents of biracial kids – but this is like a milestone I’ve been anticipating for the past 5 years. Kind of like parents anticipate their child’s first step or first word, I’ve anticipated the point when my boys start to understand race and, specifically, where they “fit” racially. In some ways it’s kind of exciting that he is starting to understand that he is biracial and what that means. But, in another way, it makes me really sad and I am suddenly having mixed feelings about this “milestone.”
Apparently my husband talked with Zippy recently about being African-American and a few weeks ago, while we were reading a book about Kwanzaa, Zippy pointed out, “Me and Daddy and Bee are African-American. If you were African-American, Momma, we’d be an African-American family, just like in the book.” This was my chance to explain “multiracial” which resulted in Zippy dancing around on his bed enthusiastically singing “I’m all mixed up! I’m all mixed up!” I tried to explain that multiracial was two colors mixed together, not mixed up. (I know, I know – that’s just adult semantics.)
Then, a couple weeks later, while watching a tv show about animals in India, Zippy announced: “Momma, there are African-American people in India, too!” – so I found myself explaining that not every brown person is African-American. The nature of his comments are slowly changing. On the simplest level, he’s realizing that skin color also means belonging to a group. The questions and the discussion suddenly seem a little more complicated, more sophisticated than “Daddy is brown like an M&M.”
And here is where I feel, well, mixed. On the one hand, I know that Zippy will need to understand race, maybe before he starts public school. For better or worse, our world sees race. Learning that different “races” exist is inevitable. I don’t want his “blackness” to be something another child points out to him, maybe in a negative way – I’d rather it be introduced at home, in the context of pride and positives.
If seeing race is inevitable, I want to make sure my children feel pride in all parts of their racial identity – biracial, African-American, white. Yet, trying to explain race to a child, to even define race, beyond the HUMAN race, brings me face-to-face with just how socially constructed the concept of race (as opposed to culture) is. Explaining race seems to artificially divide people into groups – you belong here, he belongs there. That’s suddenly bothering me and I find myself wishing we could stay in the place where we’re all just M&M colors and it’s as simple as that.
I value recognizing cultural, ethnic, and racial differences so that we can appreciate and celebrate them, but I am well aware that’s not always how differences are treated. The more I think about it, the more I realize that some of my ambivalence is anxiety…anxiety about what’s ahead. Right now we have what feels like a kind of insulated life – a bubble. In the four walls of our home, race has been more or less a non-issue. My husband and I have paid attention – making sure the boys have books depicting African-American characters and, when we can find them (which is rarely), biracial kids. We’ve pointed out families who “have lots of different colors, just like ours.” But it’s been as simple as that. Zippy’s social circle consists of our family, our neighbors, and his friends at daycare. They’ve all known him and known our family since he was little.
But more and more, the social circle is expanding – community soccer, basketball at the Y. In a few months, it will be kindergarten. We live in a very white community. There are few children of color in our school district, even fewer African-American kids. What will he hear? How will he be perceived by children who don’t already know him? I suppose I’m less worried about how the children will perceive him than how their parents might feel (consciously or subconsciously) about people of color and how that will trickle down to how my child is treated. Just as Zippy is becoming more aware of race, his peers will be too. Eventually, he’ll get to that part of history class where they teach about slavery and racism and civil rights. Our bubble is going to burst sooner or later.
Maybe my ambivalence about Zippy becoming aware of race is more about a desire to protect him from the racism or stereotypes or even exclusion that he will inevitably encounter, and realizing that as he gets older and moves into new social situations this is bound to happen.
I would love to hear from other POBK… What are your experiences with and feelings about this “milestone”?