life, thursday thought |

thursday thought: raising a biracial child

By Coco

loving

We receive quite a few emails asking questions or providing topics for us to address on the blog (keep sending them!) and I’m just finally finding time to process some of them.  I chose this particular email because it was something I could relate to but also something I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about and wanted to hear some other people’s opinions.  This was the question:

Hi guys,

i’m wondering if you guys would be interested in doing a article about raising bi-racial children from a perspective of a parents as well as what the future holds for the kids…. i see a lot of articles and i love the way you guys write and your opinions but I haven’t seen you guys do anything to this sort.

Hope to hear back.
Shika

After thinking about this question quite a bit I realized, first and foremost, I hadn’t thought about this a lot at all.  Being born biracial to me is the only thing I know so when I was pregnant with my daughter I didn’t really think much about the fact that she would be essentially one quarter Jamaican and three Scottish (my husband is of mostly Scottish ancestry – he thinks….).  I thought I would do my best to love her, educate her and lead by the best example possible.  It wasn’t until I was at Shopper’s Drug Mart one weary morning with my blue eyed bouncing baby on my hip and the cashier asked me “How long are you babysitting for?” that I finally felt the sharp dagger of the reality of race and was instantly transported to the place my mother was, some thirty years earlier being congratulated for taking up a good cause and adopting (saving) a brown baby.

Imagine what the Lovings (pictured above) felt being arrested for their marriage….  Thankfully their union and subsequent arrest was brought before the supreme court and became the landmark case that brought down the law prohibiting interracial marriage.

Being biracial – something that I now think deserves it’s own post, judging from this Instagram query – is different if only for the fact that you don’t pull from one cohesive identity.  If this proposition is met by two parties (or one very hardworking one) willing to contribute to the raising of a child aware of their background and strong in their sense of being, it’s a beautiful thing that breeds acceptance and open mindedness almost intrinsically.  It can also create huge feelings of not belonging – too black to be white, too white to be black – and an uneasy sense of self.

While all of these emotions may come up, I think the best thing you can do as a parent -as my parents wholeheartedly did for me- is love your children.  I was so loved so much that I knew any question I had, any feeling of uncertainty or not belonging, I could bring it home and have a talk with my parents.  They gave me the confidence to find my way.

Before I write an essay on this, I’ve asked a few of my friends (including my mother) who happen to have biracial children of all different mixes to speak on this topic.

Liz Smart, former teacher and Head of Department, my favourite person, my mother.

liz-and-catriona

Yes, your Dad and I did give it some thought and talked about it. We were  perhaps somewhat naive. People who cared about us told us that you children would have challenges. However we have always been of the positive perspective and just thought that because we loved each other and were secure in our own backgrounds that we would be able to raise confident children with good self esteem. We made a point of making sure that you were exposed to both cultures and countries. We were fortunate that we could afford to do this and that our families were more than supportive. Honestly, we never ever doubted the support from our families. It did mean that all holidays and I mean ALL were spent in Jamaica or Scotland, so no Disneyland holidays for you. Sorry ’bout that! Then again, I think the real deal of these beautiful countries more than outweighs Disneyland any day!

I remember a friend telling us that he was very straight with his children, telling them that they were black and would have problems and be discriminated against without a doubt and they had better accept that fact. Well, we didn’t do that. I sometimes wonder if we should have – one never knows for sure if one did the right thing – but what we did do is deal with whatever situation came up as it happened. Of course that would mean that you as children would tell us about it, and hopefully you did. Most of all, we tried to let you know that you were each unique human beings, with your own gifts, who are very loved and we would support you no matter what. Unconditional love. What good parent doesn’t try to do that?

 

Michele Pedro, Real Estate Agent and all around amazing woman:

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Throughout my pregnancy I would imagine this beautiful bi racial child inside of me and when I imagined what her life would be like, I was beyond excited to know that she would grow up with not only the Filipino traditions that I was raised with but also the Italian ones that her Father’s side of the family would introduce her to. It’s great! Having 2 different cultural influences just means more fun stuff to do and learn. We have asked my daughter’s grandparents to speak to her in their native tongues, Italian and Filipino (Tagalog) in hopes that she might one day be able to communicate in those languages.
Although I am proud to refer to myself and my daughter as “Canadian”, I still really want to identify with my parents’ ethnicity and want my daughter to identify with the ethnicities of her parents and grandparents as well. My partner’s grandparents as well as my grandparents were born outside of Canada and continue to have strong ties to the countries they were born in. With each new generation, these ties become looser. My daughter might be the last generation to know a relative who was born in Italy or The Philippines so it’s important to me and also to her grandparents to see that she is making a connection with the cultures of her ancestors.

She’s only 6 months so I haven’t done a lot of “raising” so far. I never really had a “plan” specifically for raising a Biracial child mostly because I never thought twice about needing to do anything different than if she were a uni-racial (?) child.  But now that I think about it, I’d actually like to raise her as “multi-racial”.   I would like to enroll her in a French immersion school and maybe when she gets older explore some other sort of cultural learning in other areas like maybe Salsa dancing or Chinese cooking classes.  I would like to take her to all the events in Toronto that celebrate different cultures (taste of the danforth, caribana parade etc) I hope to raise this open minded, kind, empathetic, multi racial child who may look half Asian and half European but be Worldly in her knowledge of people and their cultures.

In my local mommy-baby group, more than half of the babies are bi racial.  And now that I think about it, nobody in the group has ever mentioned it because it’s not unusual. I don’t think anyone in the group has even noticed.  It’s a normal day for me to be strolling my daughter through the park here in downtown Toronto and see many people of mixed race or see groups of people of different ethnic backgrounds sitting together. When I was growing up, all of my best friends were of different ethnicities (Italian, Jamaican, Scottish, French, Greek etc etc) and I loved going to their family gatherings and eating their food and seeing how their families interacted.

I want to raise my daughter to have a strong sense of her identity and to also be curious of other cultures. I want her to embrace her uniqueness and love herself for it.

 

Nana Aba Duncan: Radio host, producer, writer, insanely talented, grounded and wonderful human.

nana-aba

 

I have been told I have a typical Ghanaian face; I have seen my own features on others in Ghana. My skin is dark and I have very, very curly hair that I wear in locs. My husband was born to English parents and is white. His hair is brown and straight. We’re both born to immigrant parents, but as you can imagine people ask me about my ethnic background much more often. Our daughter is two years old and looks like my husband. Her skin colour and hair is a perfect mix of ours. People do notice us on public transit and often say our daughter is cute.

 

We live in a predominantly liberal-leaning white neighbourhood with trendy coffee shops and yoga studios. I have seen mixed race couples with their children. No one seems to treat my daughter differently, though we get a lot of comments on her hair. “Oh I love your hair”, they’ll exclaim, or “What great hair,” or the one I hate the most, “I wish I had YOUR hair” (Please. You don’t). The most offensive comment I’ve heard are the ones that imply our child is more beautiful because she is mixed, which, while well-intentioned, is ultimately othering and objectifying. The plan is to inform our daughter of her cultural backgrounds and include a diversity of ethnicity in her reading books and television. I would like her to visit Ghana every few years and if possible, spend a few summers there. I would say my husband and I have implicitly agreed she will be brought up with a strong sense of confidence and that she has the right to accomplish anything she wants. When racial issues come up, I plan on discussing them openly and honestly.

For the moment I would say raising my bi-racial child is much like raising any other child because of where I live. I am interested to see when and if it will change.

On a related note, I’m sure you’ve heard of “the swirl”. I believe it’s a very American term, and I kind of hate it but can’t articulate why.

 

 

Emily Dyer de Tobar: Owner of Advice from a Caterpillar, the sickest kid’s clothing store – like ever!  AND one of the most genuine and nicest people I’ve had the pleasure to meet.

emily

 

My husband and I met twenty years ago and our connection was absolutely magnetic. We always talked a great deal about race, class and culture and we share our histories and backgrounds with our two daughters. My husband was born in El Salvador, C.A. and moved with his family to Canada in the 80s. My family immigrated to Canada over the course of 1920-1940 from England, Ireland and New Zealand. It is important to us that our children have a very personal connection to their cultural heritage so we talk a lot about the places that they are from. We want to teach our children to understand their place in a multicultural landscape while still feeling freedom to identify and belong to different aspects of their heritage and others’. We want to normalize and familiarize the experiences of cultures that are not their own and at the same time wholeheartedly celebrate their own unique culture. We strive to teach them how to belong to a group but not to stereotype. We want to encourage inclusiveness and pride without exclusion. We talk at home a lot about compassion and we look to represent both of our communities through language, food, art and music. A divide can exist between how you identify yourself and how people see you and we can’t predict how our daughters will relate, as young women, to being both Latin American and Anglo growing up in Toronto. But as the keepers of their childhood, we take special care to expose the girls to their multicultural city so that they grow up feeling like citizens of the world.

8 comments

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  1. sarah says on

    Fantastic post! Love this.

    1. thanks Sarah!!

  2. Gina says on

    This was such a beautiful article and an absolute joy to read. Thanks for posting about this.

    1. Thank you Gina!

  3. SC says on

    awesome post!

    1. thank you!!

  4. LaTrelle says on

    What a fantastic post!

    1. thank you!