Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mixed race in America -- New York Times edition

Over the year, the New York Times seems to be doing more pieces on multiracial Americans. I'm not sure why this focus--or perhaps it's not a focus and it's just that as someone who is interested in multiracial issues, I'm more attuned to it.

[Aside: Actually, the ARE doing a series called "Race Remixed" -- I've posted links to some of the pieces in the past, but if you click here you can see other essays in this series]

Anyway, this morning I woke up and saw this video on their home page:

with this accompanying article (click link).

One of the things I was struck by in the above video are comments from the white parents who adopted bi-racial (black-white) children. The mother says that she does not think of their family as mixed--that they are "just a family." The father acknowledges the stares and comments that they received in the 1970s and says that they experienced racism on behalf of their children.

While there is a part of me that has a problem with the color blind rhetoric of "we're just a family"--there's another part of me--the part that looks ahead to my own future family that will be formed out of adoption, and wonders if I, too, will want to claim that we are "just a family"--one that challenges the nuclear norm of biological, same race, families but still a family none-the-less. As for experiencing racism on behalf of your child, I'm not sure that parents experience racism for their children so much as they may (esp. if they are white parents who perhaps had not been conscious of their white privilege or racism before) be experiencing racism with their children. Because I guarantee that the targets of the racist comments are not just the parents but the children as well.

[Aside: If you read the article, you will realize that the Dragans (the parents) are not clueless to racism and are not people who acted in the past or the present in a color-blind manner--which makes me wonder if their comments were edited out of a larger context (which often happens when you are filming/interviewing someone). The article is much more nuanced and complex in how they handled racist incidents in their family, although I still think the question of how or if one should "normalize" one's multiracial family experience is interesting to think about]

However, as someone who is not yet a parent and not multiracial herself, I'm curious what other folks think about this piece and the idea of whether a multiracial adoptee family can ever be (or should ever be) "just a family" and whether one can experience racism on behalf of one's children. Thoughts?


Dianne said...

I think within a mixed-race family with members who are comfortable with racial and ethnic identity and how it shapes the way we perceive the world, race is not a factor. We negotiate our lives as a couple or as parents and children. Race is a social construct, so it only becomes visible and a factor when we leave our homes and venture out into society. When my twin daughters were small children I was often asked by strangers what I considered an offensive question, “What is their father?” I had to curb my urge to blurt out “human” and tried to look at it from the other person’s point of view. They were just curious, not dangerous.

But I have also seen mixed-race couples struggle with internalized racism, and it is sad and painful to watch. Oftentimes these couples selected one another, not as individuals, but as racial stereotypes. My daughters call it “having a thang.” Others are unaware of their very deeply ingrained racial biases and discover them the first time there is any kind of conflict. Many of these relationships do not last.

I think it’s a parent’s responsibility to talk about race in mixed-race or minority race families, and in white families, too, who so often have lost touch with their ethnic knowledge, so that we raise a better and unbiased generation of people. The need to know for mixed-race and minority race children is paramount for safety, self-esteem, and identity. Colorblindness is an ideal – I hope we get there as a society one day – but for right now, colorblindness is at its worst insidious and at its best na├»ve.

I hope you’ll take a look at my blog. I write about this and have thirty-five years experience as an inter-ethnic white woman in an interracial marriage with biracial twin daughters (who are now adults).

Unknown said...

I am white and an adoptive mother of a biracial boy and the biological mother of two white children. I don't think of us as "just a family," but I have looked at my kids playing and thought, "they are just siblings" with no undercurrents around adoption and race. I do know that I am constantly learning about how my relationship with my adopted child (because of adoption and race) is different from my relationship with my younger biological children.

I think some adoptive parents feel the need to say they are "just a family" because they are trying to claim their family from those who would deny them legitimacy.

Yasmin said...

The Happily Mixed Up Community

Hello all
I am the Founder & CEO of The HMU Community Inc. The focus and goal of the community is to create an exclusive online community where singles, couples, parents & families of blended race, culture and heritage can safely develop friendships, be entertained, share, learn and support in a non-threatening environment.

Yasmin S

Jennifer said...

I absolutely agree that it's the responsibility of the parents to talk to their children about issues of race and racism (and I would add anti-racism and white privilege) regardless of what the racial make-up of their family is. It's something that Southern Man and I talk about in our co-habitating, married lives and I know we'll figure out a way to include our children in those conversations as well.

I really appreciate what you had to say about why some adopted families claim that they are "just a family" because they feel others are stripping away their legitimacy. It is, perhaps, similar to times when I want to claim my American-ness--and it's not that I feel a huge sense of patriotism or jingoism--it's that people look at a woman with an Asian face and think she must be foreign.

Finally, I'm so glad that both Dianne and Yasmin left links to their blogs/webpages--I want my blog to be a gateway to other people--to continuing conversations about issues of multiraciality and mixed race families and anti-racist work. Thanks!

nikki forte said...

I have read this article and your blog over a few a very culturally diverse woman (welsh/cuban and black/irish/native american)with multiracial children, I have to say it is difficult to be "just a family". I have been mistaken as a sitter for my blonde-blue eyed daughter and asked several times if she is adopted or a step-child. Which only brings up worry and questions in her mind. Especially when she looks at her brother who is a small doppelganger of myself.

I remember the same thing happening to my mother when she and I would go out in public or when she would attend my school functions. Seeing me with my grandparents was even more daunting for other people.

I try not to let it get to me or let it effect my children but it's hard to ignore that no matter how far we have come, seeing a culturally diverse person or family is still hard to digest for some people and therefor we have to be aware of and prepared to handle looks, or comments.

The positive in this is that my children and I experience the same sort of attention. If I were a white or Black woman I might not be able to relate to them. I also have a better appreciation for what my parents/grandparents had to endure being multiracial themselves...they had been through a lot in their days.

The negative is that is is difficult for their white father to understand. He is well aware of people looking at us or making comments...but had not experienced a life like that before we met.

Jennifer said...

Thanks so much for your very thoughtful comment. I've become more aware of how much people emphasize how much children "look" like their parents (or in some cases how much they don't look like one parent and favor another). I can well imagine, as you've related, that this becomes more fraught when one comes from a multiracial family.

I'm wondering if your partner/your children's father (who is white) is having his own perspective challenged by raising multiracial children and being partnered with a multiracial woman. In other words, is his world view being changed? What I've often found with inter-racial couples is that white partners have their eyes opened for the first time over certain racial issues--and often become very strong anti-racist allies in the process. I hope this is happening in your family.