One of my LinkedIn contacts asked me if I’d ever written about raising a biracial child, and I realized that even though I’ve alluded to aspects of it, there’s something I haven’t written about: her journey with race and identity.
I love my daughter dearly, and wouldn’t change her for the world, but there’s been a poignancy, and at times pain, in watching her navigate a racialized world. And in knowing that I will never fully understand her struggle, as my path through the world is slightly different. Here’s how it went for her:
As many people know, children start to form their ideas about race young, but growing up with a white dad and a Black mother, my daughter didn’t start out with the usual ideas about race. And it wasn’t something we talked about much when she was little. (To give context, we were in the UK then, with no need to worry about her getting shot.)
Nursery school (pre-K)
I clearly remember a conversation when she was about two and a half or three. She’d been learning colors, and identified us both as brown.
She said: “You’re dark brown, Mummy, and I’m light brown.” I nodded.
“What color is Daddy?” I asked.
She thought for a while and then said: “Silver.”
She was very pleased with her answer. I was too, at the time, though for different reasons. Her answer meant that she hadn’t yet started to think about where she fitted into the “race continuum”, and I was happy to postpone that day of reckoning for a little while longer.
When she was a little older, we were living in Barbados. As I’ve said before, this choice meant she wouldn’t have to face the treatment children with brown skin often get in UK schools. I’d heard enough from friends and colleagues about name calling, adultification and more, and had experienced enough of it myself to want to spare her that.
It kind of worked, though I hadn’t reckoned on the fact that humans always find a way to single people out and exclude them. Because let’s not forget that post-enslavement societies are all marked by that experience and by white supremacy, so there wasn’t a chance she’d escape it altogether.
At her elementary school, she was one of the few melanated kids, though that didn’t seem as big an issue when she was little as when she got older and started to notice it. In contrast, in summer camp, she was one of the few biracial kids, and had to put up with remarks about the color of her skin, and being treated differently - worse - because her dad was white.
As she moved into high school, she began to grapple more with the question of her identity, which was always a bit problematic. She’s a child of two cultures, loving football (soccer) and the Beatles like her dad, and disliking overly bland food (like her mum). She had to think about the fact that some of her ancestors had enslaved her other ancestors. And she had to accept that although she valued both parts of her heritage, other people wanted to put her in a box (but still not let her in all the way). In other words, she was clearly not white, but for some Black people she was too white or not Black enough. I don’t think she’s ever recovered from that feeling of exclusion.
Going to college in the US brought its own set of challenges. She once said to me: “I may be mixed in Barbados, but in the US I’m Black and I behave accordingly.” As her mother, I’ve had to have different versions of The Talk with her at different times - to ensure a security guard didn’t suspect her of shoplifting, and to try to ensure that if she ever got into a police situation she knew how to stay safe.
And she revealed to me just recently that the old “not Black enough but not white either” thing also rears its head on social media, where people who consider themselves fully Black (which is unlikely for anyone whose ancestors were enslaved, just sayin’) feel free to dismiss dual heritage people as “hybrids” who should definitely NOT be in the Black camp. It’s sad.
I don’t know if my girl will ever find her tribe, or whether she’ll always float between worlds. For different reasons (to do with travel) I often do the same, and it isn’t always easy. I hope that by growing up where she did, she’s got a strong foundation to carve her own identity, no matter where she lands in this racialized world.
Have you raised biracial kids? I’d love to hear about your experience, and about they navigate the world.
Thanks for reading
Coming up soon: I’m featured at SIETAR DC on June 23: From Colorism to Anti-Racism. The event is FREE.
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.