5 Tips for Raising a Bi-Racial Child
I'll start this off by saying that I'm bi-racial. My mother is as white as they come, literally and figuratively, and my father emigrated from Iran in the late 60s. This made it not only a bi-racial relationship, but a bi-cultural one as well. They separated when I was very young and divorced shortly thereafter. I was raised by my mother, and being that my skin color would put Casper's to shame, I didn't really encounter any obvious racial problems as a small child, because people just assumed I was totally white. Even as I started to get older, the prejudiced comments so many Americans would make when they heard my last name, would go over my head because I didn't yet understand what the Iranian Hostage Crisis was, or what it could possibly have to do with me. But by the time I was 8, I'd learned to be careful when asked questions about my father, because in 1980s America, a huge percentage of people of all colors and backgrounds were fairly anti-Iranian. Including my own mother. So, in writing this article, I do have to be upfront and say that most people will not have quite the same issues to contend with, but racism is racism, and it pretty much sucks no matter which angle you view it from. As parents, I hope you will go out of your way to avoid the mistakes my mother made, so that your child will not grow up fearing their own people, or developing prejudices toward them.
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Teach them about both races.
This should go without saying, yes? If you've got both parents in the picture, this should be easy enough. But even if you've only got one race represented in the home or even in the local area, there are ways to teach your child about their other racial background. The internet can help you find cultural videos, history and more. You can expose your child to all of these in person as well, by finding parents and kids from that racial background, making friends and setting up play dates. As odd as it may sound to some, many families would be happy to expose your bi-racial child to their culture. And your child will probably be very excited to have the opportunity -- I know that I was always very excited to meet Persian kids, and to see what was "normal" in their homes.
Allow your bi-racial child to choose their own style.
Do not pressure your child to conform to the social standards of one race or the other. Your child will likely identify more with one or the other, depending on many factors, but they may also mix the two together in their own way. Clothing styles, music choices, and even hair can be a big issue, particularly if you've got one nappy-headed parent and one with classic straight hair. My father had a Harlem Globetrotterish afro in the 70s and my mother the polar opposite. My hair came out somewhere inbetween and I had no one to teach me how to deal with kinky curly hair. It wasn't until my teen years, when some black girlfriends introduced me to some styling products, that I realized I could actually style my hair the way I wanted to. There is nothing wrong with not being familiar with these things if you're from a race that has no experience with it, but you should make an effort to expose your bi-racial child to people who do. Believe me, when your kids are teenagers, they will thank you for it!
Single parents: Do not bash the absentee parent!!
If the relationship ended badly, it's human nature to want to bash the parent who is no longer in the picture. Many parents do this, even in same-race families, and hopefully we all realize how bad that is for the child. But there is another dimension added to this when the other parent happens to be from another race. I'll give you an example: If you're a single white mother and you bash your bi-racial child's black father, and run down a list of horrible qualities that father happened to have, you not only run the risk of making that child fear men in general, but also black men in particular. You do not have to express things in specific terms, either -- your child will simply absorb it subconsciously. By the time they are teenagers, they could have their own prejudices toward their own families, purely on the basis of skin color. Don't do this to your kid.
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Don't be ashamed of your own race.
If you're a parent who has moved to a country in which your race is scarce, it's one thing to assimilate into their culture, but it's another thing to annihilate your own. For example, if you're a black man whose moved to Siberia, it's fine to settle into the culture and adapt to their ways of live, but do not lose your own identity in the process. Your bi-racial child has the right to know where they come from, and if you're in the middle of nowhere, that's all going to fall to you. Don't ever give your child the impression that one race is better than the other. If you need to point out differences, point them out as being cultural, and not racial. But never be ashamed of who you are, because you run the risk of passing that onto your child.
Teach your child how to deal with racism.
Racism comes in all shapes and forms. It can be cruel and obvious, and it can be disguised. I'll give you an example of the latter. When I was about 6 years old, my mother and I were at a department store checkout desk. When the woman ran my mother's credit card through, she looked at the surname and asked my mother where it was from. My mother told the woman that her ex-husband was Iranian. The woman's eyebrows went up and she said "Oh," in a slightly snotty tone. And then she spotted me standing to the side. Her brows knitted together in obvious sympathy and she said, "Aww.... I guess your little girl must be half, then? Poor thing." Let me be clear -- this woman thought she was being kind to me. Really. My mother's reaction was to say nothing. If that happened today, I would say, "I hope you evolve into a better person someday." There are many ways to deal with prejudice, and you can determine which method is best for you, but whatever it is, teach your child to be proud of who they are.