While being a person of multiracial or “mixed” background can be highly idiosyncratic, there are some common themes across our experiences. I’d like to share some of these commonalities as a way to support parents, family members, teachers and others who want to understand what mixed kids in a racially obsessed society might go through.
These examples are drawn from my life and from my conversations with other racially mixed people over the years.
(1) Racially mixed kids may be “read” differently depending on who they are around.
My eight year-old son, Sebastian, is Guyanese, Japanese and white. Among his nearly all-white classmates, he’s perceived as a dark-skinned boy. The color he chooses for self-portraits drawn in school are always 2 or 3 shades darker than his actual skin color. On his all-black basketball team, he’s called the light-skinned team member. In our Puerto Rican family (I remarried a Puerto Rican man) he looks Puerto Rican. Sitting next to me, it’s clear that he’s part Asian.
While Sebastian can’t fully process these racial identity realities yet, this ambiguity, this fluidity, is a common experience among racially mixed people. To borrow from W.E.B. Du Bois’ notion of “double consciousness,” manyracially mixed people learn to see themselves through their own eyes and through the eyes of others.
(2) Mixed kids may look different over time and may need to actively assert all parts of themselves to others.
At birth my son’s hair was dark and straight, his skin was light and his eyes were almond. Looking at newborn Sebastian my first thought was that I’d given birth to my late Japanese grandfather, Takeshi. Eight years later, Sebastian’s hair is full of bouncy curls, his skin is caramel and his eyes are wide. “Takeshi” is Sebastian’s middle name and today that is the most evident trait they share.
(Sebastian is deeply intent on entering the NBA when he grows up, and recently asked me a serious question: “Mamma, what if when I get to the NBA people laugh at my middle name?” I was surprised by his question and wondered why he thought this would happen. “Because it’s Japanese.”)
(3) Mixed kids may be treated in ways inconsistent with the way they see themselves.
As a mixed race Japanese and white woman, my own features have changed over the years. In the first grade a white classmate confronted me at recess, pulled the outside corners of his eyes wide, and sang, Chinese, Japanese, Your Knees, My Knees. I thought to myself, why would he sing this to me? Are my eyes slanted? In retrospect, I did look Asian at the time, but I hadn’t developed an Asian identity then.
Funny thing is: When I looked more Asian I didn’t understand the “joke.” Now that I understand the complexity and hurt of the jokes, I no longer look the part.
(4) Mixed kids usually benefit from affinity group experiences.
An affinity group is a group of people who share a set of experiences, identities, or goals and meet to discuss them.
As an educator who teaches about social justice and race-related issues I’ve participated in many conferences about race over the years and had opportunities to be in mixed-race affinity groups. There is a powerful feeling of affirmation I experience in multiracial affinity groups that allows me to feel proud of who I am when connected with other mixed people. Kids who participate in supportive mixed-race affinity groups are also likely to feel pride and joy in who they are.
(5) Maria P. Root’s “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Race Descent,” or a version of it, can be affirming for mixed-race kids.
Maria P. Root is a multiracial clinical psychologist and educator who has written seminal work on multiracial identity. I was first introduced to her research when attending UC Berkeley through the Hapa Issues Forum, an active community group for multiracial Asians. Root has identified and validated the shared experiences of mixed race people through her research and created documents to empower us. Her “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Race Descent” is one such document.
Sharing the Bill of Rights with Sebastian and “translating” it into kid-friendly language and sentiments, making it his and our own, was an immensely helpful exercise. It might be that for your mixed-race kid too.
You can find Dr. Root’s original “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Race Descent” here and our (shorter) version below:
Bill of Rights for Kids of Mixed Race Descent
I have the right not to be bullied about who I am.
I have the right to be what I say.
I have the right to not be teased about who I am.
I have the right to call myself what I want to call myself.
I have the right to be friends with who ever I want.
I have a right to look differently than my sisters or brothers, and that’s okay.
Writing on personal history, mothering in a multiracial family, teaching for social justice.