Race, Identity, and Why I Support EmbraceRace
By Perfecta Oxholm
Pita with her two kids
I grew up the daughter of a White, American mom and an indigenous Mexican dad. They divorced when I was young, and my mom raised my brother and me in rural Wisconsin. For much of our childhood he and I were the diversity in our community. In those days, and even today, “Mexican” meant illegal or criminal. This had a significant impact on me, but it wasn’t one I was able to understand until I was much older.
My White mom couldn’t help me learn how to deal with my identity or even talk about it; she didn’t face the same issues. My dad was very relaxed talking about his racial identity and history and many of our talks focused on identity. Still, I had a hard time finding the right words to talk about my experience and the resources I found didn't feel right to me.As a racialized person, and now as a mom of two boys, my upbringing—specifically, the lack of conversation about race and racism—has been a big motivator for my commitment to talking about race with my kids. I want to socialize my kids to think about and talk about race in a way I wasn’t able to.
Enter EmbraceRace, an organization founded by a mixed-race couple raising two young girls. Melissa Giraud is a biracial (Black/White) woman; Andrew Grant-Thomas is a Black man. In their careers they’ve done a lot of work on race and ethnicity, immigration, K-12, storytelling, and through EmbraceRace are working to lift up and develop the skills and methods so many of us need to address the identity challenges we face. As parents, they share my goal of raising our children to be able to talk comfortably about race, take pride in their identities, and be resilient in the face of injustice.
EmbraceRace is working to lift up and develop the skills and methods so many of us need to address the identity challenges we face. As parents, EmbraceRace share my goal of raising our children to be able to talk comfortably about race, take pride in their identities, and be resilient in the face of injustice.
I have lots of examples of stuff EmbraceRace has shared that has helped me.
In October of 2016, EmbraceRace hosted a webinar with psychologist Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith and educator Dr. Sandra “Chap” Chapman on “Supporting Kids of Color Amid Racialized Violence.” In it they talked about “scripting” – actually creating a script for what to say to your kids in difficult situations. It was like a light bulb went off in my head. Since then, I literally create scripts when I know a tricky conversation is coming.
For example, I recently read a story about Bessie Coleman to my 4-year-old son. When I mentioned that Bessie was born shortly after slavery ended, my son asked, “What’s slavery?” My first attempt to answer was pretty bad, but the next thing I said was: “That’s a big question and we’ll have lots of conversations about this.” Then I spoke with my husband and we worked up a good script for what we’d say next time. We’ve used that script several times since!
EmbraceRace has also pushed me to develop a much richer understanding of the current realities of Native Americans in the US. Honestly, before joining the EmbraceRace community, I fell into the common trap of thinking of Native Americans only in the past tense, as historical figures only. Through dialogue on the Facebook page, I saw how my ideas were perpetuating the erasure of Native American people as contemporary peoples. Now, I look for stories to read to my kids that place Native kids in the present day while also finding stories that share Native history. I could give more examples, including from my teaching, but you get the idea!
I know, in a very personal way, how important it is for kids to explicitly engage with identity, race, and racism, and what it means when those conversations don’t happen. I’m so grateful for EmbraceRace as I have these conversations with my kids and in my community.
And so I also support EmbraceRace. This year, I am donating to EmbraceRace to ensure the support and resources ER provides remain available to all individuals and families. In this time of gratitude and giving, I’m asking you to please join me in supporting this wonderful and growing community.