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Will multiracial kids lead the way to racial harmony?

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On this season of the EmbraceRace podcast, we counter myths about race and kids and lay out what we know about How Kids ACTUALLY Learn About Race.

For this episode, Melissa and Andrew speak with Gina Miranda Samuels, Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, about why “multiracial” kids are often seen as part of the solution to our racial conflicts. Are they? How does that belief affect those kids and how might we respond as caregivers? Listen and find reflection questions, all the links, supports and related info below.

Listen below or on your favorite podcatcher

1. Reflect

  • Gina says that the number one thing to do as a caregiver of a multiracial child is to find ways of unpacking your monoracism and to do your own identity work.  What are some ways that you assume monocentricity attitudes and/or thoughts?  How might that affect how you view yourself and your racial identity?  How might these types of assumptions affect your parenting?
  • If you identify as someone with a multiracial identity, how has your racial identity developed and changed through the years?

2. Follow and Share

3. Learn more!

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Thirty years ago, the cover of the November 18th, 1993, special issue of Time Magazine featured the face and shoulders of a young, lightly tinted Brown woman with just a hint of a smile. The caption reads, “Take a good look at this woman. She was created by a computer from a mix of several races. What you see is a remarkable preview of The New Face of America.”

An essay from the magazine editor explains that the editors wanted to dramatize the impact of interracial marriage by creating an image of the kind of person who might result from the mix of many people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds.

And then Time’s Managing Editor, James Gaines, writes this: “Little did we know what we had wrought. As onlookers watched the image of our new Eve begin to appear on the computer screen, several staff members promptly fell in love. Said one, ‘It really breaks my heart that she doesn't exist.’”

Yes, they really called her Eve, as in Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Computer-generated Eve wasn’t real, but 30 years later, the millions of multiracial kids and adults who call the U.S. home are very real. And so is the burden of expectation they carry for ushering in a new, more harmonious racial order and saving us all.


Andrew Grant-Thomas: Hi, I'm Andrew Grant-Thomas. I’m a Black man who was born in Jamaica on the 4th of July, and I came to the U.S. at age 7. I’m also a dad to two kids who are 13 and 15.

Melissa Giraud: I’m Melissa Giraud, a multiracial woman – Black and white. I was raised by immigrant parents – one from Quebec and one from Dominica. And I’m a mom to those same two kids. And you're listening to The EmbraceRace Podcast, a show about how to raise kids who are thoughtful, informed, and brave about race.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: This season, we're looking at popular misconceptions about race and raising kids. And on this episode, we’re tackling Myth #3: Multiracial Kids Will Lead the Way to Racial Harmony.


Melissa Giraud: Gina, welcome. Thank you for being here.

Gina Samuels: Aw, thanks, Melissa. It's exciting to have this conversation with you.

Melissa Giraud: Okay. Before we start, Gina, let me tell the people listening more about you. 

Gina Miranda Samuels, you are a Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. You have a ton of research interests including transracial adoption and how mixed race and multiethnic people form their identities. And your work really does explore how personal identity and well-being are shaped by the many different ways we think about family, we think about race, we think about belonging. And there’s so much more I could say about your work, Gina, but let me finish with, I’m so glad you’re here. 

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Gina, welcome. It is great indeed to have you here. I’m wondering if you can give us a little insight into what that personal connection might be for you to the work that you do.

Gina Samuels: Sure. My different worlds have always collided. Even when I was in professional situations or at school as a little kid, personal questions would always come at me. So it feels very natural for all these things to be interrelated, though I know that many people in the world live very different lives than that. 

I am transracially adopted. I was adopted through foster care in Illinois, Chicago. I was adopted by a woman who was 42 at the time, recently divorced. And then two years later adopted, again, an African American infant, who became my sister. And so, this was our family. It was a single-parent family.

We were different in many ways at the time. I was adopted in 1969. And so, transracial adoptions, multiracial families weren't the norm in some states. In 1968, interracial marriage had just become legal. So, in some ways, I was created illegally but existed anyway. And then we moved to Wisconsin, to a place called Oshkosh, where I was one of the very few Black kids in our school, in our church, in our neighborhood, and actually in our family. So I got lots of questions throughout my life. I got a lot of practice talking about how we all went together. Were we related? Did I know my “real mom,” et cetera? 

And as I went through school, I never imagined that I would professionally take up talking about transracial adoption or multiraciality. It was sort of just what I did and how I lived. But the fates collided and I ultimately did become a social worker and I, by complete accident, ended up being a child welfare worker.

And I became someone who actually had to make decisions about the placement of children in white homes. I was in Madison, Wisconsin. The majority of foster parents were white, and the majority of my caseload was Black and biracial. And so, all of my ideologies and personal feelings and opinions about transracial adoption and how social workers should do things- I became that social worker and had to face some very real challenges about the availability of foster homes and the reality of a kid needing a home right now today versus ideally what I would like to participate in. And then I, by twists and turns of fate, ended up teaching full-time in a school of social work and decided, because I love teaching, to go back and get my PhD.

And again, I was like, I'm not going to study transracial adoption. I'm going to study something else. But, the world had different plans for me. And I did end up choosing to study my very own experience and doing what many doctoral students do, which ends up being mesearch, which I think takes on a pejorative name, but I would argue is a beautiful gift if you are in a particular place to be able to embark on that journey.

So, I studied transracial adoption among people who are biracial, who are adopted by white couples and single parents. And that has just led to a whole host of things, to both study and continue to talk about mixed race at the family level and the individual level, but also to talk more broadly about child welfare and systems of race and racialization or racism that operate, not just in adoption, but also in foster care, in young people who are homeless, by virtue of running away or being kicked out. I study a lot of things that have to do with home and have to do with belonging and have to do with displacement from homes of origin into new configurations of kinship.

Melissa Giraud: Right. And we are lucky that you do, Gina. Yeah, I want to get to the myth that we're talking about today that we're going to just settle it. Is it a myth? Is it not a myth? The myth being that multiracial kids will lead the way to racial harmony. And I'm wondering, how does this idea, if it does, show up in your work and in your life?

Gina Samuels: I think it's a tricky one ‘cause there's some intuitive sense to it that those of us who occupy multiple race spaces and cultural spaces have a unique lived experience to have to figure this out on our own individual and family level, and that that's something that's a learning opportunity that we could then share with the world.

And so I think it comes up a lot of times when I am speaking to parents who hold those beliefs- that what they're doing when they adopt or what they're doing when they interracially form a family and a coupling, that they're somehow bucking our system of monocentricity – monocentricity meaning one race preference – so that all families should be one race and that those families have an easier time or they're ideal.

I would argue most people are multiethnic and multiracial whether they claim that heritage fully or not. Most of us are mixed, but in terms of how we've organized our lives, most people don't marry across racial lines and most people don't adopt across racial lines.

So, it is still a unique experience that provides opportunities. I think where it gets us into trouble is thinking that that learning and that change is automatic or that it's biological somehow, and that there's sort of a gloss of that, “This will just happen, and racism will disappear!” I think what that miscalculates is that racism is structural and exists in our structures and multiracial people can be racist just like women can be sexist. We all drink that same water, and we all breathe that same air. I think it starts from a place that kind of makes sense and then gets blown up into something that I think is a little much.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: I want to touch on a thing you've already pointed to, which is that it's really complicated. You mentioned that most people are really mixed race, although we don't organize ourselves that way. You know, I think about Black people, right, in this country. A lot of Black people, certainly the vast majority of Black people, have ancestors who were not Black. I grew up understanding that we had, my mom and I, for example, but certainly me then, that I certainly have white ancestors, have Arawak Indian ancestors, the Indigenous population to Jamaica where I was born. Indian, as in South Asian ancestry. But I identify as Black, not as multiracial, and most people who see me in this country will see me as Black. It's really complicated, and I just want to establish that baseline. 

Gina Samuels: Establish that first. 

Andrew Grant-Thomas:So establish that first, but then turn to you and say, okay given all that complexity. One of the reasons that people think mixed race or multiracial people will have a huge role in how we think about race and, you know, lead us to getting along, together better is, about the numbers, right?

What do we know about how the multiracial population is growing in the U.S. right now?

Gina Samuels: Yeah. So I'll just add some more complexity to that before I give you numbers. You know, the numbers that we have from the census are all based on how we allow people to record race and also how people choose to. So you sort of intimated this earlier. These numbers do not represent the actual number of people who have mixed race heritage in our country.

It represents over time, since we started counting this, the number of people who choose to record themselves by multiple race groups. And so, you know, we are seeing all these kinds of fits and spurts and changes in this, I think as these choices are available to people and the more comfortable people become with how they want to racially record themselves.

2020 is the last time that we actuallyinvited a census recording. We also changed the census recording now because, as some people may not know, if you're not Latino/Hispanic, you may not be paying attention to that. They're the only category that gets to actually choose ethnicity and race. And so there are many folks who choose the Hispanic/Latin origin, but then will say they are white racially or they are Black racially, or there's some other race. So this makes it very difficult because when we record race statistics, particularly for multiracial populations, that group of people are not in those calculations.

So, I just want to say that, and they oftentimes will choose things like, “Some other race.” So, for example, in past years, white Black multiracial and white Asian multiracial were the two largest race groups, but now that we've changed how we record, the white and some other race has become the largest mixed race group, So I think that's interesting because I would argue that in this nation, we still tend to think about multiraciality as a Black white thing.

And they are actually not the biggest group of people who record their multiraciality in that way. And I think that's in part, Andrew, some of what you were suggesting in your own identity that in the Black community, we have very fully internalized the one-drop rule. And so, particularly for those of us who look Brown in any kind of way, we both are able to do that single race identity and be responded to through that single race identity because of how we've set up race in the U.S. in particular.

So, the group is growing. We're one of the fastest, if not the fastest, that selects multiraciality across any other group. But it's still very complicated to understand and it changes. And I certainly know mixed race people who have changed what they've recorded themselves from the 2010 census to the 2020 census and probably going forward.

So it's a very complicated number to make meaning of. 


Andrew Grant-Thomas: So let’s take a beat here. Gina’s spinning a lot of gold, and it’s worth taking just a moment to lift up some key strands.

So let’s start with a point we never quite get to in the conversation, which is that according to the official numbers, the multiracial population has changed a ton just between 2010 and 2020. So according to the U.S. Census, the multiracial population in 2010 was 9 million people and 34 million people in 2020, which is huge, right. Huge growth! And those kinds of numbers feed the idea that we’re meeting and loving each other across race lines at an ever-accelerating rate.

Gina’s saying, well, yes and no. Yes, more parents with different racial identities are having multiracial babies together. And it may be that more people who identify as multiracial entered the country. But, no, actually most of the apparent growth in the multiracial population is about changes in how the census allowed us to identify ourselves and then how we actually chose to identify ourselves. A lot of people who were not identified as multiracial in 2010 were identified as multiracial in 2020. So here are a few stats.

The number of “Hispanic Americans” - and I’m using the census term there - who identified as multiracial went from 3 million to more than 20 million just in that decade. And the number of non-Hispanic Americans who identified as multiracial went from 6 million to almost 13 million.

The U.S. Census folks say that these kinds of changes were mostly about - and now I’m quoting – “improvements to the design of the two separate questions for race and ethnicity, data processing, and coding, which enabled a more thorough and accurate depiction of how people prefer to self-identify.” 

Finally, here’s one more piece to consider: A huge share of African Americans in the United States have at least one white ancestor. After our conversation, Gina told us about one study suggesting that as many as 4 in 5 Black Americans have white heritage. But the one-drop rule of Blackness in the U.S. means that most of us identify ourselves as Black-only. If all those Black people identified ourselves as multiracial, the multiracial population would be even bigger than it is right now.

So, yeah, it’s complicated. Back to the conversation.


Gina Samuels: So this isn't a new population. It's just a new way we can record it. And babies are being born. So it's all of those things together.


Melissa Giraud: I want to go back to the one-drop rule that you were talking about. How most African Americans do have mixed ancestry but, like Andrew, don’t identify as multiracial and aren’t seen as multiracial either. And I just want to say, because people can't see us right now, that, as myself a multiracial person, Black and white, who is often read as white presenting or racially ambiguous, my position and my choices are different.

So, I’ve also been mistaken for Arabic, Israeli, Brazilian, Latine by people in those subgroups even. How I wear my hair, whether I have a tan, what I wear, where I am, who I’m with, those and other things really do influence how I’m perceived. Sometimes I fly under the radar, other times it’s clear I confuse people. When I was a kid, decades ago now, pre-lip injections and Angelina Jolie’s fame, people trying to figure me out often focused on my full lips.

White kids would ask me why I had a “Black person’s mouth,” sometimes using epithets. My orthodontist, I remember, noted to my White mom that my “lips protrude” and that my braces would take care of that, which, of course, they did not.

Adults were more likely to ask, “What are you?” or, “Where are you from?” when I was a kid and young adult. They’d pretty much never ask, “What is your racial identity?” even though it was clearly on their minds. As a child, I would follow their lead and not mention race directly. I would say, “Well, my mom is French Canadian. My dad is from the Caribbean.” And that would seem to answer the question for some, and others would just continue to look confused at me. Just big question mark faces, right?

So, in terms of having the choice of how you identify, you know, if I looked socially more Black, I might just identify as Black, right? But because I am white presenting or a big question mark to people, I identify as multiracial. So, again, there are so many things that go into why, right?

Gina Samuels: You know, I'm sitting here looking at you as you're responding to that. And I'm also wanting people to realize that, you know, for people who do identify as mixed race, sometimes it is a counter identity to force you to see something that you may not see. So, in your case, I wonder, when you say multiraciality and that you're multiracial, it might be to push people to recognize a part of your identity that they might be at risk for overlooking or not valuing and honoring. I think, if I say multiracial, people are looking at me like, “Are you trying to be white? Are you trying to… What are you trying to do?” And so, the same act for both of us could be read very differently because of what we’re trying to do and get people to see when we use that label. 

And I guess the other thing that I was thinking is, when I teach stuff around race, I challenge this idea of, do we really get to choose? Because if we really got to choose our identity, maybe tomorrow I might say, I want to be Korean. 

Melissa Giraud: Yeah. Right.

Gina Samuels: And my students always just laugh at that. It’s like, yeah, I wouldn’t get very far doing that because I don't have that as part of my family lineage. And there's nothing about my experience. So if you really could choose, you could choose outside of your family background and outside of your family heritage and just choose it. But it’s like a small “c” choice, in relation to other people, given the randomness of how we ended up having the skin we're in, and then how we make those choices based on context. 

Melissa Giraud: Gina, I want to go back to the myth that as our numbers grow, multiracial people will lead the way to racial harmony. 

Gina Samuels: Sure. 

Melissa Giraud: I know there’s this idea that multiracial people, in part, get us to better racial relations because we’re considered natural bridge builders. And I want to share a story about learning that super early.

I was maybe 8 years old. And I remember a good friend of my mom’s who also had multiracial children, told me and my mother that her children and that me and my sisters were “citizens of the world” – both as children of immigrants from different countries and for having a “family of all colors,” as she put it. The suggestion was that we were special. To call us citizens of the world meant we would be ambassadors in the world and on the playground. We would represent each of the groups we belonged to to people in other groups we belonged to - and we’d do it well, somehow.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: I’m wondering how that felt to 8-year-old Melissa. “Citizens of the world” - did that sound exciting to you? Or just confusing and mysterious? Why do you think that exchange with your mom’s friend stayed with you after all these years?

Melissa Giraud: You know, in the moment, it felt great to be getting this praise and the suggestion that because we had different experiences than some kids had, kids I went to school with had, that we somehow had this vision that would really help ourselves and other people in the future. It also felt like she was bonding us to her family, so connecting us to community in that way, to an interracial, international community. 

On the other hand, looking back, and hearing it many times later, it does feel like a positive spin on the challenges of being a mixed race family and of being a multiracial kid on the playground and in the world. 

Andrew Grant-Thomas: I got it. And that makes a lot of sense, both pieces of that. 

Melissa Giraud: I have to say that there is an even more common multiracial experience that could really work against any inclination to build bridges. And it’s this. People often, in my experience as a kid, questioned my identity. And this happens to other multiracial people. Sometimes because of how you look. Sometimes when they see you in your multiracial family, it blows their minds. Sometimes because they see the world in binaries, you just confuse them. They can’t place you. “What are you,” they ask, and can’t accept that how they perceive you might not be how you identify racially. 

I know this is changing in some parts of the country where there are more people who identify as multiracial. But that experience of being confusing to people was challenging as a kid. It kind of made me feel more like an alien than a bridge builder!

Gina Samuels: Yeah. Oh my gosh. So there are a million things I want to say in what you were talking about in your own experience.

Melissa Giraud: Oh my goodness.

Gina Samuels: Just, you know, like, cosign all of that. That same thing happened to me. So if we start from a place of, let's give it some credibility first. I don't think people are being wacky or anything to think and imagine that if you have this lived experience, it’s unique and distinct and puts you in a position where this could potentially happen. I find it fascinating that it's usually people who are not multiracial who have that belief. So, then it's sort of like, okay, but this is not coming from a lived experience of yours.

Melissa Giraud: Right. The people who assume multiracial people are bridge builders or are the solution to racial strife- those people are often not multiracial people. 

Gina Samuels: And I think it's interesting because you know, people as far back as W.E.B. Du Bois talked about double consciousness and all this. I think this is a skill of anyone who is not white and who is not straight and who is not rich, not at the center of normativity. I think this is a potential side of navigating privilege when you're not privileged.


Andrew Grant-Thomas: Yeah, I really like that parallel. W.E.B Du Bois, the great African American sociologist, historian, and activist who among so many other things, talked about Black Americans’ sense of always looking at themselves through the eyes of white Americans. The parallel with multiracial people is that there’s an awareness among many multiracial people of being seen by mainstream monoracial culture in ways that don’t necessarily align with, or even ask, how they see themselves.


Gina Samuels: And so for anybody, I think this is a potential way in which we cope with being marginalized and not at the center. I just want to say that. The other thing that I think is, it’s possible that if your life presents you with having to constantly bend and twist all the time to cope with what your environment is asking of you, it requires you to be nimble, to figure this out. And then based on your personality and other resources that you have available to you as a child, you personally can learn to be a bridge. 

One of my favorite books early on when I was in college was a book that was called The Bridge Called My Back that was written by Moraga and Anzaldúa. They talk as women and women of color and multiracial women.

And I like that metaphor of the bridge, but it's the bridge called my back and it's other people walking on my back as the bridge. And so it's a very different, and I think insider, portrayal of the bridge. Where oftentimes from the outside, this bridge narrative is described as a rainbow and it's beautiful and lovely. And I kind of find that to be a little bit white supremacist, that we're supposed to be in service to you. And I feel like Moraga and Anzaldúa have a little bit better articulation of that bridge as real, but also harmful, to many of us who end up being put in that position through the multiple questions we get: “What are you?” “Why do you do this?”

It ends up not being, not feeling, I think, for many of us, this kumbaya handholding bridge where we experience and are able to experience connection and belonging, but rather people walking and stomping on us for their purposes and their curiosity and their whatever, that oftentimes, as you said, Melissa, leave us feeling like we don't belong as much or that there's something about us that needs defending. I think that is the experience that's more common for many of us who are mixed race in the bridging that we end up having to do in our families and out in our world, than a bridge that then creates connections between two otherwise disparate groups. So that's what I would say. And also that, you know, as interpersonal as racism is for any of us who experience it firsthand, it's also structural.

And so, that kind of a metaphor really distorts how ingrained racism and colorism is in our structures and our systems that single-handedly people of color, that we didn't invent this. So it sort of displaces the responsibility of fixing racism on the victims who experience it rather than- this is something that white people came up with, that they are privileged and advantaged by, that they are responsible for leading our way through, and that victims have a role in that. Those of us who experience that certainly have healing to do of our own because of that, but that it’s not our responsibility, including those of us who have white parents. It's not our responsibility, single-handedly, to solve that. 

Melissa Giraud: Hmm.  


Andrew Grant-Thomas: Okay. So multiracial people aren’t magical – except for you. And framing multiracial people as having super connective powers can be really harmful to those people, right, who are framed that way.

But let me ask you another thing, Melissa, which is this: how do the kinds of insights you and Gina have given us about the experience of being multiracial apply to our kids and other multiracial kids? So I’m thinking that the huge growth in the multiracial population, at least the one that we recognize as multiracial, already means that multiracial identity will play out differently than it did for you when you were coming up. 

Melissa Giraud: Yeah. My best guess is that our kids are having a very different experience growing up multiracial than I did. Part of that is because we live in a town where there are a lot of multiracial kids and families. Part of it is that they aren’t seen as racially ambiguous. People don’t ask them, “What are you?” My guess is that people assume they’re Black or mixed Black and white and just aren’t troubled by it. 

I also think it helps that you and I really do have open conversations with them about race, about colorism, about being multiracial. Even in a place where multiracial identity is pretty normalized, it’s important to have those conversations.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Of course where we live is just one place among many places. There are a lot of places in this country where multiracialism plays out very differently, right? 

I was doing research for this episode, and I came across a website called Khaki Colored Kidz. The site is all about providing community and support for multiracial kids and was started by a multiracial kid and his Black mom after his older brother, who was also multiracial, was bullied and took his own life. That, obviously, is an especially terrible outcome. But, clearly, our kids’ relatively benign experience with their multiracial identity isn’t the whole story by any means.

Melissa Giraud: You’re so right, Andrew. We hear from people all the time with multiracial kids who are having a real range of experiences. Let’s get back to our conversation with Gina.


Andrew Grant-Thomas: Gina, thank you so much for that. I want to actually go back to the logic of this argument question, and picking up with some pieces Melissa offered, and offer a slightly different cut on it. Some of the argument has to do with the active roles that multiracial people could take, right? So the sensibilities they bring and so on. And some of it is much more passive, right? Assumes a more passive role. And you mentioned this, I think when we started this conversation, the adoption of kids of color is largely a transracial phenomenon, right? So a lot of white families adopting kids of color.

And now, perhaps for the first time, the extended family is a multiracial family. You have much more “mixed race marriages” now than you used to. Right? So people of different racial identities marrying each other, and now again, an extended family that perhaps was monoracial before, or thought of themselves as monoracial before, are now seen as multiracial.

Gina Samuels: Yes. Sure.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: And then, yes, if they have children, those children now are likely to be identified as multiracial. So now you have a lot more people, and especially white people, in this country, saying, “Oh my gosh. There are people in this family- it's my in-law, it's my grandchild, identifies differently than I do racially, and I love that person.”

And I think the logic is supposed to be, “Yes, if I love that person, then don't I love the people that, racially, that person is meant to represent?” Right? So if this kid is a multiracial Black kid and I love my grandson, does that mean that I love all Black people now? Or that I'm even willing to give a second look to the category of Blackness in light of how I feel about my grandson? I wonder if you think there's anything to that possibility?

Gina Samuels: There's something to that in theory, but when we look at how this does play out in families, it doesn't play out that way. So it tends more often to play out… I think for transracially adopted kids, you know, the unique part, and I would argue that's the same in families where there's interracial marriage, the rest of the family didn't choose this. That couple did.

And so, it's oftentimes families are taken to multiraciality by hostage, white families, and they're not always on the same path or pace or wavelength about what this means. So oftentimes as that child becomes known to that family, it sometimes can fracture that family. Where families decide, this happened in my own, where some family members don't get access to that child because they're not able to grow at the rate that they need to in their own racism.

Or what families oftentimes do is say, “Well, we like Andrew, but he's not like the rest. He's not really like that.” They tend to pull out that person of color as exceptional and different. “We're not talking about you, Gina. We're really talking about them. You're different. You're one of us.”

And so I think what that goes to show in part is how powerful we're entrenched in sort of our own racial systems of meaning and that it will take a lot more for many people and many families to kind of generalize that actually Gina is just like these other Black people, even though I talk like you do, I talk like my friends and my family who are white growing up. Of course I do because that's where I grew up and that's who raised me and where I learned to speak was in that context. I think what that theory undervalues is the power of the human mind, to sort of regress to the mean and not challenge and change their belief system, but rather contort people into an existing frame without necessarily needing to change.

And I do think still, it undermines that or sort of ignores that most people don't live multiracially. And in that next generation, many of us who are raised mixed race find their way in the monocentric, monoracist world and don't continue this multiraciality kind of quest, you know, to mix and mash things up more.

And so I just think the inertia of living within your little race pod is huge. And we see all of the race protesting that is happening now with racist and white nationalist groups saying things like “Jews will not replace us.” Multiracial people still are a huge trigger in white nationalist rhetoric. And so I think if anything, we trigger a lot of retreating back to same raceness rather than triggering, you know, leap forward to, multiraciality.


Melissa Giraud: So Gina, this has been great. This has been a great conversation. Made us think about a lot. I'm hearing the kinds of expectations that are on multiracial people, multiracial kids are our interest here, really put unfair pressure on them and on multiracial people and multiracial kids. So I'm wondering just you’re your top lines of guidance might be for how we as caregivers can support multiracial kids given these challenges and expectations.

Gina Samuels: Yeah, I guess I would say the number one thing as caregivers, parents, aunties, grandparents, you know, however you find yourself in the life of a child that is mixed race, is to find ways of unpacking some of your own monoracism and your own kind of identity work and the ways that this could potentially show up. Most likely unconsciously and in quick little ways that happen and where you might catch yourself later or never catch yourself later. 


Melissa Giraud: What Gina is saying here is really true. Let’s talk about what monoracism can look like. Sometimes it looks like erasing multiracial identity altogether. And that’s something I’ve done myself, even as a multiracial person. For example, when talking about racial groups - Black people, Latine people, Asian people, white people - how often do we exclude multiracial identity as a possibility? And, no, I don’t feel included when the usual groups are listed separately. 

Or how about we not assume we know how people identify racially just by looking at them? You can always describe someone as Black appearing or presenting instead of Black if you really don’t know. And when you’re confused about someone’s racial identity, especially when you don’t know them well, maybe sit with that discomfort and ask yourself, “Why does not knowing make me uneasy? Do I not know how to treat them because I can’t categorize them?” You could ask the same thing if uncertainty about someone’s gender identity makes you uncomfortable. Those are just a couple examples. 

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Those are some great examples. I want to note here that we are huge proponents of talking about race and racial identity in general, out loud, being explicit about it, both for kids and for adults. And it’s got to be done respectfully. Is it okay to ask about an acquaintance’s racial or ethnic identity in a totally random context? It probably isn’t. Some people are fine with those kinds of questions and even enjoy them. I personally love it when really little kids ask me about my skin color, for example. But lots of people find those kinds of questions intrusive, whether coming from kids or adults. You got to check in with them, right? The more awkward and uncomfortable you feel asking a question, the more awkward and uncomfortable the other person is likely to feel in considering whether or not to answer the question. That’s may not be the most satisfying guidance we can offer, but probably pretty good. In the meantime, let’s get back to Gina.


Gina Samuels: I think sometimes mixed race people aren't looked on as alegitimate racial experience, you know. And sometimes then parents aren't taking seriously, some of what their needs are as really, truly different. And then kids could be different from one another, particularly in families where there are interracial couples that have biological children where one will look… They all could look very, very different and will have very, very different experiences of their multiraciality and the ways that parents then find themselves reacting to that, consciously or unconsciously, about what kids need. 

And so making sure that as they grow up, that they are positioned to be able to make choices that are informed by experiences that they've had that aren't outings, that don't exist outside of the home, that they can experiment and try on identities and labels and that they might change their mind on a Tuesday from what they want on a Saturday and to not make too much meaning about that necessarily. But use that as little cues about where they're at. To not maybe put on adult frames of race meaning all the time for what kids are doing. But use your adult experience to know where things could go and lead. 

I was joking with a friend of mine. Her daughter wanted to wear a pink tutu and blonde wig for Halloween. We both freaked out about this: “What does this mean?” and, “Oh my God. Are you going to let her do the tutu?” And, “Oh, that's so sexist.” And then we were like, “Meh. Let her do the tutu and the blonde hair. We'll counterweight that next day, next week with something else.” But I think it's hard. Parenting is hard. And we all come to it with our own doo doo from our childhood about what we thought we needed and what we wished our parents would have done.

And then we have to recognize this is a totally new world and different time. And we've probably made some choices that mean our children aren't going to grow up in the same families that we did. And we've got to take that seriously and think that through. And that may or may not be helpful, but I guess what the message in my underneath, what I'm saying is to sort of keep your eyes and ears open and focus on your own growth most and your own health, and your own racial health and awareness, and don't pass that on to your kid. But also expose your child to all kinds of experiences and people beyond their own biology, whatever that might be.

So that as they grow up, they do have a lot of examples of people in a variety of appearances and abilities and sexualities and identities and people who make different choices and have different logics so that they can then kind of find their way from real lived examples. And I think that that's the biggest gift you can give to a child is the diversity that the world does exist in and expose them to other adults besides you, so that they can see the beauty that is in the world and have different adults and different older kids to call upon when they have questions about their experience.

Melissa Giraud: That’s great. Those are great top lines, Gina. I wanted just to add something that's been helpful in parenting multiracial kids is to help them realize that they have a social identity and their own personal identity. So if someone's identifying them as Black or white or multiracial, that's how they're perceived and they get to choose how they identify and those are different things. I think that letting other people identify decide what your identity is rough, so thinking about having both of those and they're operating differently. 

Gina Samuels: That you have agency.

Melissa Giraud: Yeah, it's very helpful. Gina, thank you so much. I love talking to you about this stuff. I could go on and on and on. It's going to have to be over dinner next time.

Gina Samuels: Yes, that would be great. 

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Gina, you rock. 

Gina Samuels: Oh, thank you. I appreciate you both. 


Andrew Grant-Thomas:Gina Miranda Samuels is a Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. Learn more about Gina in our show notes. 

Melissa Giraud: Andrew, I love Gina. That was super interesting.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Yes! One thing- we’ve spent a lot of time highlighting some of the challenges multiracial that people face in the context of today’s myth, the rough side of those expectations so that we can counter the myth. But we really should be clear that all in all, multiracial kids are doing okay!

Melissa Giraud: Yes. Overall, the multiracial kids are all right. According to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, multiracial children have the same amount of self-esteem and comfort with themselves as kids who aren't multiracial. They don't have any more psychiatric problems than other kids.

And I have to say, I really liked being multiracial, and like, in large part because I think of the parents I had who were able to put me in relationship with people from a wide range of racial, cultural, and national backgrounds. And I don't think my sisters and I were bridges. You know, in any meaningful sense between those different groups of people. But still, it was a great way to grow up.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: And I want to take a moment just to double down on that, at least a little bit, as someone who has been integrated into your family over these last many years. I have such fond memories of meeting folks in your extended family. And they come from a lot of places. From Dominica, from Quebec, they have a range of accents, they’re immigrants, they’re U.S.-born. They’re old-weather folks, there are some island folks in there. 

It’s just really easy for me to believe that the genuine openness I’ve seen in you, Melissa, to those kinds of differences today. And that was something that struck me when we first met and still strikes me today. That that openness has its roots in that really unusually diverse extended family of yours.

Melissa Giraud: Mm. Well, we should be clear that while there are many different multiracial experiences, as many as there are multiracials in general, it's a very different experience to be, say, Black and Native than it is to be white and Asian or Black and Asian. It's different to be adopted and multiracial, where you're most likely going to have white parents who aren't connected to your heritage communities. And it's really not enough to know someone's multiracial to understand what that means for them in the world.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So this thing of the differences in multiracial identities of different kinds that you just pointed to, and the intersectional stuff, right, the intersection between multiracial identities and other identities, like being an adoptive child. Absolutely fascinating. There's so much to explore there. 

And I want to raise up another point that Gina mentioned about the hidden population of multiracial people, knowing that it's not just a lot of Black-identifying people who might be considered hidden multiracials, right? So depending on how you determine multiracial identity, you can generate really different estimates of the size of the multiracial population in the U.S. 

You know, if you do it the way the census does it, you get roughly 4%. But suppose you do what my friend Taeku Lee did, political scientist. He gave 10 identity points to survey participants that they could allocate across all the racial and ethnic groups that they consider to be part of their background.

And by that estimate, you'd get something like 12, 13% of people saying that they are multiracial, right? 

Melissa Giraud: Wow. 

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So you go from 4%, doing it the way the census says it, to triple that number, doing it the way that Taeku suggested. That's a huge difference,  right? I'd love to do an episode on the implications of just how you measure multiracial identity.

Melissa Giraud: That's fascinating. You know, for now, you should know that we have many resources that deal with multiracial identity and kids, including a conversation with Gina about multiracial families and transracial adoption and so many others, so many great people and thinkers around this topic.  You can get all of that in our show notes.


Andrew Grant-Thomas: The EmbraceRace Podcast is hosted by me, Andrew Grant-Thomas.

Melissa Giraud: And by me, Melissa Giraud. Our Senior Producer is John Asante. Our Editor is Megan Tan.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Our Engineer and Sound Designer is Enrico Benjamin. Our Consulting Producer is Graham Griffith.

Melissa Giraud: Special thanks to Team EmbraceRace: Robin Deutsch Edwards, Andrea Huang, Tamara Montes de Oca, Christina Rucinski, and Maryam Zahid.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: And a big shout out to our main inspirations, our two kids, and to the EmbraceRace community.

Melissa Giraud: Subscribe, rate, and review our show on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcatcher. That really helps us.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: And for more resources related to today’s show and other topics about race and kids, please visit us at

Melissa Giraud: Thanks for listening!

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Thank you!

Gina Miranda Samuels, PhD, MSW

Gina E. Miranda Samuels (she/her), PhD, MSW, is a professor at the University of Chicago, and the director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture. Gina is herself a transracial adoptee. More about Gina Miranda >
Gina Samuels