Tag Archives: biracial identity

Black or Multiracial?: Raising Biracial kids

Black or Multiracial?: Raising Biracial Kids

The other day I came across a post from a fellow multiracial mama about how she refuses to call her biracial kids black but instead intentionally refers to them as multiracial or mixed.

It generated an interesting discussion about why, why not, and whether that is truly the message we should be giving our biracial children.

Biracial kids

What is their true identity? And, what, if any, is the message we as parents should be giving our children about their identity?

biracial kids
My oldest mixed race daughter

My own experience as mixed race Iranian/British growing up in Canada was that my parents just didn’t talk about identity. It left me confused, in denial and ashamed at times when teasing at school pointed out the differences in me.

My parents’ preference was not to talk about identity or the many cultures that made up who we are. Instead, they assumed that we (my brother and sister and I) would assimilate into Canadian culture if they just didn’t acknowledge our differences.

Unfortunately, there were enough reminders of what made us unique and different for us to remain confused. Food, family, language and culture around us were daily reminders even if we didn’t always look the part. Though my light skin and features allowed me to pass into the majority white culture, I knew my experience gave me away.

It was only at University when I was old enough to embrace my multiple identities that I began to meet other mixed race and biracial people and understood the benefit to acknowledging and discussing what being mixed race means in today’s world.

Because of that, I have always made it a priority to talk to my biracial kids about the multiple cultures and identities that make up who they are. When faced with the potential backlash that perhaps we talk about race and identity too much, I know that to ignore it and hope that it doesn’t become an issue is absolutely the wrong message we need to be giving our children.

So what message do we give our biracial children when their identity permeates the boundaries between black, brown, multiracial, mixed race, biracial, multicultural and all things in between. And does it mean they’re not just ‘black’?
Biracial kids
My DD2 wearing traditional Nigerian head wrap

Can they be both?

For me, being biracial can mean many different things at different times. Being black and white are not necessarily mutually exclusive though many mixed race celebrities in the US are conflicted.

While Taye Diggs refused to call his mixed son Black, Thandie Newton and Halle Berry only refer to themselves as Black women. And most famously of all, we didn’t often hear the former President Barack Obama referred to as mixed but instead the first black President of the United States.

So do I refer to my daughters as mixed, biracial or black and does it vary with each one depending on how many outward African features they’ve inherited as black girls?

I’ve come to see my biracial daughters’ identities as evolving. Evolving with age, and with their own experiences. And, like me, I know that at different times, they will identify accordingly.

When I was immersed in Iranian festivals and food and culture, I felt wholly and truly Iranian. Other times, I knew I could only partially lay claim to this identity and mixed Iranian and English felt a more appropriate term for how I felt. Still, there will be times, for example when I moved to England from Canada, when I feel my Canadian upbringing comes out strongly.

Identity is More than just a feeling… it’s an experience

My daughters will likely want to identify with the political solidarity that comes with black identity. They will, at times, feel very strongly about who they are as black women when they are faced with the injustices of discrimination and racism.biracial kids

They may, on the other hand, also be aware of their white privilege. And know that their experiences as part of a multicultural, multiracial family lent them different and perhaps more privileged experiences than that of other Nigerians.

How they are perceived by others will also influence how they identify themselves. But it is not our job as parents to teach our biracial children that they are only mixed and not just black or just white.

Instead, we should encourage them to be confident about who they are, to stand up to others whose perception doesn’t marry with their own experience and to embrace all the parts that make up their identity. Acknowledging all the while that this will change and identities will shift as they explore what that means for themselves.


10 Fun Free Ways to Celebrate your Multiracial Familybiracial children

How to Ensure Your Mixed Heritage Kids Feel Good About Who They Are

How to Reinforce a Positive Identity with Mixed Heritage Kids

This week my daughter’s teacher announced the children would be talking about identity and where they and their families are from. She encouraged parents to talk to our children beforehand so the children can positively contribute.

Talking Identity with Mixed Heritage Kids

As the parent of a mixed child, I was excited that my daughter would be having this conversation in school. Her background is, at best, interesting and layered but at worst, it’s complicated and confusing. So, as a person of mixed parentage myself, I have to admit my heart did skip a beat.  I wondered when does identity start to become a struggle for our mixed heritage kids?

I remember being a teenager and cringing from those conversations about where I was from. Do you mean where do I live now? Where are my parents from? What culture do I identify with most? What languages do I speak (or, in my case, not speak well enough). As mixed heritage kids, when it came to my Iranian side, I often felt confronted about laying claim to a culture I knew so little about. And coming to England as a young adult, I couldn’t have felt more like an outsider if I tried. What basis did I have for identifying with any of these cultures?

When it comes to my daughter, I wonder what she might say in such a conversation. First of all, would she remember all the places/races and cultures that make up who she is? As mixed heritage kids, does she identify with all of her heritage? Of course, these questions of a 5 year old were bound to fail. But I couldn’t help feeling conscious that I may not be doing enough to educate her. Or worse, that she may end up as confused or as pressured as I felt during these conversations.

When hubby originates from Nigeria, and I hail from Canada/ England and Iran, the story can be complicated. Particularly for a 5 year old who now lives in the UK but spent a good part of her short 5 years in Nigeria and Canada.

Her looks, race and accent will further put pressure on her to identify as either Black, Black British, African- British or just Naija. If her skin is darker, she may be questioned if she tries to identify as hyphenated or mixed race as people will argue her intentions. “Why don’t you just admit you’re black”, I can see her mates saying.

By now, she can reel off the list of countries, and can even tell people a few words from Yoruba and Farsi. But whether she truly identifies with any of these (or all), I guess only time will tell.

I do plan to show her a map of the world and to help her identify where each of these countries are located. But what I’ve realised is that any depth of association to these countries lies in her relationships.

As long as Grandma and Grandpa, cousins, Aunts and Uncles are in her life, she will hopefully always feel connection to where she’s ‘from’. And yet, her everyday experience and friends will connect her more than anything to the UK. And I’m okay with that. Being mixed and biracial, the ultimate positive is that she has options.

One reader commented that by the time our little ones grow up, their world will be a blended mix of all different backgrounds and cultures. So perhaps hers and other mixed heritage kids’ experience will be different than mine. All I can do is prepare her as best I can.


‘What are you on about??’: How to Survive in an Intercultural Relationship

What is an Intercultural Relationship Anyway?

“Clear!”, he shouted as I clutched the wheel heading into more oncoming traffic. “What are you saying?! What does that mean?”, I shouted back. In desperation, the two of us just looked at each other, dumbfounded that the other seemed to be talking a different language. Sound familiar?

“Pull over!”, my-then-boyfriend-now-husband said in exasperation as he realised I had no idea what he was on about.

Dutifully, I pulled over. Why didn’t he just say that? I remember thinking.

That was 10 years ago, our first realisation that although both of us spoke the same first language, lived in the same country and had many things in common, our upbringings were hugely different. And despite all of our commonalities, our differences were a much bigger challenge than we’d thought. “Clear”, I soon discovered, was a Nigerianism meaning pull over or pull to the side.

A Guide to Understanding Each Other in an Interracial Relationship

My husband and I originate from four parts of the globe as far apart from each other as you can get. My father is from Iran, my mother from England and I grew up in Canada. My husband was born and raised in Nigeria, with exposure to British colonial and cultural norms.

In any relationship, the challenges of ‘getting serious’, considering where is ‘home’, family, finances, gender roles, religion and raising children are all big questions. Throw cultural differences into the heap and you can almost feel as if you’re speaking different languages.

What are the Challenges of being in an Intercultural Relationship?

For us I think those big questions were obvious and we did tend to talk about them a lot before we said the big ‘I do’. But it was the little things that we didn’t consider and that we’re still discovering about each other. Things that research on this subject just doesn’t seem to explore.

It’s how we both think, the inherent ‘street wise’ instinct hubby has just from living in a country where ‘hustling’ is the norm. I lived the stereotypical suburban life in small town Alberta where locking our door during the day was unheard of. As a result, my husband is much more observant of people and things and subtleties than I am. Whether that’s just our personalities, I hasten to guess. But after travelling to Lagos and being chastised for handing over my passport to a customs officer in uniform and not keeping my eye on what he was doing with it, I realised I have much to learn about being streetwise.

I am also much more verbal than my husband. Again, this could just be down to personality because I know I am definitely more into chatting than he is.  But again, after spending some time in Nigeria, I realised people are expected to learn by observing rather than by explanation or asking questions. In my early twenties, I lived in Ghana and was so curious about everything I was experiencing. So I asked. It was my friend who was showing me the ropes who finally explained, ‘stop talking and just watch’. I often think back to that moment when my hubby and I are arguing over something I don’t understand.

Raising children in the way we were both brought up can become another battleground. Questioning what one partner might take for granted as normal becomes an accepted part of your everyday. Simply because ‘that’s how I was brought up’ and ‘how can you question it?’ just doesn’t cut it.

Take our debate about piercing our daughter’s ears when our eldest was born. I knew it was a cultural tradition and pretty much every Nigerian girl has their ears pierced when they’re born- including all my nieces. But cultural tradition wasn’t enough for me. He wasn’t able to give an answer as to why it was important and in the end, he conceded it might be better to wait. We then faced the often unpleasant comments from other Nigerians questioning ‘why aren’t her ears pierced’ and ‘how can we tell if she’s a girl or not?’ I wasn’t too bothered about being asked.

What’s the best advice for couples in an Intercultural Relationship?

More than 10 years later, our lives have taken us to Nigeria and back, to Edmonton, Canada for long extended stays and now back to London, England. It’s been good for us to spend time in each other’s ‘homes’- learning more about each other than we ever could have just through communication. But England offers us something neither of these countries can. A neutral ground for us as a couple where we’re both just as lost as the other trying to decipher things like ‘what is the real pronunciation of ‘neither’?

We’re making choices as we go and sometimes the simplest of tasks or events can lead to debate. It’s often exhausting and I have to admit I do sometimes envy marriages between people who’ve grown up together in the same town and who can relate on so many levels.

But as time goes on, I think my husband and I are both beginning to grow having been confronted with the question ‘why?’. Consciously unravelling and exploring exactly who we are and why we believe in certain things can be uncomfortable. But isn’t all growth?  In any intercultural relationship, with more consciousness comes understanding, empathy and compromise. Characteristics that hopefully our children will learn to value.

For more about the challenges of being in an intercultural relationship, read 10 Things to Consider Before Having Kids in an Interracial Relationship or Where is Home in an Intercultural Relationship?

10 Things to Consider Before Having Children in an Interracial RelationshipHow to Talk to Mixed Heritage Kids about Racismbiracial childrenTHE Questions Asked of Mixed Race Parents