Tag Archives: interracial adoption

ARE MULTIRACIAL FAMILIES THE NEW NORMAL?

Are Multiracial Families the New Normal?

The other day I found myself on a 45 minute bus ride with my 3 kids and 4 of their friends. We were all sat at the back.

Their conversations were fleeting, from the lyrics of the wheels on the bus to more serious subjects like what they might order at McDonalds.

At one point, one of the girls turned to the other and they were comparing skin colours- three 5 year olds arguing about who was lighter, hoping, each in turn that they were the darker one.

It was all so innocent but lovely. Lovely that they hadn’t been touched by any of our pollutant societal thoughts about skin colour bias. Lovely that they referred to skin colour as they might any other body feature- like they would the hair on their arms or whose hands might be bigger. And lovely that they were all insisting they were darker so they could match.

Within minutes, a woman on the bus turned to me, as I wiped their mouths, told them off and cuddled the littlest on my lap. “They must keep you busy”, she said.

I smiled. Grateful to hear that in 2016 a family of multiple different skin tones and races can exist in someone’s eyes and be normal.

And although I have somewhat frequent encounters with people who ask whether my children are my own because of our different skin tones,  this experience has given me hope.

As I pondered the woman on the bus’ comment, I thought about correcting her. “Only three of them are mine”, I was going to say. But I stayed quiet, content in the knowledge, that the new ‘normal’ is us.

Does Racial Identity Change in an Interracial Relationship?

Identity in Mixed Race Families

The other day my husband of 7 years asked me ‘do you identify as ‘other’?’ His question was in response to a moment me and my girls had experienced earlier that day. I’d felt defensive and self-conscious while walking through the English countryside and being asked (multiple times) whether we ‘belonged’ there or… “are you lost????” definitely made me feel like an outsider. I knew it was too subtle to call it racism but it definitely felt uncomfortable and something I knew I wouldn’t have experienced if I was on my own.

Does Racial Identity Change in an Interracial Relationship?

The topic of racial fluidity has been raised several times in the last couple of years. Recently, Paris Jackson called herself black through her relationship with her tenuously ‘biological’ Dad Michael. And of course the controversial Rachel Dolezal, who has called for black identity to be ‘fluid’ and non-binary in the same way gender is. With more questions being raised about how identity is formed and racial constructs that lie behind it, the question whether it is possible to identify as something other than what you are through one’s relationships has intrigued me.

I am part of a multiracial family, the majority of whom are black, or who will be viewed as black by society. Apart from my daughters and my husband, I am the only white face you see in my family.  So, not to feel any sense of identity by virtue of osmosis or relationship would be impossible. Or, at least for me.

I have heard of other spouses who have non-white partners who become sensitive to the subtle racism that their partners feel on a daily basis. The wake-up to white bias is shocking and infuriating when it comes to the ones you love.

The first time it happened for me was when we entered a jewellery shop early on in our relationship. Soon enough I noticed a security guard as well as the shop floor assistant following hubby closely while he perused the rings. I, on the other hand, was not even noticed. Or, shall I say, after a few minutes, they did offer to help me but completely ignored hubby-to-be apart from the stares. I felt defensive and angered as though it were happening to me.

The experience and many like it have rocked my understanding of our world. Yes I knew racism existed. I wasn’t that naive but when you experience it and you become the object of it through your partnership (that was later on), you start to identify with it.

Since then, my children and I have felt the oh-so-subtle effects of middle class racism. The stares, the indignant looks that you may not belong in ‘this’ park- nothing major but enough to waken me up to the some of the realities of being non-white.

So yes, I guess in some ways I do identify as something other than what I am.  I still have white privilege and I’m not naive as to think I know exactly what it is to walk in the shoes of a black person. But by virtue of my relationship. Because my family is black. Because I am part of a black family. And because my identity is multi- layered, my identity as a mother of mixed race kids and as the wife of a Nigerian man is intertwined.

WHEN IT’S YOUR KID ASKING THE EMBARRASSING QUESTIONS: TEACHING DIVERSITY IN ALL ITS FORMS

The other day, I watched my daughter walk over to another mum and ask her why she was a different skin colour to her daughter.

Perhaps that isn’t such a big deal to other parents but to me, I am often on the receiving end of such questions and resent it every time. So how could my own daughter of mixed race parents be so unforgiving?

I live in this smug world where I assumed that because I talk to my daughter about diversity and about mixed families, because she lives this reality everyday, because of who she is and her understanding that families come in all different shapes, colours and sizes, she would know, instinctively that mothers and daughters can have different skin colour and still be family.

While all of this is true, what I failed to realise is that her understanding is limited. She knows what makes up a mixed family, sure. But I don’t go out of my way to discuss other forms of diversity. Families with two dads, two mums, one mum or adoptive families. To her, a child of mixed parentage has lighter brown skin, not black like her Dad’s. Her logic was correct. Because her understanding was limited.

To see my little girl ask the embarrassing race question. “Is she your daughter?”, to the mum who’d recently adopted interracially made me shrink into my seat.

It made me realise that even we, as mixed race parents, have work to do in educating our children about diversity. It’s not because we live in a brown/black world that our kids will instinctively understand and respect difference in all its forms. We can’t be surprised when our children grow up and are asking questions about gay marriage if we’ve failed to show them that this is another form of ‘normal’. Or if our kid shies away from their autistic schoolmate because they don’t understand disability.

Standing for tolerance and openness for one group and ignoring or preaching against another destroys the very principle we’re trying to teach. Interracial adoption is not too far a stretch for us but what about different religions, transgender, disability or same sex marriage?

How many of us can say we have actively searched for books featuring different faiths, disability or trans folk? I can admit I haven’t. I focused on what is ‘relevant’ for my child. But if I follow my own advice, discussions about adoption and children with two dads should be had at home, cuddled up to a good book so that surprise and critique don’t feature when we’re out.

Like anything, it takes more effort because it’s not our immediate reality. But just as much as I encourage my white friends to talk to their kids about race and difference, so should I practice what I preach and talk to my kids about diversity in all its forms.

If you’ve been inspired and want to find more books featuring diversity, visit the Letterbox Library. They feature a wide variety of books spanning important topics such as gender equality, fostering and adoption, LGBT, mental health and refugees. Importantly, Letterbox Library is a not-for-profit cooperative that features only inclusive and diverse books.