Biracial children have existed in the United States since colonial times. America’s first child of dual African and European heritage was reportedly born in 1620. Despite the long history biracial children have in the U.S., opponents to interracial unions insist on invoking the “tragic mulatto" myth to justify their views. This myth suggests that biracial children will inevitably grow into tortured misfits angry that they fit into neither black nor white society. While mixed-race children certainly face challenges, raising well-adjusted biracial children is possible if parents are proactive and sensitive to their children’s needs.
Reject Myths About Mixed-Race Kids
Want to raise mixed-race children who thrive? Your attitude can make all the difference. Challenge the idea that multiethnic children are destined for tragedy by identifying successful Americans of mixed race such as actors Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry, news anchors Ann Curry and Soledad O’Brien, athletes Derek Jeter and Tiger Woods, and politicians Bill Richardson and Barack Obama.
It’s also helpful to consult studies that debunk the tragic mulatto myth. For example, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry posits that “multiracial children do not differ from other children in self-esteem, comfort with themselves, or number of psychiatric problems.” On the contrary, AACAP has found that mixed children tend to celebrate diversity and appreciate an upbringing in which various cultures played a part.
Celebrate Your Child’s Multiethnic Heritage
Which biracial kids have the best chance of success? Research indicates that they’re the kids allowed to embrace all components of their heritage. Multiracial children forced to choose a single-race identity tend to suffer from this inauthentic expression of self. Unfortunately, society often pressures mixed-race individuals to choose just one race because of the outdated “one-drop rule” which mandated that Americans with any African heritage be classified as black. It wasn’t until 2000 that the U.S. Census Bureau allowed citizens to identify as more than one race. That year the Census found that about 4% of children in the U.S. are multiracial.
How mixed children racially identify depends on a number of factors, including physical features and family attachments. Two multiethnic siblings who look as if they belong to different races may not identify the same way. Parents, however, can teach children that racial identity is more complicated than what someone looks like on the outside.
In addition to physical appearance, mixed children may choose a racial identity based on which parent they spend time with most. This especially proves true when interracial couples separate, causing their children to see one parent more than the other. Spouses who take an interest in their mate’s cultural backgrounds will be more equipped to teach children about all aspects of their heritage should divorce occur. Familiarize yourself with the customs, religions and languages that play roles in your mate’s background. On the other hand, if you’re alienated from your own cultural heritage but want your children to recognize it, visit older family members, museums and your country of origin (if applicable) to learn more. This will enable you to pass traditions on to your kids.
Choose a School That Celebrates Cultural Diversity
Your children likely spend just as much time in school as they do with you. Create the best educational experience possible for multiracial children by enrolling them in a school that celebrates cultural diversity. Talk to teachers about the books they keep in the classroom and the general educational curriculum. Suggest that teachers keep books in the classroom that feature multiethnic characters. Donate such books to the school if the library lacks them. Talk to teachers about ways to counteract racist bullying in the classroom.
Parents can also improve their children’s experience in school by discussing with them the types of challenges they’re likely to face. For example, classmates may ask your child, “What are you?” Talk to children about the best way to answer such questions. Mixed-race children are also commonly asked if they’re adopted when seen with a parent. There’s a scene in the 1959 film “Imitation of Life” in which a teacher openly disbelieves that a black woman is mother to a little girl in her class who looks like she’s completely white.
In some instances, a biracial child may appear to be from an entirely different ethnic group than either parent. Many Eurasian children are mistaken for Latino, for example. Prepare your children to deal with the shock classmates and teachers may express upon discovering their racial background. Teach them not to hide who they are in order to fit in with mono-racial students.
Live in a Multicultural Neighborhood
If you have the means, seek to live in an area where diversity is the norm. The more diverse a city is, the higher the chances that a number of interracial couples and multiethnic children live there. Although living in such an area won’t guarantee that your children never face problems because of their heritage, it lessens the odds that your child will be viewed as an anomaly and your family subjected to rude stares and other bad behavior when out and about.