As you can tell from this blog, race is a frequent topic at home. Tabitha and I hold nothing back when discussing the topic with each other. We try to delve deep into situations, learn from them and use our privilege to help make change.
In fact, we had a learning moment recently when we went to a wedding. I asked what suit I should wear. It’s not an in-depth choice: I own two suits–one very light brown that I wore for our summer wedding and one dark brown that I wear to everything else. She suggested the light one, and that seemed logical to me. May wedding means summer suit, right? Wrong. Turns out that for this wedding of two Puerto Rican men, I stood out like Jeff Sessions at a backyard bbq. We talked about it, acknowledged that in these scenarios it is better to err on the side of caution, discussed why and enjoyed the chance to party while our son was sound asleep at home with a babysitter. But I digress. The point is that the conversations are easy between the two of us.
Know that saying, you and me and baby makes three? Now that #BabySBJ is no longer a baby and is now a fully aware and cognizant #ToddlerSBJ, he is starting to join in. You may have read Tabitha’s recent post about our conversation about skin color with our son. You can tell we were both a bit shocked, even though we knew it would be here some day.
We were at home and he commented on his skin color, Tabitha’s skin color and mine too. She is brown while we are present as white. While this was the first time we really spoke in depth about each of our skin tones, in my experience, this isn’t first time he started exploring skin color. A few months ago, he told me that mommy is orange and daddy is white. I started to ask him more about it. “That’s an interesting observation. When did you notice that? What made you say that now?” His cognitive ability was not what it is today, so the conversation didn’t really go anywhere, rather it devolved into random thoughts about Spider-Man. But now, here he is, right on schedule, noticing race around 2 years old, as studies show he should. Wow. First off, I’m amazed and grateful that he is so aware and verbal. Second, if you haven’t yet, read Tabitha’s reaction. Finally, here’s my take from the white parent perspective.
As Tabitha said, we do talk about race a lot and we don’t hide it from our son, but now that he is involved in the discussion, there’s a whole other layer. I honestly didn’t have the same feeling that she did. Maybe it’s because my identity as the white parent was never up for question with him identifying as white, whatever that means for a toddler. Since he can currently pass for white, people don’t look at me strangely. They don’t think I’m the babysitter (White male privilege), they only stare when we’re all together, not when I’m with him alone, and until yesterday, it seemed like our son didn’t think about it at all. I don’t know what it’s like to walk around with dark skin. I’m trying to figure out how I feel that he probably will have experiences around race that are more similar to mine than to Tabitha’s.
The most important part of the conversation for me was after her blog post, though. We both encouraged him that he was both brown AND white. We both want him to understand and appreciate his blackness, but why both? What does multiple identities mean? How will he fit in around circles of black people? Will he use his privilege to benefit others? Right now he does not show a leaning towards any one race even though he identified his skin color as white. The question is, what did he mean and what does that mean for his self-perception? Tabitha and I have always wanted to create an atmosphere of openness where he feels comfortable being mixed but that he also identifies with his Jewish and Trinidadian heritage. We do this by spending lots of time, whether it is via Facetime or in person, with both sides of the family. We have diverse groups of friends. He goes to a diverse day care. Perhaps that’s why he noticed? Since he’s around people of other races, maybe the topic came up at school. We know that identity is not just shaped by the world we see but also by how the world reacts to us. We hope that he takes pride in how he identifies and how the world identifies him.
One thing we learned for sure from this conversation is that we need to step up our game about engaging him in conversations about race that he can understand at his level.
Hey white parents of multiracial kids, what steps do you take?