I have two children, Andrew and Aiden. Andrew is a slender, young man. He has thick, curly, dark hair. His eyes are a deep brown with the longest lashes and he has a rich caramel color to his skin. Aiden, on the other hand, is a very fair skinned little boy. He has blue eyes and curly, sandy-brown hair with a hint of blond and red. Most people would be more comfortable labeling Andrew as black and Aiden as white. Brothers, yet completely opposite in looks. My children are interracial; yin and yang.
When it comes to interracial children, there are steps that need to be taken to promote positive self esteem and schools, as well as family, have an obligation to make sure that a positive self esteem is fostered.
When raising our children, my husband and I decided to form our own values and traditions. Just like our boys, I like to think our family symbol is the yin-yang. The outer circle of the symbol represents life. The yin-yang symbol holds everything that is life – “continual movement of two energies” (Yin Yang Symbol - What's It All About?); one cannot exist without the other. We choose to take the best of both worlds and fuse them together. We teach our sons about things of the past and present. We openly discuss things like our heritage and where we come from, slavery, the positives and negatives of being black or white and black AND white. The main thing we try to instill is that they do have a place and that they don’t have to choose sides. They are the best of both cultures.
Society, on the other hand needs to label interracial children as either black or white. The Census Bureau takes the race of the mother and applies it to the child. When I went to research statistics of biracial children in Kansas, I couldn’t find any really. I find that I am pressured to categorize my boys one way or the other and I think back to the old rule of thumb, “if you have even a drop of African-American blood running through your veins, you are black.” I don’t want to “stiff” my children by labeling them before they can label themselves, but I do want them to have every advantage possible. There are advantages of being labeled white or black. Just think of the movie, Imitation of Life, starring Lana Turner. In the movie, the young woman, Sarah Jane, was black with the complexion of a white person. She was privy to perks because she looked white until someone found out who here mother was. I don’t want people to think that my children are trying to run a scam to get things. I just want them to be comfortable with who they are and where they come from.
I remember when Andrew was just beginning school. It was spring 2004, my husband and I attended the Kindergarten Round-up at our neighborhood elementary school. Our son, Andrew would be starting kindergarten in the fall. We are all very excited! We got the paperwork to fill out and information to follow up on; making sure that we crossed every T and dotted every I.
The application that we had to fill out, as with just about every application, had a section dealing with race. Most of them have the following options: Caucasian, Black – Not Hispanic, Hispanic, Native American, and Other. That was when I really began thinking about my son’s race. I made my own little box to check and I titled it multicultural. As the years went by, I created many racial boxes that best describe my son. In addition to multicultural, he was biracial, multiracial, interracial, mixed culture, or I would just check both the black and white boxes. I didn’t really agree with the other box. Andrew is not an “other”. He has an identity; knows what he is made of, so to speak. And, thus, began our responsibility to instill in Andrew a strong sense of self.
When it comes to schooling, the school that Andrew attends has a very high percentage of biracial children and I think that is great. There are many other children for him to identify with during the school day. This is a good start to fostering a positive self esteem. As for Aiden, he has a variety of children to model from. There is a good mixture of multiculturalism at his daycare. That was one of the things that I looked at when deciding on schools for my children. They don’t just see one side or the other; all sides are represented and interact with one another.
Another thing that I look for is the diversity amongst the staff. First, I look for female to male ratio and then I look for white to non-white ratio. Now, many of the schools that I looked into don’t have a very good ratio of either. Male teachers are very few in the education field. And, I learned first hand how interested school districts are when it comes to racial diversity and teachers.
Since the prior two areas are lacking in the school system, my expectations of the educators that come into contact with my children to be open-minded and nonjudgmental. I expect for them to provide a well rounded education for my children and invite them to discover the many different cultures that are in America.
It is important that schools make sure that they don’t label interracial children one way or the other. Schools need to be aware of how parents are raising their interracial children. There is a debate about raising interracial children “black” or “white” and I definitely believe there is a difference. Schools should be aware of those differences and not invite negative stereotypes about particular cultures to spill out in their curriculum.
If schools make it a point to be aware of the frailty of an interracial child’s esteem and their desire to “fit in”, like they do the needs of ESL students, or special needs students, encouragement of finding ones own identity will flourish. Interracial students and their parents won’t feel like they have to have a label or fret over which box to check in the race section of an application.