Friday, June 22, 2012

Multiracial Families - Some Recent Thoughts from Dr. Momsie

Last Saturday, my darling little family was featured on Musing Momma in a post called "Saturday Spotlight on Multiracial Families: A family founded in faith."  Please go read it, and read all of the awesome stuff on Musing Momma ( She will be continuing to feature multiracial families in the weeks to come, and I can't wait to hear their perspectives!

In writing my responses for Musing Momma, I really started to think more about having a multiracial family, and especially about raising a son in such a family.  It might have been easy to downplay the uniqueness of our family prior to having Jr., but now that we have brought this darling little boy into the world, we can't ignore how the world may treat him.  As his parents, we have a responsibility for helping protect him from the cruelness of this world and for helping him develop a view of himself that fits with God's view of him.

I've started reading "Does Anybody Else Look Like Me," a book on raising multiracial children by Donna Jackson Nakazawa.  I found this recommendation on Musing Momma, and thought it would be the perfect summer read.  I've only gotten through the first chapter, as I've been recently captivated by "The Night Circus" (ok, I promised myself I wouldn't get distracted by thinking about or talking about that marvelous book).  Nakazawa is a Caucasian woman married to a Japanese-American man, and they have two bi-racial children.  She interviews other multiracial families and looks at the related research (I'm a sucker for good research) to make suggestions for parents raising multiracial children. 

In her first chapter, Nakazawa addresses the preschool years.  She suggests that a major task during this stage in a multiracial child's life is to understand that there are other families that look like their family and to be protected from the responses of curious and nosey strangers (well, family too).  She talks about how her children were constantly ogled over and how people often said how cute they were and made curious remarks.  She attributed this to their unique bi-racial features and suggests that this type of attention can be disconcerting for a child.  By receiving so much extra attention, they learn that they are different.  And, sometimes, different can make one feel "bad" and "other."  She makes some very useful suggestions about how to talk to children about their family make-up, how to begin to help them identify as a multi-racial person, and how to defend them from nosey strangers.  Her concrete examples and scripts are excellent tools for parents.   I'm really starting to think about how I can start having these types of conversations with Jr.

For instance, Nakazawa suggests pointing out families that look similar to yours whenever possible.  It is important to not avoid talking about race in an effort to be so enlightened that you are "above" race.  Race, color, and being different will have an impact on a multiracial child whether their enlightened parents like it or not.  So, one "model family" that I've put in my mental Rolodex of Black Daddy/White Mommy families is the beautiful and talented Diggs-Menzel family!  (My darling hubby took me to Idina Menzel's concert last week, and I was reminded of our similarity in family :))

Now, for those of you who read the Musing-Momma feature, you may realize that some of Nakazawa's perspective does not fit with my personal philosophy.  I don't mind the curiosity of strangers, and don't become defensive about people commenting on how cute Jr is (jeesh, he is super cute!).  I really try to assume the best of people and think that most people come from a good place when they give Jr. a warm smile and extra look.  For a couple weeks after reading her thoughts, I did try to be more aware of people's reaction to Jr., and I still found nothing offensive.  Now, if someone started to ask too many questions about our family's make-up or ask to touch his hair, I would definitely squelch the interaction.  But, when I walk down the aisle of the grocery store, I often look at ALL babies and make comments about the cute ones.  Shouldn't I assume that is what others are doing too?  Is my point of view terribly naive?   I don't want to raise Jr. to be defensive and angry, but I do want him to be prepared for the narrow-minded haters.  What do y'all think?


  1. Our family is really confusing to people. Derek is hispanic and the rest of us our white. We get comments from people all of the time like, "did you adopt him?" Sometimes the comments are rude. People can be rude and judgmental. Kids at school can be too. TJ needs to be aware that his family is different but not in a bad way. He needs to feel empowered! God made the world a rainbow of colors and it is beautiful!

  2. One thing that definitely stood out for me in your Spotlight feature was how optimistic you are about others curiosity - that probably does a lot more to create understanding and support than when people get angry and defensive or are constantly suspicious! I sometimes find myself in some gray area between giving people the benefit of the doubt (which is my general personality) and trying to be realistic about what our world is like. It's can be a blurry line to navigate! I want our family to be a part of the conversation and our nation's shift toward better race relations, yet I don't want my children to feel "singled out" as different. Where we live there is an active Klan presence 30 minutes away and I know from things people have said to me not knowing my family situation that there is a lot of underlying racism in our community. So I do find myself a little "suspicious" of what others are thinking sometimes, if I notice someone watching us out in public and they don't have a "friendly" look while they are doing it, but I sure don't want to teach my children to walk around guarded and suspicious and expecting the worst of people

    I too felt like Nakazawa describes some experiences that are much more extreme than what my family has experienced. I'm not sure if that is because she was raising her kids in the 90s or because of where they live or because my kids aren't school-age yet. I'm finding that I'm thinking a lot more about how my oldest will be perceived and treated as gets closer to starting school. And families' experiences vary so tremendously. For instance, I've known biracial kids who had no contact with an entire side of the family due to being "rejected" for being mixed! That might give a kid a very different sense of self than a kid raised with a loving, accepting extended family.

    I've found it hard to find many books on raising biracial kids that aren't 20 years old! But I love how Nakazawa uses a developmental perspective to frame how kids understand race.

    Sorry for my rambly response...there is just so much to think about here and I love the chance to dialogue with other thoughtful parents! :)

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! I'm also excited about having a discussion about these topics.
      We are definitely blessed that we don't live in a community where there is much overt racism. If there was a Klan presence nearby, that would add a whole new layer to my perspective. Even so, Jr. will inevitably face some form of racism and hatred in his life and we will need to prepare him for that.
      Oh, and don't get me wrong, even if Nakazawa's book is a little old, she makes some great points and her book really has me thinking more!

  3. I really enjoyed this post and I am going to pick that book up ASAP. We have a multi-racial family and it does get hard sometimes with the stares and questions. I once had a lady ask me, "what is he?" in regards to my son... I just looked back and smiled and said, "My child". Love this post and love linking up with people who have things in common with me! Following you from GFC!

  4. Thanks Sara! "What is he?" That is the worst. Your response was awesome!


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