by ARP Columnist, Karen Walrond
My name is Karen, and I’m from The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago.
You may think the fact that I’m from a small, two-island country at the southernmost part of the Caribbean Sea may seem rather irrelevant in a forum like this one. However, the truth is Trinidad & Tobago boasts one of the most multicultural societies in the world – most of us Trinis are multiracial to some degree or another. Many generations of mixing and interracial marriage have resulted in a society we refer to as a “callaloo” – the reference is to a local dish comprised of many different and varied ingredients. In my family alone, I have aunts with have alabaster skin and blue eyes, a paternal grandmother who has strong Chinese features, a maternal grandmother in whom the physical characteristics of her Hindu father are prominent, and a grandfather whose skin was as black as ebony. The rest of my family, as you can imagine, come in every shade in between. As a young girl, I never really thought much of race: sure, my family members were of different shades and features, but I didn’t think any more of it than a white family might consider their blond or brunette members.
This all changed when at age 11, I moved with my family from Trinidad to a suburb of Houston, Texas. It was here that suddenly my skin colour was placed front and centre: a quick observation by my new classmates immediately classified me as a black girl. However, as soon as I opened my mouth, my unusual accent established me as an outsider – and it was because of this, perhaps, that students of varied backgrounds extended me a hand of friendship.Still, the experience was educational: white students who viewed me as “not really black” would confide in me their frank beliefs about black people. African-American students who considered my skin colour proof I was one of their own would make sweeping comments about white students – statements to which they were certain I would agree. Then there were the kids who were neither black nor white, but who found something familiar in my “foreign-ness”, and therefore would seek consensus in their opinions about students of all the other races. Bewildered, I never understood this need to identify with only one race and decry all the others – after all, I had family members who looked like every one of these students, and not one of my relatives displayed the negative stereotypes each student was confidently declaring!
Eventually, of course, I developed friendships with students who were able to see people for characteristics beyond skin colour – many of whom continue to be close confidants today. Nonetheless, for the more than 20 years I lived in the United States, I remained very conscious of race; after all, employment forms, medical forms and practically every other legal document I signed in the U.S. forced me to think about it. Marrying my white, English husband and the adoption of our biracial, Latina daughter continued to add new dimensions to my understanding of race in America – conceptions that continue to be formed and reformed today.
Last year, our little family moved back to Trinidad – and I have to say, it’s been a relief to live in a country where our family isn’t viewed as odd or “exotic;” refreshing not to have to declare my racial background every time I sign a form. Still, I remain with strong ties to the United States, having since become a U.S. citizen, and we visit America several times a year. Because of my husband’s career, it is very likely we will end up returning to the States to live, and while times are certainly different than when I moved there 28 years ago, race continues to be a critical issue in American society, and therefore one which my husband and I will inevitably have to teach our daughter to navigate.
It is for this reason that I’m thrilled to be a part of Anti-Racist Parent, which I deeply believe is nothing less than revolutionary. I hope to share my perceptions of what it takes to raise an anti-racist child in America, from both an outsider’s and an insider’s point of view, and therefore hope you’ll share your honest views with me in turn.
After all, I think that dialogues like these can change the world, don’t you?
Formerly an attorney, Karen Walrond is now a writer and photographer who has contribued to such parenting publications as Blogging Baby and AlphaMom. She is the author of Chookooloonks, which was named one of the Best Adoption Blogs on the internet by Adoptive Families Magazine, and was featured in the book Blogosphere: Best of Blogs. She currently resides with her husband and daughter in Trinidad & Tobago.