by Anti-Racist Parent Columnist Michelle Myers
I guess at first glance, I would appear to be a good candidate as a contributor for the Anti-Racist Parent: I’m a biracial woman (mother is Korean, father is white) who is married to black man, and we have 3 mixed race children: 2 girls (9-years-old and 20 months) and 1 boy (3-years-old). I also have 4 black, teenage stepsons. I think that when people hear about my background as well as my marriage and children, they assume that somehow I’ve gotten it right—that somewhere along the path of life I’ve discovered the secret to racial harmony and a “We are the World”-type existence. But I can’t say that my family—immediate or extended—could be poster-children for racial harmony. If anything, we live in constant negotiation of identity struggles, culture clashes, and societal pressures.
As a parent, I think the greatest disappointment I continually deal with is how my children are treated by other family members. This includes their grandparents on both sides. This is not to say that they are ill-treated or anything like that, but I have a particular sensitivity for my kids being treated differently b/c they’re part black or because they’re part Korean/white. This sensitivity comes from my own upbringing—my memories of feeling as if my cousin was showered with favoritism by my grandparents and uncles/aunts when we were little b/c she was the blood-haired, blue-eyed princess-of-a-grandchild. After my grandmother died, this same cousin told me that our grandmother had told her that she didn’t want my father marrying my mom, that when my father wrote to her saying he was going to marry a Korean girl he had met while stationed in Korea (he was in the Air Force), she wrote him back saying not to do it. B/c of these and other experiences I had while growing up, whenever I feel like my parents don’t seem interested in seeing our children (like you’d think grandparents would) or when it seems like my husband’s mother makes a point to spend time with her other grandchildren more so than with ours, I ruffle up.
Whether real or imagined, these kinds of negotiations remind me how much race consciousness (or a heightened sensitivity for racial attitudes, etc) has been so much a part of my life. I grew up in a rural area of South Jersey where there were plenty of white people, black people, and Latino people (mostly Puerto Rican) but hardly Asians. I was constantly trying to fit in as a child—“fitting in” usually translating into trying to be accepted by the white kids—but I was always acutely aware of not being white b/c my mother was Korean. And this awareness was not only limited to the way I felt I was being perceived or treated, but how I saw others being judged or treated. My white family were/are racist; they freely referred to black people as “niggers” or Latino people as “spics,” especially behind closed doors. Most of all, I thought if my white family felt the way they did about black people and Latino people just b/c of their race, then what was it that they REALLY thought of me and my brother?
Whatever issues I may still have from my own experiences, I hope, as a mother, that I can be there for my children when/if they have questions like the ones I had when I was growing up. My hope is that I can spare my children from all this drama—that my children can love themselves for all their multi-racial and multi-cultural beauty, and that my husband and I can find ways to provide them with the nurturing and support and hard lessons that they need to be well-adjusted and only moderately scathed as they grow into adults. Toward that end, I hope that the contributors and readers of this blog will help me discover better approaches to raising my children as I personally strive to be an Anti-Racist Parent.
Michelle Myers holds a Ph.D. in English from Temple University, specializing in Asian American Literature. She is a founding member of the spoken word poetry group Yellow Rage, which was featured on HBO’s RUSSELL SIMMONS PRESENTS DEF POETRY, and which recently released its second CD: HANDLE WITH CARE, VOL. 2. She is also a founding member of the performance collective Asians Misbehavin’. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Community College of Philadelphia and Grants Coordinator at SEAMAAC (Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition). Michelle lives in NJ with her husband, Tyrone, and their three children: Myong, Victor, and Vanessa.