Ask ARP: Should my biracial family break ties with racist in-laws?

Dear Anti-Racist Parent,

My wife and I are a mixed couple – I’m black and she’s Mexican-American. We have two kids, an 11-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl. While my family is quite accepting of us and our kids, my wife’s parents and family are not. They are quite racist unfortunately, my wife having grown up hearing all kinds of slurs about black people from the mouth of her mother–some pretty nasty. They have never said anything directly to our kids when we have visited them (We live in California. They are in Texas.). They are the types who are not crazy enough to say anything overt in front of me or the kids. They are polite, but their ways make it clear that our kids are not as accepted as their other grandkids, who are full Mexican or mixed with white. We are very concerned that sooner or later their attitudes are going to become clear to our kids. It will be apparent that they are “less than” to their grandparents and we do not want to see that happen. My wife is at the point where she no  longer wants to be around her family because of their attitudes, but my concern is that this will also hurt the kids since sooner or later it will have to be explained why they don’t see these grandparents. Tough call–subject them to people who treat them as “other” or keep them away, which could also do harm.

Ideas?

E. Harris

From the Editor:

My heart goes out to you and your wife. It is the sad fact of colonialism that many people of color–and not just biracial ones–deal with race bias and Eurocentrism within their own families, where offspring with white parentage or light skin or “double eyelids” or straight hair or the “right” features are praised as good, beautiful, smart and worthy. The others–not so much. I wish that your situation was rare. It is not. Only you can answer whether the situation with your in-laws is toxic enough to warrant cutting them off from your children’s lives. Only you can weigh the emotional toll to your wife and family of cutting them off vs. sticking it out.

But I can tell you this: What is most important, I think, is innoculating your children against people who would tell them that they are “less than.” Because, as people of color, I’m sure you and your wife know that they will encounter people like that sooner rather than later. The ending of your letter (Tough call–subject them to people who treat them as “other” or keep them away, which could also do harm. ) makes me think that you hope to shield your children from the nastiness of racism. All parents do. But for children of color, that is impossible.

So, I think the best thing you can do for your two beautiful children is to reinforce their goodness and smartness and worthiness. Expose them to accomplished people who are Mexican-American and African-American. Read books with characters of color. Acknowledge beauty that has brown or black skin, curly hair, African or Mexican features–this is very important especially for your daughter.  Make sure the things they play with–the dolls, the games and the books–affirm who they are. Make sure that your language does not unwittingly reflect race bias. If you do this, then when your children encounter prejudiced people–even within their own family–they will hopefully see those people for what they are–sad victims of a racist society that has a lot of learning to do. 

Now, you probably already do these things. If so, then I think you are doing the best thing possible for you and your family.

Tami

Readers, what do you say?

Editor’s note: Visit Feministe or Angry Brown Butch to read about teacher Karen Salazar, who was dismissed for offering her students of color a history that included, rather than excluded, them. A Eurocentric curriculum is but one challenge to the esteem of children of color.

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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