Mixed Roots Festival: Race is a Parenting Issue

written by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Liz Dwyer; crossposted from Los Angelista’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness

This past Friday and Saturday I attended a fantastic festival called the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival. The purpose was to celebrate the experiences of multiracial/multicultural people through film, readings, workshops and live performances.

My kids and my husband tagged along, and my hubby commented that he didn’t think he’d been in a room with as many half black, half white people in a LONG time, if ever. I joked with him that we’d be nice and not jump him, but if he saw us throwing up secret hand signs to each other, he better run!

Really, there are no secret mixed people hand signs, and there were also people there who were part Asian and Latino. I have a LOT of thoughts as a result of the festival, so I think I’ll tell you a little about them every day this week.

First off, yours truly helped present a workshop at the conference on Friday along with my fellow fabulous bloggers, Susan Ito, and our ringleader, Jason Sperber.

Our workshop was called Parent-Blogging at the Crossroads of Race and Family and it was essentially about how parenting isn’t just about picking out a stroller or deciding how much TV time your child is going to have. Parenting is also about being able to talk to your children about racism and support them when they do come across racism in their lives.

I never gave a damn what kind of stroller I pushed my sons in. My requirements? Safe, inexpensive, not too big, rated well by Consumer Reports. But I’ll tell you, from the time I found out I was pregnant, I thought about what I’d do if someone else’s child called my child the “n-word”… especially since beating the other child’s behind wasn’t an option I could pursue without jail time.

In the workshop we talked about how in the parent blogging community there often isn’t the acknowledgement that talking about race is also a parenting issue. Parents of color know this via experience, and they see their children face both direct and indirect racism. And if you’re a parent of a biracial child, you have a whole other layer of race-related things to talk to your child about.

I didn’t bring this up during the workshop, but I over the weekend I thought about some of the identity-based questions I grappled with before I’d even hit kindergarten:

1) What am I?
2) How come I have to say I’m black if my skin is so yellow? Why can’t I just say I’m tan or peach when someone asks me what I am?
3) Why do the those kids keep calling me Oreo and zebra?
4) If Daddy’s family is still alive, how come they never come around? Do they not like me because I’m black?

Anyway, my point is that parents of biracial kids also have to figure out how they’re going to address these kinds of questions in a thoughtful manner that builds their child’s self-esteem without making ALL the self-esteem come from racial identity.

I find myself wondering how often do most white American parents talk with their kids about race issues, whether that’s coming up with ways to build race unity, or how to respond when another child tells a racist joke or calls another kid a racial slur? Do white parents tell their middle school boys what to do if they’re with a black friend and the cops pull them over?

In my heart there’s a whisper that says that people don’t want to talk about race with their kids because of fear. They’re afraid they’ll say the wrong thing, or maybe they’re afraid they’ll have to take a closer look at their own heart.

I know I’ve had to. I have a white dad, a black mom and I still see color and have racist and/or prejudiced attitudes. I really believe that if you grow up in America, you’re racist whether you want to admit it or not. Maybe you’re not jumping up to join some sort of separatist group, but the racism is seeped into our very foundations so none of us is fully immune. I suppose the first step is to admit it and then you can move forward from there to heal yourself.

In any case, no one booed our workshop, thankfully, but wasn’t till it was over that I really stepped back and thought about where I was: I was at a conference where everywhere I looked, there were people who smiling and laughing, and they almost all happened to be either “mixed” or half of an interracial couple.

I’m curious about your experience: How do you talk to your kids about race, or, if you don’t have kids yet, how do you plan to talk to them about racism? What would you say parents of color need to say to their children about race nowadays? And what do white parents need to say?

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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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