Monday, July 2, 2007

Tough stuff-which is more important for kids-stability or building a racial identity?

Each year thousands of parents in 'non-traditional' families grapple with the question of the importance of stability (staying in one place for a long time) for their kids and building their racial identity.

And yes, it a lot of cases it is an 'either or' questions.

A look at Census data quickly will tell us the trans-racial families, i.e. multiple races represented-a Caucasian couple adopting a black baby and inter-racial racial families-two people of different races producing children- are two of the fastest growing segments of the US population.

So unless these families live in a truly multi-cultural area, someone in the family probably sticks out like a sore thumb. Which, of course, is the heart of the racial identity/stability controversy for many families.

Jaiya Johns, the author of "Black Baby, White Hands" tells the story of his childhood growing up in Los Alamos New Mexico-where he never saw another black person and only saw other people of color when he discovered nearby Native Americans.

While his childhood was happy and stable, he and his brother did not have any role black role models. They had no one in their family who could understand-really understand what was like to be black in an all white world. It took him many years of exploration and discovery to become comfortable in his own skin. If you haven't read it, you should. You might also like " The Color of Water" which is the story of the relationship and challenges of a family-also stable-with a black father and Caucasian Jewish mother.

But is stability enough? How do you instill a sense of someone's racial who doens't share skin color, background, ethnicity, etc.

If you were to look at adoption message boards today, Caucasians adopting black children are more aware of the need for their children to develop a strong sense of culture. On those boards you will lots of questions about caring for their children's hair and skin. You might not see anything about building a racial identity.

Caucasian parents of Asian children can teach their children about Asia, but they can't teach them to be Asian. That can only come from those who have 'been there, done that'. Caucasian parent of children of color can understand the issues on an intellectual basis-but no matter what they do they will never have the experiences that their children of color face.

Children of mixed race often land somewhere in the middle and tend to move toward other people of color where they feel that they 'belong'. The parent of color in that family is likely to have a better understanding of what the child needs to develop a strong racial self.

So what do you do? Do you move to Chinatown if your children is Asian and you are not? Do you move to multi-cultural neighborhood? Or do you move at all? If you are in a homogeneous neighborhood (and yes, they do still exist) what can you do to help you child of color build a racial identity when he doesn't have any live-in role models.

Tough questions to answer to be sure and deserve careful consideration-and it is hard not to want to jump to either side of the fence or the other.

Some experts say that kids need stability above all else and the racial identity piece will take care of itself-although one would wonder how that could be. Other experts will tell you to move into a neighborhood and school where you child will be living and learning with other children of color-of course, in this scenario the parent would be the sore thumb. You would really have to ask yourself if you could raise 'healthy' children if you were in the minority position. Would you feel comfortable? Could you put your own biases on hold-letting kids experience 'human kind and not just 'our' kind'?

Without moving, parents can try and build a network of people of color that will help their kids see how adults of color 'are in the world'. You can fill you home with items from their culture and cultures around the world. You can travel. You can select books that portray all people realistically. A great example of this is "The Candy Store" by Jan Wahl (read the review at, you can educate the educators by providing ideas and solutions for how to incorporated multi-cultural/multi-racial/multi-whatever into schools and classroom.

And yes, you will have to run around town tearing down the signs for the Chinese Auction when you see them and speak up when someone belittles any group.

Whichever you chose, stability or racial identity, you are going to have to advocate, educate and take action every day to help create a world that every kid and family feels that they belong.

With a little luck maybe you can even have both!

With respect,

No comments: