A few years ago I read a National Geographic article about what Americans will look like in 2050, exploring the trend toward cultural and racial mixing. The faces in the accompanying photographs featured goldeny hazel eyes and olive mocha skin framed by thick, shiny hair. I thought to myself, I wonder what it would be like to be part of a biracial family. Honest to God. Like, it did not even occur to me that I AM part of a biracial family, and we are raising a biracial child. By and large, it’s just such a non-issue that it’s not part of our daily life, save two constant sources of anxiety – fear and ignorance.
My husband, Eugene, is from southeastern India. He’s tall, dark and handsome. For real. I’m from south KC – specifically Grandview. I am short, white and smiley. We’ve been together for 17 years and our son, Clark, was born in 2011. He has Eugene’s brown eyes, my turned-up nose, both of our full lips, two crazy cowlicks and gorgeous mocha skin.
My experiences raising a biracial child seem to fall into three categories…the Amusing, the Educational, and the Unsettling.
One of my girlfriends is also the Caucasian half of a biracial couple. Her husband is Cambodian and their kids look like an awesome mix of both of their parents, just as Clark looks like a bit of me and a bit of Eugene. My friend and I took our kids to McDonald’s and a woman asked us if we were the nannies. “Nope.” Then they’re adopted? “Nope. Biological. Those two are hers, this one is mine.”
Clark was three when he declared that he has “Mommy on one side and Daddy on the other side” of his hands. His light palms are Mommy and the rich, brown backs of his hands are Daddy. He later found that Mommy is also on the bottoms of his feet. Honestly, this one just might fall into the category of The Sweetest.
We are in the heart of JoCo, where it can sometimes feel stiflingly white. When he was four, I enrolled Clark in a summer camp at my childhood church in south KCMO. After his first day, Clark said, “Mommy, there were kids like me in my class!” What do you mean, ‘kids like me,’ baby? “Brown kids like me!” In my experience, kids of every race see color, but usually as a physically distinguishing feature or as a coveted uniqueness, like when his friends point out their friend Clark as “the brown one” in a crowd or marvel at his killer tan.
Some of Clark’s most beloved brothers-from-another-mother live just across the street. As I chauffeured Clark and one of these boys, I eavesdropped and missed the beginning, but started listening when Clark responded, “No, that’s just the way I am because I’m half Indian, remember?” The (completely Caucasian) friend replied that, unlike Clark, he was 100% Indian. “Dude, no you’re totally not,” came Clark’s reply. “Your mom and dad aren’t from India!”
Just last week we were at a very small restaurant in the Ozarks with our extended family. As we waited for our food, Clark and his cousins entertained themselves by stacking creamers. After a few minutes, the cook came out to address our table and sternly said, “Could you please not allow your kids to play with the creamers? They are for everyone to use.” While parents of Caucasian kids might just think, wow, that’s a little over the top, I immediately thought, did she just come out here to say that because my kid is brown? I wasn’t the only one – my dad and sister-in-law both thought the same thing.
We live in south Overland Park, just a few miles from Austin’s Bar and Grill where Shrinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani were shot by a man who mistook the two Indian men for Iranian. That incident shook me to my core and is the source of my ever-present, shove-it-down-and-don’t-be-ridiculous fear that Clark or Eugene will one day be persecuted or harmed because they are brown.
This is truly the hardest thing for me about raising a brown child in the suburban Midwest – fear and ignorance. My son’s skin is brown, one set of his grandparents live in India and the other in Overland Park, he loves math, holds an American passport and flosses and dabs just like every other seven-year-old I know. But there will be people who only see his brown-ness and perceive it as something to fear. It breaks my heart to even think about it.
As Eugene and I continue to navigate nurturing a little boy who happens to be biracial, we have lots of conversations about Clark’s dad’s Indian heritage and have traveled to India and Malaysia for Clark to meet his family and help him understand that he comes from many parts of the world. We read books (The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler is a favorite) and talk openly about skin color and loving ourselves and others exactly as we are, while being curious and interested and appreciative of how different people can be.
Are you raising a biracial child? I’d love to hear about your experiences and resources in the comments!