One year ago today, I met six-year-old Mattie (below) at a Loving Day event. Families had gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Loving vs. Virginia, the 1967 landmark Supreme Court decision that made interracial marriage legal across the United States.
Between blowing bubbles and dancing, Mattie told me: “Today is a special day and it doesn’t matter if you’re black, brown or any other color; it’s just about your love.”
Her dad, Allen, shared, “It’s important to be here because we want the future to be brighter, safer and more diverse for them. We want to show them that that exists now and make it more commonplace going forward.”
In the last 50 years, the number of interracial marriages has increased dramatically — as has public acceptance of these marriages. Yet parents still face a variety of challenges around raising multiracial kids. Allen and his wife, Kelly (with their kids, below) said that they sometimes face stares and the question, “Is that really your child?”
At the same time, they recognize that they have a rich opportunity to celebrate the diversity inherent in their families. “We are proud to be a mixed family,” said Allen, “and we show our kids what that means on a daily basis by the way we live, love, and respect all around us. We make sure our kids understand both sides of their family history and the history behind what our family means to this country.”
Dr. Kelly Jackson is a social worker, scholar and multiracial mom raising a multiracial child. Her research shows that for multiracial children, a strong racial or ethnic identity is crucial to their overall well-being. She told me, “Parental support is the most critical component of racial identity development. Yet research consistently finds parents avoid discussing race with their multiracial children, and this has negative consequences on their identity development.”
Dr. Jackson highlighted the significant responsibility parents and caregivers have to help multiracial children find confidence as they navigate our world — and this work starts with parents examining their own values, beliefs, and biases about race and multiracial identity.
“How we think and talk about race is often framed by dominant narratives that can be oppressive to persons and families living multiracially,” said Jackson. It’s particularly important to look at the subtle ways people — including themselves and extended family members — perpetuate stereotypes.
Teaching kids to be “colorblind” is not the answer, said Jackson. She said that parents and caregivers raising multiracial children “should start talking with them early and often about race and identity”; it’s better for them to engage in those discussions at home before they “encounter racism and discrimination in their social environments.”
If you are raising a multiracial child (or any child), here are some tips from experts.
- Keep it simple. When talking to younger children, remember that your child is less likely to ask you about race, but more likely to pay attention to your behaviors and actions to help them make sense of their racial identity.
- Talk about similarities and differences. Within and outside the family, talk about the real, normal and wonderful physical differences we see — from hair texture, skin color, height, weight, physical abilities, etc. To emphasize our commonalities, you might share the Daniel Tiger strategy song “In some ways we are different; in so many ways, we are the same.”
- Build a vocabulary. Help them develop a vocabulary that affirms their multiraciality — invite them to create their own name for their mixed racial background. If children label themselves, they can own it.
- Use age-appropriate media. Expose your multiracial child to age-appropriate stories and media that feature diverse characters who live in multiracial families. On PBS KIDS, this includes characters on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Sid the Science Kid, and Martha Speaks.
- Expand your network. The parents I spoke with at the Loving Day picnic encouraged multiracial families to find an accepting community where they can feel safe to talk about issues that arise and also celebrate their uniqueness. If you haven’t already, grow your social and familial networks to include others who share the racial and ethnic dimensions of the family. If you don’t have an in person-network, consider exploring online spaces such as Embrace Race.