I’ve struggled to find the balance of raising our children to appreciate both their Vietnamese American and their African American roots. As an interracial family, my husband and I teach our kids to love both parts of themselves. We tell them that they’re lucky to have two cultures (three if you count our Louisianian heritage) in their family. We don’t want to make them choose one race or the other, because we don’t believe that it’s an either/or situation. They can choose to celebrate both of their cultures.
That might come off as naive and idealistic to some, but I’m not alone in this belief. Even the census now allows us to check more than one box when it comes to race.
More and more, I’ve realized that while my daughter will be celebrated for her gorgeous skin and springy curls, society won’t see those same traits in my son once he becomes a teenager. Some people will only see him as a black teen, and all the perils that come with being perceived in that manner. Like my husband, he might get pulled over for driving a nice car in a nice (read: white) neighborhood, or followed around in a store because he’s profiled as a thug.
I cried the day I realized that my son will always be a black boy to some people. To people who can hurt him. They won’t see past his full lips and his brown skin.
I could easily convince myself that my mixed race kids have the best of both worlds if Michael Brown’s death was an isolated incident. Yet his death is not. There was Trayvon Martin who was gunned down in 2012. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice who was killed this week for holding a toy gun.
Tamar Rice was only seven years older than my son. In less than seven years, my husband will sit have to sit him down and give him the talk. Not about the birds and the bees, but how to act in certain situations so he doesn’t get hurt, or even worse, killed.
As parents of biracial children who are half black, we have to talk to our children about racism sooner than we’d like. No parent wants to take away a child’s innocence about the harsh world we live in. But I’d rather do it myself than let a stranger tear down my children because of the color of their skin.
I don’t have a ton of answers when it comes to raising my biracial children. I do know that I’m not alone. I have a community who faces similar challenges and friends who support me. The most important thing we can do is to start the conversation. Talk about race. Ask questions. We cannot change if we do not seek to learn about lives outside our own.
Like me, you’re probably wondering what you can do about the events unfolding in Ferguson, MO. Here are some things you can do:
- Donate to the Ferguson Municipal Public Library, who has vowed to stay open to give kids a safe haven because schools are closed due to protests.
- Read 12 Things White People Can Do Now Because of Ferguson
- Talk to your children about racism. Not sure where to start? Lee and Low offers a list of resources to help, no matter their age.
Photo: Thien-Kim Lam