This is our third Ask Lisa Advice—an advice column found exclusively on Multiracial Media. Whether you are a multiracial person or the parent of a multiracial child, we hope the questions posed and the responses offered are helpful.
Ask Lisa Advice Question #1
My mother, who was black, died ten years ago, leaving my father, who is white, feeling hopeless and depressed. They had been married almost thirty years and he was somewhat dependent on her.
Six months ago, my father, who is sixty-eight years old, began dating a new woman. It is serious now and they are planning to move in together, possibly to get married. This woman is white and for some reason I am having a problem with this. The truth is I am furious with my father, though I have not told him how I feel.
I should be happy for my father. I am not a child; I am thirty-five and married myself (to a black woman). I am a proud black man, but also mixed and I know genetically I am just as white as black. So what’s wrong with me? Why should the race of my father’s fiancée upset me so much?
I wonder if your father’s choice of a white woman feels like a betrayal of your mother’s memory?
Normally, when an adult child harbors unexpressed anger toward a parent, I would suggest a gentle conversation to air thoughts in a constructive way. In your case, however, I think it’s important for you to first explore your feelings on your own or with a therapist.
If I were your therapist, I’d want to know more about your relationship with both parents. Were you close with your mother, for example? Did you identify more with her or with your father? You mention being a proud, black man, yet you say you are just as white as you are black. This makes me wonder how race was discussed in your family while you were growing up. Did race-related conversations take place exclusively between you and your mother? Was Dad involved? Either way, I can understand feeling abandoned in light of your father’s new relationship. Dad’s choice may change his status in your mind. As a white guy dating a white woman, Dad is no longer just the surviving spouse of an interracial marriage.
You acknowledge that your father is no longer depressed since meeting this woman. I am sure you know he is entitled to his happiness. Still, once you have sorted out your feelings, I think a conversation is in order. You can tell him you need to know that by choosing a white woman, he is not distancing himself from you. There is nothing wrong with asking him to reaffirm his love for you, for your mother’s memory and the family you once were.
Ask Lisa Advice Question #2
I am twenty-two and white, so I hope it is ok for me to submit a question. Here it goes: I am starting to date a black guy who is handsome and smart and funny and kind and so far seems to like me as much as I like him (which is a lot). Since I have never dated a black guy before, I need some advice.
Are there certain things I shouldn’t mention? Like the police, in case he has been racial-profiled? Or questions I shouldn’t ask?
Nervous in a good way
First let me normalize: Most people in the heady beginning of a relationship are nervous-in-a-good-way, excited about getting to know the new person, worried about saying the wrong thing. And, everyone in every new relationship, everywhere, will say the wrong thing at some point. When that happens, it will be embarrassing, but it won’t be a very big deal UNLESS you make it one. Find your commonalities, embrace the new-ness. Don’t obsess over which topics are taboo or you’ll kill your intimacy before it has a chance to get going.
Also, any time someone is different from you physically, you might be fascinated with the differences, but try not to belabor it. Do not objectify his blackness. Instead, see him as a guy. Yes, he’s black and that’s one of the things that makes him who he is, but that’s not all he is—just as you are many things besides white. Talk about your families, the cultures in the homes you were brought up in. This kind of thing builds intimacy and helps you learn about one another in a healthy, organic way.
Ask Lisa Advice Question #3
Our daughter, whom we adopted from Guatemala, is eleven. We have always made her culture a part of our home and learned Spanish as a family so that she would never feel distanced from her home and culture.
In the past few months she has been rejecting everything related to her home country. She took down the pictures from her wall, got her long hair cut and layered and is refusing to speak or study Spanish at all. When we asked her why, she began to cry and said she is sick of us forcing her to be Guatemalan. She says she is American and that’s final. She even wants to take French in Middle School instead of entering a specialized conversational Spanish program.
We believe our daughter comes from a beautiful land and it hurts us to have her reject it. How can we help her accept her culture again?
2 Worried American Mommies
First, I have to commend you on all the work you have done to support your daughter’s connection to her culture and language of origin. Regardless of how she feels now, she can one day visit her homeland and feel a sense of belonging. You have created a safe, loving, accepting environment and this will serve her well all her life.
That said, I think it is time to follow her cues and dial it back for now. Nearing adolescence, her peers are more important to her than before, as is fitting in. Tweens are on the cusp of identity formation—a period where they will be figuring out who they are apart from parents’ influences. Teens tend to break away from parents, trying out new ways of dressing, new music, new (and sometimes infuriating) behaviors. For adopted kids, the teen years usually involve thinking about birth parents and their heritage, about what it means to come from an unknown family somewhere else in the world, wondering who they’d be if circumstances had been different.
In your daughter’s case, though, breaking away from you and your wife also means shaking off (temporarily, I am sure) everything you’ve taught her, including the embrace of Guatemala. If you force the issue now, she may truly rebel and reject her heritage in a way that could be harmful to her evolving self. However, if you let her be—let her experiment, let her take French, let her wear lederhosen if she feels like it!—she will have a stronger, more confident, American and Guatemalan and thoroughly unique identity in the end.
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