This Week, I offer advice to a Biracial woman considering some controversial gifts for her sister’s children.
My sister and I are both Biracial, Black and White. I am married to a Black man while her husband is White, but our children somehow look about the same in terms of complexion/hair etc., so people think my three and her two are all siblings. The thing is, my sis is not, in my humble opinion, raising her children to value their Blackness at all. They all identify more with their White side and are more involved with her husband’s family than ours and I think not aware of Black culture.
When I express this to my sister, she does not argue but she puts me off saying the kids are too young to have to deal with race issues. Hers are five and seven while mine are six (twins) and nine. When we were young, race was talked about in our home, so her kids’ age is not an excuse. I keep scheming to take matters into my own hands to teach my nieces some pride one way or another.
Last year I invited my sister’s family for Kwanzaa but they declined, so there went that. This year my plan is to buy her children story books about Black culture or dolls that are Black with natural style hair. Should I check with my sister beforehand or not? My instinct is no, but despite our different ideas about child-rearing, we are close and I don’t want to upset my sister. Interested in your opinion.
Without being told anything about your childhood, I can guess that somehow, you and your sister grew up with different feelings about your Multiracial identities. Specifically, it sounds as if you are more connected to Blackness than she is, if only evidenced by whom each of you married.
Even if two people have the same racial mix, the same parents and the same childhood settings, they can still have disparate ways of identifying.
Similarly, parents of multigenerational Multiracial children address racial issues differently and at different times. Also, since your children have a Black father and hers does not, I imagine yours have greater access to Black culture through extended family. Since your sister’s husband is White, she needs to take the lead on their children’s connection to Blackness. She is fortunate to have you to turn to for direction.
That said, it sounds like you want to offer your guidance even though she has not yet sought it. If you are truly close and she is not resistant to hearing you out, it may be okay to proceed just the way you plan—with enriching books and toys that celebrate the Black experience and Black physical traits. I lean toward presenting the idea to your sister—and her husband, whom I hope is curious and supportive—ahead of time. This way, you can launch a discussion with them about your wishes for her kids to value their entire heritage.
On the other hand, if you sense your sister’s annoyance that you are “pushing a Black agenda” (to borrow a phrase), you may want to tread carefully. Creating a rift between you and your sister’s family would be hardest on all the children, hers especially. So, if she is truly resistant to the gift ideas, I would propose getting together with your sister alone to express your concerns.
Let her know that you are not determined to force anything down her throat or to negate the children’s embrace of other parts of their heritage. Explain that, in our society, Blackness is often denigrated in subtle and not so subtle ways.
The physical and cultural manifestations of African Ancestry are often subject to the worst forms of disparagement, which is why love of and respect for one’s own Black heritage must be taught.
I think the gifts you are considering are a beautiful way to begin doing this.
You mention that race was talked about in your home growing up. I wonder whether and how those discussions may have contributed to your sister’s avoidance. Clearly your journey to embrace your full identity is one you took on without her. In order to bridge this gap, you may need to plan a discussion aimed at understanding one another better. Create a safe space for you and Sis to speak about race and identity, setting ground rules, agreeing not to criticize one another, promising to listen to each other with full attention. Fill her in on your race-identity story, encourage her to share her own, and listen hard. Then, explain why you and your husband are raising your children to talk about and think about race from an early age. Let your sister express her full opinion on the matter too.
If the conversation doesn’t open her eyes and change her mind, consider buying the books or dolls you intended to buy for their birthdays, or next year’s holidays. When the time comes, stress for your sister that there is no political agenda involved, just love for her children and love for the heritage you share.
Don’t give up.