Ask Lisa: Talking about Blackness … When Mom is keeping “Mum”

Talking About BlacknessIn today’s column, a reader’s ex-wife discourages him from talking about Blackness with their three Multigenerational Multiracial children.

Dear Lisa,

I need your advice. I’m a biracial father of three wonderful MGM youths. They all lived with their biracial mother after we separated. Needless to say, it was not the most ideal situation. I did the “divorced father thing” and saw my children regularly until they were old enough to move in with me. (My youngest, my daughter still lives with her mother.) 

The problem is that their mother, while mixed with black and white, has zero attachment to her black side. She was adopted and raised by an affluent Jewish family in a very upscale suburb. She has never really embraced much of her black culture. 

She’s an adult. She has the right to see herself in any form she wants. My concern is what type of long-lasting affect this will have on my impressionable children. I do speak to and introduce them to both of their cultures. My oldest son even purchased a kilt once. But I would like them to have the full spectrum of their Scottish, Irish, African and Czech history before making any decision on their own. Looking for any advice to help them along their party to oneness.


Dear R.E.,

So many parents of multiracial children wonder about introducing and talking about Blackness—or any race to which their children are connected genetically but not culturally. Concerning Black identity, the process is even more fraught because of the way African ancestry is denigrated and stereotyped—not just in this country, but all over the world. Growing up with no connection to her own Black heritage, your ex-wife may have internalized this negativity, which is why she is dodging the subject.

I whole-heartedly agree with you: Denying your kids access to their heritage could be damaging to their self-concepts.

Try Talking about Blackness in a Celebratory way that Counters Toxic Stereotypes

Luckily, your children have you. Granted, as a divorced dad, you have limited access to them and can’t fully control what they are taught regarding their roots. However, you do have the window of their youth. Children are naturally curious. It shouldn’t be too hard to pique their interest regarding where they come from and who they are. Your older son especially made a point of wearing a kilt to connect with your Scottish heritage. This is a big step and an excellent segue to talking about the rest of his background. Time to start talking about Blackness. I don’t know where you live, but I have heard that the new African American History Museum in Washington DC is amazing. (I have not had the pleasure myself, and I know it is hard to get tickets, but I can’t wait to take my kids there!) It might be a wonderful place to take your children if possible. There are also books you can read with them, as well as other museums you can take them to. Perhaps a trip to introduce them to your Black extended family members would be a good start too.

Your ex-wife didn’t have this opportunity, which may be why she’s minimizing the need for your children to understand their history. For her sake and theirs, I hope she becomes more open-minded and learns about her own roots. Most adoptive families these days do make an effort to acquaint children with their ethnic backgrounds. It is unfortunate that your ex-wife’s parents didn’t do this. Being cut off from her biological heritage, she may have identity struggles of her own. You are well within your rights to expose your children to the full beauty of their heritage. I know you only have custody of the older two, so it will be more challenging to do this with your youngest for now.

In any case, please don’t give up on talking about Blackness with your children. Trust your instincts and believe in the influence you have.





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Published on: April 26, 2017

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