Advice for the Multiracial Community Question 1
I am 19 and a college sophomore. Most people who see me think I’m white, though that is neither the case nor how I identify. My mother is Japanese American and my father is biracial, black and white, though very light-skinned with red hair that I inherited. Anyway, I consider myself a person of color, though my red hair and the shape of my eyes (which are—hello?—Asian) makes everyone think I am Finnish! I am very close to my grandmother, who spent a lot of her childhood in an internment camp. Her history and my father’s black history are the strongest pieces of my identity but when I tried to join the Asian Students’ Alliance and the Black Students’ Union at my college I was called “White boy” and didn’t feel welcome at all. I don’t know what to do to be accepted by my own people. Please advise.
–Not a White Guy
It is frustrating to constantly be mistaken for something that you are not, an all-too-familiar experience for multiracial people. In your case, I imagine it is particularly annoying to be taken for a member of a group who deeply wronged your grandmother and your father’s ancestors.
However, you can’t walk around with a sign that says I’M NOT WHITE, and even if you did, most people wouldn’t bother to read it. People make assumptions based on appearance and, false though they may be, these assumptions—and your awareness that others hold them—are part of your identity. This is called “ascribed identity,” meaning that people assign you the race they see. Having a white appearance is something you will always have to deal with. It comes with unearned and perhaps unwanted privileges. It is not who you are, but how you are seen and must be acknowledged.
That said, you are every bit as Japanese and black as you feel, no matter how many unaware strangers ascribe whiteness to you. In order to be seen as black or Asian, you may have to volunteer this information, but your explanation can be a simple and plain as you wish. “Yes, I am African American.” “Yes, I am Japanese American.” “Yes, I am multiracial.” Your true ethnic identity is your own.
If people question your membership in your own groups, you have the option of giving them more details. On the other hand, you can answer with one of my favorite questions: “why do you ask?” This will force the other party to confront their own biases rather than putting the onus on you.
Advice for the Multiracial Community Question 2
I have a question about people who adopt a child from another race or country. Is it beneficial for a couple to have friends or acquaintances that are of the same race or color as the child they plan to adopt? Many adopted children who are not around or grow up with people who look like them, may feel isolated or have a problem with their own identity.
I wish every adoptive family would ask this question before welcoming their children home! Years ago, when I worked for an adoption agency, we strongly encouraged families adopting transracially to move to a diverse community if they did not live in one already. We also recommended cultivating friendships with other transracial adoptive families as well as people of the child’s race or culture.
There was a time in recent history where adoptive parents were told that love was the only thing needed to make up for a child’s experience of feeling different from others in the family and community. As you suggest, adult adoptees who grew up under these circumstances did feel detached and isolated, regardless of how loved they felt.
Advice for the Multiracial Community Question 3
I am black, my wife is Venezuelan, and our son has a café au lait complexion. Back in September, my son and his second grade classmates had to do their self-portraits to put up on the wall for Parent’s Night. All the kids were given were boxes of crayons which had just one shade of (dark) brown. My seven-year-old looked at the crayons and couldn’t find a one that looked like him so he chose the pink crayon.
He made a terrific picture of himself all smiling and pink with curly black hair. My wife and I were fine with it. But then on Parents’ Night, his teacher pulled us aside and said she was concerned about our boy’s self-esteem and self-worth and all that. We thanked her but ignored the advice because he seems fine and happy and never has an issue about his race.
Then last month, the teacher calls us in to say there was an “incident.” The kids had to draw themselves again. Again my son chose the pink crayon. Not only did the teacher scold him for not using the brown crayon, the other children jumped on the band wagon too and told him he wasn’t pink, he was brown and that’s the crayon he should use. My son—understandably if you ask me—got mad at this point and grabbed the crayons and started breaking and throwing them. The teacher suggested we get him evaluated.
My wife and I disagree on how to proceed. She thinks we should do the evaluation just to prove the teacher wrong. I say no way: I want to complain to the principal and have the teacher disciplined. Who is right?
Pink Crayon Dad
What an infuriating experience for your little boy! I would throw crayons too if I were in his shoes. I have three pieces of advice for you and your wife:
1) Validate your son’s feelings. Tell him it was fine to depict himself using whichever crayon he wanted and that, while it is not okay to throw things at school, you understand why he was so angry. Then present him with a box of multicultural crayons. You can order them online; they come from various brands. These crayon sets contain all shades of peach, beiges and browns to match a wide range of skin colors. He should be able to find a shade that is close to his own.
2) Arrange a meeting at the school with your wife, the teacher and another school staff member that might be supportive, possibly a school social worker or the principal. For your son’s sake, stay calm, listen to what the teacher has to say (she may temper her reaction to your son’s behavior in front of her colleagues). Then explain that your son’s frustration came from being asked to complete a task he did not have the tools for: drawing himself with no color that suited him.
Bring along a box of multicultural crayons. If possible, offer to donate a few boxes to the class for the purpose of drawing self-portraits. I am sure there are other children on the class who struggle to find a matching shade. Maybe offer to come and read a story about multiracial families to the class, another step that will make your son feel heard and connected.
3) On the other hand, if your son already has a set of multicultural crayons and still selects the pink crayon to draw his skin tone, it may be time to have an open and honest discussion about heritage and color and feeling positive about the “skin he’s in.” Read him stories where the characters are diverse, especially multiracial, so he can see himself reflected on the page in a positive way. Here is a great list
The advice offered in this Advice for the Multiracial Community column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.
The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, and this website (multiracialmedia.com) and their individual and/or collective employees, representatives, agents, principals, members, successors and/or assigns are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions.
By submitting any information to this website, you grant the column, its author, this website (multiracialmedia.com) and their individual and/or collective employees, representatives, agents, principals, members, successors and/or assigns, permission to publish it on this site or elsewhere including print publications, and this column, its author, and the website (multiracialmedia.com) and their individual and/or collective employees, representatives, agents, principals, members, successors and/or assigns reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity. There is no guarantee that any submission or question will be responded to.