One of the cool things about being the mom of a biracial child is that I feel like I’m bridging a gap. My posts on race are written from the perspective of a white woman in a country that has a history of racial tension.
Even though much of the blatant racial tension is gone, or perhaps, still subsiding, there is still a gap.
I don’t assume I will be able to ever tell any stories about race from the perspective of a person of color. That’s never been my intention. I can only tell my story from my perspective as a person who is looking out for someone who will be viewed in a certain way because of her color.
After my last post I got lots of feedback in varying spots, Facebook, Twitter, and emails. I realized that my presentation was pretty much as clear as mud. I left out lots of factors.
I had already discussed the issue with some friends in biracial families. When I told them the story, I didn’t need to explain the factors that are obvious to us.
I wrote that post based on what I already know of racial tension from nine years of living in Detroit; things that I know from having a relationship with a black man; perceptions of a mom in a world that is divided between two races.
Not that my world is consistently torn apart like it would have been 50 or 60 years ago. There is zero racial tension between our families. But there are subtle factors in the life of biracial families, that we just sort of accept and really, barely acknowledge even to each other because they truly aren’t devastating. They are just reality.
But most of my readers, it seems to me, are white. (I don’t have any actual statistics on this.) I realized in hindsight, there are many considerations that initially didn’t seem obvious to me to share.
The Preschool Dilemma’s Underlying Factors:
This isn’t about bringing diversity into her life. She has plenty. It’s not like she’s only with me and a bunch of white people all the time and I’m hoping to bring diversity into her life through schooling.
Annika is one of a handful of biracial kids we hang out with regularly. She sees her dad regularly. Although, Toyin’s family lives in Michigan, we visit them a few times a year and he sets up video chats with them. She is fully aware that her family has both skin colors.
However, she still doesn’t seem to understand that her paternal aunt and grandmother are not the only black women in the world. (We were at Costco one time and she saw a black woman and shouted “Grandma” at her.) Most of our biracial family friends have white mamas. It would be nice for her to interact daily with other black adults besides her dad.
We discuss skin color too. Ever since she has been speaking, we have discussed skin color. She knows that our skin is not the same color. She notices that her grandparents have different skin colors. We have talked about skin tone with her biracial friends.
The dilemma is not about what skin color the other children have. It’s more about the presentation of race and skin color; how she will be perceived; how she will perceive large groups of other skin colors. It’s all about context.
Both Toyin and I are in agreement that we really do prefer the “better” school. I wish there was a school similar to the minority one with educational values that are in alignment with ours. That would be ideal. (Actually, my preference would be to have a school filled with biracial kids and a sprinkling of various other skin tones.)
I have been told by numerous white people that the better schooling is more important and that we can always look for diversity outside of her schooling.
But the thing is, as she ages, she is going to spend more time in school than anywhere else combined, including time spent with her parents.
For the most part, I don’t think that her perceptions about her skin will be affected negatively in school. I think that nowadays, the majority of people are accepting of diversity and welcome it. Perhaps, even, crave it.
No matter the race factor, she would deal with issues that are largely out of my/our control in school. This just happens to be one factor about Annika’s life that is a consideration.
I have worried that she will be seen as exotic, and be sought out specifically because she is different. Although, that’s never been a problem for me, I have heard tales from others about that, and it presents much the same problems as being told negative things about yourself. It boxes you in. A Chinese friend of mine told me once that people are always trying to make her more hardcore than she really is. It didn’t make her life harder. But it was frustrating.
Annika will be judged for her skin, her looks, her gender, and her culture. I just want to make the best choices about where she spends her time to lessen the shock of being the “only one” or being the one who has to stand up for what’s right, or being the one who is in a sea of people, while well-meaning, simply don’t get it, or — IMHO, the worst one — being asked all the time if she’s adopted.
These are issues we wouldn’t have to face if we were going to a school with a mix of races. To those kids, she would just be another kid. They wouldn’t question her parentage or talk about her hair. She’d prove her smarts and her personality along with the rest of them. She wouldn’t be starting from a separate benchmark.
But if she goes to a mainstream school that simply preps for public school, will her intellect be challenged? Will she struggle to fit in because she is not on the same socioeconomic level as the other kids? Will she not understand the chatter on the playground because she doesn’t fit in with their personalities?
Those are the challenges I worry about with choosing that school.
There is no “right” answer. I wonder if when she’s older she will say to me that she wishes we had chosen the opposite of whatever we choose.
Inside the Subculture of Biracial Families:
Two of my mama friends with dark skin tones told me they would unequivocally “never” send their child to a school without other children of color. They have a perspective that I found valuable because they are seeing it as someone who actually was in that situation.
I have another friend who is white and her children are biracial. She prefers the largely minority school. But she feels more comfortable with her husband’s family than her own. Her children spend more time with their paternal family. This makes sense for them too.
Inside the subculture of biracial families, there are still so many varying factors. It’s a challenge that seems almost impossible to navigate, but simple all at the same time.
Parents just want the best for their child. To most parents, picking the school with the educational values that fit their own seems the obvious choice.
But for those who have racial issues to consider, it just makes it slightly more challenging.
Disparity in Schools:
What bugs me the most about this issue is the disparity in choices.
This might be a kick in the pants for some of my white friends, but it really bugs me that this doesn’t seem to be much of a consideration for white families. When they pick a school, do they consider the ratio of dark and white skin? Do they request that their private schools give preference to families of color, so that their children can be exposed to a variety of races? Do they ask that the school discuss race and skin color with their white children?
Bridging A Gap between Races
I honestly wonder how much of that goes into the thoughts of white families when they are navigating schooling choices. I’m sure some do think about it. But I wonder, just how much.
White people still hold a lot of sway in this country. But that’s changing. I’m sure it gets tiring for minority families to feel like they are the ones who have to hold up the diversity standards in this country.
It’s time for white folks to step up. Because honestly, with the way things are progressing, if we don’t join in the fight, we’re going to get left behind.