A mixed race child is baking with her black mother


‘You Don’t Look Black’: How I’m Talking to My Kids About Being Mixed Race

Mar 15, 2018

“Mama, am I Black or white?” This was the question I received one night before bed when my son was in Grade 1. A boy in his class had been called the N-word at school and he was full of questions.

He wanted to know what it meant and if someone could call him that. Some of the kids had insisted that he is Black because (to their eyes) I am Black. Others insisted that he’s not because he doesn’t "look Black."

Related Reading: Why Parents Need to Talk to Their Kids About Racism

Although the kids on the school yard perceive me as Black, I am the child of a Jamaican born mother and a Scottish/Irish-Canadian born father who met in Winnipeg in the 1970s. As a mixed child, questions of racial identity are not new to me. I think of my kids as second generation mixed Canadians — the cultures of their grandparents are layered and entwined. Their skin is fair enough that they could "pass as white" but both have a head full of curls and tan to a golden brown in the summer sun. Meanwhile their Italian-Canadian born father will burn on a partly cloudy June day.

They are a beautiful blend of Jamaican, Italian, Scottish and Irish-Canadian heritage. I encourage them to celebrate everything that makes them unique and resist the question: "Am I Black or white?”

We are both and we don’t talk in terms of percentages of this race or that culture. Although I encourage them to internally embrace this perspective of their racial identity, the broader society will try to make them choose or choose for them.

"I encourage them to celebrate everything that makes them unique and resist the question: 'Am I Black or white?'"

I explain to my kids that most people will perceive them as white, particularly as they get older and their peers don’t know what their mother looks like. We talk about how that assumption of whiteness will come with many privileges and that comments or jokes will be made in front of them that would not be made in front of a person of colour. Many of our conversations are about how important it is to speak up in those moments and resist being a silent bystander.

We talk about how to listen to the voices and lived experiences of different people. I fill their bookshelves with stories from different cultures, communities and traditions so they can learn about the historical and contemporary realities of racism, oppression and discrimination. We return to these stories again and again as I help them to navigate that line between speaking up and listening. My hope is that through these stories they will also learn that we can celebrate our differences and discover our common humanity.

Related Reading: How We're Teaching Indigenous History to Our Children

Their experiences of racism won’t mirror mine or their grandmother’s. But they witness it nonetheless. They see my husband and I get frustrated when, yet again, we are asked by a cashier if we are together even though we’ve been pulling our groceries out of the same cart. They were beside me in the toy store when we came upon a white family trying to convince their daughter to choose a white doll instead of the Black one that was clutched to her chest. I see how confused they are by a world that continues to insist on organizing people on racial lines.

Their view of our society is through a multifaceted lens, and I can’t give them easy answers for questions about their racial identity. As second generation mixed kids in Canada there are no easy answers, boxes or tiles on the mosaic. But they are in a special place to be able to help answer questions — for themselves and others — about identity and race in Canada.

Article Author Kara Stewart-Agostino
Kara Stewart-Agostino

Read more from Kara here.

Kara is the mom of two children, ages nine and six, who keep her busy with baseball, gymnastics, music and lots and lots of crafts. She is the owner of KSA Personal Training that she runs primarily out of her home studio. As a fitness enthusiast, she loves dabbling in different activities and pushing herself to try something new. Her current fitness loves include powerlifting, boxing and a weekly beer softball league with her husband while the kids cheer them on!

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