Being Black is a noun, a verb and an adjective. Most people who identify as Black refer to the colour of their skin. However Blackness is also a cultural identity for a lot of us. As someone whose parents are both Black, I never had to question the skin I was in. Whenever I went anywhere, people would look at me and know that I was Black. I was never asked what I was mixed with or had to go through the guessing game of “what are you?” People didn’t fetishize my hair (this was the mid 80s and early 90s) so I didn’t have to deal with that either. That wasn’t the case for my little sister. On my mom’s side, I am the oldest and I have a younger sister. We are 5 years apart in age and we have different fathers. Hers is White. Mine is Black. Growing up with a Black mother and biracial Black sister, we constantly got asked questions about if we were really related. Or how could my mom be my sisters mom? Again, these were the 90s and most non-Black kids didn’t understand blended families or single parenthood. My sister and I ended up being the unicorns of our social circles. Whenever my mom would show up at a parent teacher conference night for my sister, there was always this quizzical look from me to my sister to my mom if they didn’t already know our family. Honestly, even as a kid I found that exhausting and annoying. But people are people so it was what it was.
I truly believe that being raised by a Black mother was the greatest advantage my sister and I had growing up. This is not to knock anyone of any other ethnicity; I simply say this because my sister and I got to see first hand the strength of a Black woman and all the ups and downs life can throw at you. We had front row seats to what we as Black women would most likely face and we also saw how to deal with it. My mom was (and still is) a bad ass. She is employed at one of the largest banks in Canada and is in senior management. She was also a band leader in the Toronto Caribbean Carnival (formerly known as Caribana) and knows how to run her own business. My mom showed my sister and I what the Black woman experience really is. She was one of few black women in management in her company. She’s faced racism and prejudice in the workplace and has had to learn how to manage her emotions and deal with it. She’s been a single mother to two kids, putting us through school and giving us opportunities to do things like travel with our school to different countries. She isn’t perfect. She definitely has her flaws. But she is the best example of a Black woman my sister and I could have chosen for a mother.
My mom always told me from a young age that I could date whoever I wanted. I remember liking this Caucasian boy when I was 8 years old. I asked my mom one day in the car if it was okay for me to like white boys. I remember her very calmly looking at me and telling me that I could like whoever I wanted. That skin colour did not matter. As long as I loved the person and they loved me and we were happy, that’s all that counted. And she told me do not let anyone tell me different. I recall that day so very clearly in my mind because it was such a formative moment in teaching me how to be anti-racist. I could love who I wanted and not feel ashamed about that. My sister also got similar messaging, albeit differently. We were always encouraged to have friends from different backgrounds and ethnicities. My little sister and I growing up in different suburbs of Toronto with my mom had friends from every race and religion. Our family is also very diverse and reflected a lot of the values we had. While my sister is biracial Black, she still celebrates aspects of her white Canadian & Irish culture. My mom always encouraged that and celebrated that for my sister, whether it was buying her concert tickets to her favourite indie rock band or CD’s (back when those were a thing) of her favourite band like Paramore or City & Colour. My mom encouraged my sister to always embrace both sides of her heritage, but never forget that in the eyes of the world, she is a Black woman and will be treated as such. She prepared her for life extremely successfully.
I sometimes wonder how white parents as a collective whole do the same for their biracial Black or Black children? Especially when their children have no Black role models in their lives in some cases? I say this with all gentleness but honesty, as I have personally witnessed two very distinctive types of parenting from white parents with black children. I have seen white parents who have biracial Black children who ensure their kids are exposed to their Black cultures in whatever form they take and by ensuring they are plugged into Black family units and communities. There are amazing white mothers and fathers who actively participate in Black cultural activities to bond with their kids. I see them every year on the road at Kiddies Carnival or in mas camps making costumes for their kids. I see the looks they sometimes get from Black people in certain spaces and feel so very proud of them for standing by their children and being present for them, no matter what others may think. They unconditionally love their kids and will withstand any criticism they may sometimes get from within our community. And I have witnessed white parents with biracial Black kids, who surround their children with white faces, put them in predominantly white spaces, do not engage with anything Black culturally related and create trauma in these young Black children. I personally know of white mothers who have called their Black children n******. I know biracial Black children who do not identify with being Black and do not consider themselves Black. I have had white mothers openly fetishize their children's hair, skin and eye colour to me. I’ve had white mothers tell me about their children's “good hair” and say thank God their baby is mixed. This is a very real reality for some biracial Black children or children who are raised by racist or prejudice white people. To be fair, this happens in Asian, South Asian, Latinx and Middle Eastern households as well. I’ve witnessed this up close and personally. But my specific focus in this article is to bring awareness to white parenting of Black children especially in a time like this.
I was particularly triggered by this because of Abby Johnson's horrific performance at the Republican National Convention this week, where she implied that her adopted Black son should be racially profiled by police over her white sons. For those of you who don’t know her, she is a former Director of Planned Parenthood who had a “come to Jesus” moment after watching an abortion take place. She apparently adopted three children, two white and one Black. She said the following about her Black son: “Right now, Jude is an adorable, perpetually tan-looking little brown boy. But one day, he’s going to grow up and he’s going to be a tall, probably sort of large, intimidating-looking-maybe brown man. And my other boys are probably gonna look like nerdy white guys.” She then continued on to say, “[S]tatistically, when a police officer sees a brown man like my Jude walking down the road — as opposed to my white nerdy kids, my white nerdy men walking down the road — because of the [prison population] statistics that he knows in his head, that these police officers know in their head, they’re going to know that statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons.” She used this as her justification to back up her opinion that her Black son should be racially profiled by police.
While some people reading this may think this is extreme or a far stretch, I can personally assure you it is not. There are white parents who genuinely feel this way about their Black children. As a side note, there are also Black parents who feel this way about their children as well but that's a conversation for another time. With the current wave of the continuous murdering of Black bodies and police brutality, I know as a Black woman and as a human being, I’m traumatised. But I’ve also been shown by a Black mother how to pick myself up and navigate through the world with and in my Blackness. My sister and I both have been shown how to handle the weight of our Blackness. I wonder who biracial Black kids have as a Black role model to look up to? Who looks like them in their life that they can ask questions to who will truly understand them?
I think interracial love is a beautiful thing. I wouldn't be here without it. But so is Black love. I definitely wouldn’t be here without that. Having role models in your children's lives who look like them and can help them process their Black experiences is so vitally important to your Black child's psychological development. We need community and to see people who look like us. And we need unwoke white parents to do better. If you want things to change, then let’s start with you. Because once you start reflecting unconditional love and acceptance to your children, they will be able it recognize it and then show it to others and you will start to see the changes you are asking for. It’s an inside job first though.