My co-artist in this venture is Epaul Julien, who is a photographer and artist with two bi-racial sons. It was talking about how we are parenting our children that brought us to launch this site. Most of what I am writing and reading about has more to do with being a white mother to a black son – Tin has an identity that is African American and I have my own hodge podge identity. But let’s talk about that for a moment, do you know how many people, black and white, tell me they think that Tin must have some “white” in him? It’s sort of appalling. Black, African American, non-white comes in many shades of non-white and I’m not sure what, if anything, makes people think that Tin’s ancestors were anything but African American. Whatever it is, it infuriates me because it’s just assumptions based on nothing that is present.
Epaul’s situation is different, he is a black man raising two bi-racial children who have to forge their identity as being “other” – not black, not white. From my perspective, I grew up only accepting one half of my racial diversity, the Sephardic side, my father’s heritage. I was to anyone who asked, a Spanish Jew, despite the fact that as I have mentioned before I look like an Irish Catholic on the outside. My father, my brothers, my father’s family are all dark eyed, dark hair, olive complected and me – lily white. I’m not quite sure why I just chose to ignore the side of me that made me that way – my mother’s English/Irish heritage – but I did. So I just set myself up for what followed – always having to explain why I didn’t check the box that said “white.”
I read something recently that said there are more children of diverse race, from diverse families, than at any other time in the history of the world living in the United States. That’s awesome in its own way because it will help all children from different races not feel so alien like I did sitting at friends’ dinner tables and being asked what my heritage was. “I’m a Spanish Jew,” I would say proudly to raised eyebrows. Even the story of Spanish Jews seemed fraught with fable – kicked out during the Crusades, exactly when America was invaded by Columbus, spread throughout the Middle East and Africa. It all seemed like a myth. Until that is, King Juan Carlos of Spain in 1992 said that after 500 years he was welcoming the Jews back to Spain to reclaim their heritage. Ah, vindication, finally, but I was already 40 when this happened.
I had gone to Spain and realized I am no more Spanish than my brothers and knew from the nationalism that exists there I would never be accepted as Spanish, even though I had carved my identity in America on that heritage. I read an excerpt from this blog about a woman who is raising her bi-racial daughter and how there is no blueprint for her child’s identity. It’s hard enough that black girls are still trying to embrace their beauty, and white girls for that matter – or let’s just say it like it is: every girl struggles to call themselves beautiful – now that is a huge topic – but to then have a composite identity to embrace, well you can see how maybe it’s a little hard on bi-racial children, despite the fact that the times are a changing.
I sent an email this morning to friends of mine, all white, who are raising their children and asked them if they broach the subject of race with their kids. I’ve read, heard, and discovered that a lot of white parents tend to say they are color blind, which is how they are raising their kids. But being in a family of color, we don’t have the luxury of color-blindness because people notice our color, our difference, from the get-go. And being color blind is again a rejection of something – mainly, color.
What are some of the ways we could all help our families that are bi-racial, the kids we meet who are bi-racial, and our friends who are bi-racial feel better about their unique and rich heritage? Remember, our own president is bi-racial, but is referred to as “black” 100% of the time, which denies one side of his heritage.