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  • Nicole Doyley

Why is Racial Identity Important?

Updated: Mar 13



I’ve been thinking a lot about identity these days. Some Christians believe that our children’s spiritual identity is all that matters, but this implies that God wasn’t intentional about, nor does He care about, our ethnic details. Of course He was intentional and of course He cares! And Christian or not, we all might neglect instilling racial or ethnic identity because we’re so busy teaching our kids to survive and thrive and we don’t have the mental or emotional energy to teach them one more thing. Yet ethnic/racial identity is a crucial part of who our children are. I’ll share three illustrative stories. First, a story about the Maroons. The Maroons were enslaved Africans in Jamaica who refused to remain in bondage. Fierce and proud, they revolted against the British who were so overwhelmed that they granted the Maroons five hundred acres of their own land in the island’s interior, in which they thrived in freedom for hundreds of years. My husband is a descendant of the Maroons, and our boys are proud to have Maroon blood flowing through their veins. Recently one of them had to have painful dental work done, and he strengthened himself by saying, “I have to be brave; I’ve got Maroon in me!” Identity. Second story: I serve on my local school board, and last month I attended the annual conference for New York State school board members. I sat in a session with a panel of Buffalo City students, most of whom were Black from lower income communities. They shared about an after-school program they attended called Our Story Project in which they learned about more Black people who made significant contributions (not just King, Parks and Tubman). They also learned about African kingdoms before colonization. One young man said, “I now know that I am a descendant of Africans, not just a descendant of slaves.” Seeing himself as a descendant of the Mali, the richest kingdom ever to exist in the history of the world, squared his shoulders like nothing else ever had. Identity. And finally, a fictitious story from my new favorite Hulu series called Black Cake. About four or five episodes in, a new character is introduced named Mabel and Mabel discovers that she was adopted. Her biological dad was white and her bio mom a Jamaican immigrant, half Black and half Chinese. Her white adoptive parents kept this from her, but when she finds out, she’s furious at them and says that she always wondered where she got her slighter darker skin, her full lips, her coarse, jet-black hair. “This is not some little thing,” Mabel shouts, “This is my identity!” All of a sudden, she has Black and Chinese family; all of a sudden, bits of her which always felt confusing became clear. Identity. This is why I’m writing a book about nurturing racial identity in multiracial children, so that these children can discover the wonder of themselves much sooner than Mabel or I did.



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