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  • Nicole Doyley

Two Challenges Mixed-Race Families Face

Updated: May 21




In an interview about his documentary, W. Kamau Bell, tells the story about a couple who had an early morning argument about socks.[1]

 

It was 7:30 and their daughter, Mila, was late for school. In her haste, Mila put on mismatched socks and Brian sent her back to her room to find matching ones: “There’s no way you’re going to school like that,” he said. Jadon, on the other hand, had no problem with it; she just wanted to get their daughter out the door. 


Brian is Black and his wife, Jadon, is Chinese American. 


Brian argued, “She’s a Black girl. Let’s not give anybody any reason to think that she’s not put together!" But Jadon countered, “ I grew up in Berkley [California]; it’s ok even if you wear two different shoes!” 


She was struck that it they could be talking about socks at 7:30 in the morning, and race was still there.  Brian had grown up like so many African Americans: Give your kids the best chance to be respected out in the world.  You don’t want to give white supremacy an obvious target. Jadon, on the other hand, lived as a free-spirited, express-yourself-any-way-you-want Berkley liberal, and her husband’s discomfort with mismatched socks made it clear that neither he nor their dark-skinned daughter could do that.   


This story is illustrative of two of the many challenges multiracial or multicultural families have.


First, Brian and Jadon are happily married, but they argue a lot about parenting, and most of it can be traced back to imbedded cultural assumptions.

 

I can relate. Especially in our kids’ earlier years, my husband, (who is West Indian), and I had our share of heated conversations about parenting, also rooted in cultural differences. For example, to him, any kind of back-talk was disrespectful: Come to dinner meant Come to dinner now. I don’t care if you want to finish your game.  

 

I, however, grew up in a more egalitarian home and was more lenient: Let them finish their game!  Because if it were me, I would want to finish my game. Through the years we’ve realized that sometimes Marvin’s way is right: in life, you don’t always have a say. You can’t appeal every decision. And other times my way is right: sometimes it’s ok to let kids finish their game. We’ve balanced each other out and, after eighteen years of marriage, our values match a lot more.

 

Similarly, just this morning, Marvin sent one of our boys back upstairs to change because he was wearing a sloppy tank top which Marvin felt was more appropriate for yard work than for school. This is not unusual. In his mind, there are play clothes, school clothes and church clothes, and you absolutely do not go to school in sweats, sloppy tank tops or uncombed hair. I’ve come to agree with this because I also want to decrease the likelihood of our boys being profiled. Don’t make the devil’s job easier, we often say. We want our boys to be respected, and unfortunately, as Black boys, the bar is higher for them.


Second, when we enter parenting, most of us have at least a partial roadmap stemming from our own childhood experiences. These help to inform what we will and will not do as parents. But if you are a different race from your children, at some point you realize something incredibly sobering: your experiences growing up do not provide anywhere near a sufficient roadmap. The way your children move through the world is dramatically different from the way you did and do. They are white and they are also Asian. They are Black and they are also Hispanic. They are Black, but they have white parents - or whatever the case may be.


There is a gulf that exists between you because you can never truly understand what it is like to be in their skin. They are perceived differently from the way you were at their age, and their heritage is different from yours. They need to be ready for those perceptions and proud of every part of their heritage.


I’m writing a book about raising multiracial kids because of socks. That is, all the things, profound and simple, that parents of mixed kids should consider. I'm writing to encourage, celebrate, and hopefully provide some wisdom. It will also be germane to those raising transracially adopted children as they too must find a roadmap outside of themselves to raise happy, kids grounded in their identity.


In the meantime, get my guide, Beyond Hair; 9 things to do when your child is a different race from you and let me know what you think!


[1] Sasha Khokha and Marisa Lagos, “Encore Broadcast: W. Kamau Bell’s Family Explores The Mixed-Race Experience,” September 8, 2023, https://www.kqed.org/news/11960261/encore-broadcast-w-kamau-bells-family-explores-the-mixed-race-experience

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