Raising Mixed Race is the book you’ll probably wish your parents had read.
“Silence about racism does not keep children from noticing it and developing racial beliefs, it just keeps them from talking about it with us and encourages stereotypes to remain unchanged.”
Author Sharon Chang identifies as a “multiracial Asian woman, married to a multiracial Asian man, and mother to a multiracial Asian son”. Coincidentally, I am a Black mixed woman, married to a Black mixed man, and we are expecting our first Black mixed child in May. This is important to note, because while my husband is ¼ Asian, you certainly don’t have to have Asian ancestry to benefit greatly from reading this book.
In her introduction, Sharon writes that even though she (and her husband) have a lifetime of experience being multiracial; that they are an entire mixed race Asian family; that she has a substantial amount of experience with preschool-aged children; and is a grad student of Human Development with a specialization in Early Childhood: she still felt lost when her son was born in 2009. As I poured through her book, many of the comments made by the interviewees brought back triggering memories of my own childhood and life. On more than one occasion, I could feel my face heating up, in part from recalling painful memories, but more so in projecting into the future of my child’s life. Part way through the book, I began to acknowledge that I too, felt terribly ill prepared to deal with the onslaught of anti-Black racism that was surely on its way, despite my own experiences of anti-Black racism and years of anti-oppression work. To be clear, I have never been under the impression that anti-Black racism wouldn’t be a problem, it is just hard to accept just how much more triggering it will be when it is your child, as opposed to when it happens to you.
In this vein, I have an enormous amount of respect for Sharon, as she had to listen to (and later deconstruct) comments during the interviews that would have had me walking away from this research. Even just reading them, as I mentioned, had my hackles raised. Having said this, her critical analysis of the interviews are direct and no holds barred, which is crucial to moving past vacuous imaginings of post-racial diversity and other white supremacist snares. As a Black mixed person, I also appreciate Chang’s treatment of anti-Black racism within Asian communities, as well as within the greater white supremacist structures. As is often the case, mixed race tends to insinuate “mixed with white” in many people’s minds, and Chang does justice to non-white Asian mixed people in this way. While anti-Indigenous racism and colonialism is rightly mentioned in the book, there is still a great need of literature and analysis around Indigenous mixed Asians, of which there are many people who identify as such on the west coast of Canada. For anyone looking to further the research, it would be great to see more work done on queer and trans mixed-race parents as well.
Important takeaways from Raising Mixed Race:
- It is never too early to talk to your kids about race. Children “as young as 6 months and possibly earlier, infants demonstrate they notice and can sort people based on racial differences…By 2 years of age children can be seen using white racial categories and framing to reason about people’s behaviors”(pg 68).
- Do you first. If you’re not already doing so, continue to work on your own internalized “isms” to the best of your ability, as this will give you the confidence and the necessary information to have these conversations with your kids.
- Submerge your children in representation. My husband and I will be enforcing a strict “all black everything” policy for as long as possible to counteract the constant barrage of anti-Black racism they will face, even as a child. This is much like the amount of work that will need to be done to combat sexist, ableist, gendered and other problematic messaging that they will no doubt also face.
“Consider the impact of my husband and I being multiracial Asians raised in predominantly white communities where assimilative messages were very strong and not much, if any, attention was being paid to the mixed race experience. We both agree we did not construct cognizant, intentional identities until much later in life and at that stage doing so meant building around already two decades of invisibility, confusion, hurt and aimless wandering. This is not how self-realization and knowledge of the white-dominant system should unfold for anyone attempting to move through a racially divided world.”
Not many people have had the opportunity to learn about our racialized identities in a safe and supportive environment. In fact, sometimes the most painful racialized experiences happened right inside our own homes. I hope that as many parents of racialized mixed-race children read this book as possible, so that future generations don’t have to wish their parents had.