Black biracial child's racial identity

My husband and I have a 4-year-old who seems to be really struggling with their racial identity. I am white, husband is Black (born/raised in an African country until adulthood). I feel knowledgeable about and comfortable with the generally "recommended" approach to teaching young children about race and racism. We have long had direct discussions about skin color, buy our child books with diverse characters, send our child to a school where their class is 1/3 Black children (including other biracial children) in addition to many other non-white kids. We frequently eat food from my husband's country, listen to music, talk to his family, etc... though of course with the pandemic and high cost of travel it's hard to see them in person. I am familiar with Black history and talk about it -- including the many positive aspects to celebrate -- with my kids.

What does "struggling" look like? For many months our child has referred to themselves as "light-skinned" or "peach-skinned" (how I describe my color to them) -- sometimes "caramel" but consistently "light skinned." They are definitely light-skinned among Black people, but there's no doubt they will navigate this society as a clearly / recognizably Black person. When we read books that show discrimination my child will talk about "changing the rules" and "treating people fairly" but doesn't seem to (want to) personally identify as a member of the group being treated badly -- in some ways totally understandable, but not a healthy or tenable life strategy long-term.

When I recently said something like yes, you're Black and your skin is a beautiful caramel my child resisted in tears: "I don't want to be Black!" When I explained that being Black is beautiful, and that "Black" doesn't mean literally the color but means you have family from Africa, just like mom's skin is "white" but isn't literally the color of printer paper they responded: "I don't want to have family from Africa!" When we tried to probe for "why?" we didn't get any answers. 

I know that explicit racial bias peaks in kids around this age, but I frankly didn't expect it from a child who is so close to their (dark-skinned) father, attends a diverse school, enjoys my husband's culture in many ways, talks warmly about his family, etc.

Is any of this familiar to other parents of Black children? Or to people raising biracial children? I haven't found many resources online and would appreciate some perspectives from people who've been there. Thank you.

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I'm white and my biracial child is very light-skinned/white-appearing so I suspect you may get more helpful information from Black parents or parents of more Black-appearing children, but...

My biracial son is the same age as yours. I have resisted dictating anything to him about his racial identity, and instead give him lots of information and ask him questions. We also don't really use the labels "Black" and "white" with him, because it's confusing and also not super accurate. Instead we talk a lot about skin color (e.g. "Nana's skin is dark brown, daddy's skin is medium brown, mama's skin is light pink/beige - what color is your skin?"). There is obviously more to Blackness and racial identity than just skin color, but so far we have decided to let that come up as he gets older. My husband is biracial-Black and has struggled with his racial identity his whole life, so for me it felt very important to not inform my son what race he is, but instead have lots of discussions about it and let him figure it out on his own, as he navigates his way through life. I recognize this may not be something that is possible for a more Black-appearing child. We also haven't had to deal with the negativity around his identity that you describe, which sounds really challenging. But recently we were talking about skin color in the context of discrimination and people being mean to people with darker skin, and my son said, "my skin is white." Which was really jarring, especially because we have never used that word with him when describing skin color. But I let it go in the moment, and continued the discussion we were having. While my experience is not the same as yours, I think as long as you're continuing to talk about it, continuing to remind your child of the beauty of both their heritage and their physical appearance, it will work out okay. i would also maybe encourage you to let your child define themself as they want for right now, even if it's not objectively "accurate." My son insists that he's Princess Anna, and I don't correct him. (I know it's different, but not entirely.) This will evolve as they get older. My last suggestion, which maybe you're already doing, is to check in with your child's father about how he feels about this. As the white parent, I recognize that I will never understand what it means to be Black or biracial and my husband has a lot of insight to share. Good luck!

We had a similar situation with my daughter when she was that age...I know in my daughter's case, she was reacting to the fear of encountering racism and oppression. She also went through a period where she embraced being black, but used the fact inappropriately, i.e. "I don't want to play with her because she's white," or "Black people don't like to eat that." It sounds like you are doing a lot of the right stuff. It really helped us to emphasize a few things in our readings. You will likely have to do so over and over and it will take time for them to really get it. 1) Try to keep it developmentally appropriate. At that age, I'd focus on simple books that celebrate being black and black culture, as well as difference. 2) Although there are books about racism and civil rights written for young children, that does not mean your child is ready for that. Share these things in a way that empowers him. These are stories not just of oppression, but of survival, resilience, and making change. Emphasize that the world is different than it was then and your child will have a different experience because of the struggles for justice that happened before in concrete examples that they can understand. As he is more able to handle issues that are more current, you can build on the fact that people have made change and will continue to. 3) Children at that age tend to generalize and simplify, so it is important to help him understand that it is not simply a white against black issue. If you read about MLK Jr. being shot, for example...the first thing he might think of is being afraid that he will be shot because he is black. Obviously gun violence against black folks IS an issue, but that's not really the intention of the book, and he may not be at an age that you can talk about that level of race inequity.

Also, if you don't have this book, you might be interested:  https://www.amazon.com/Im-Chocolate-Youre-Vanilla-Race-Conscious/dp/0787...

I hope this helps and good luck!!

I am biracial, although am Asian and white. I look very 'not white', and yet until college, I actively pushed away my Asian heritage. When people asked me about my background I downplayed my Asian side. And I am very very close to my mother, who is Asian. I have thought a lot about this, and I think it boils down to two main reasons: 1) people often want to know which ethnicity you identify the most with, which is stupid. 2) White supremacy is extremely real and everywhere. Implicit cues that whiteness is best are EVERYWHERE, it's impossible to shield children from them. I think your son is grappling with what that means to him.

I think other parents will have tips and tricks on how they navigated this, but honestly, the thing I wish my mother did was to keep talking to me about her heritage and culture. She stopped because I told her I wasn't interested, but I wish she would have kept at it. Having that connection would have helped me combat the implicit racism better.

I have a black-white biracial daughter who is now in college. I think your daughter is actually not seeing this as "race" at all, she is seeing it as wanting to look like you, whom I imagine is her main care giver. Maybe just wait until kindergarten and this should work itself out as in time she will not be as attached to just you.

I'm sorry to hear this. I am biracial (medium brown, I suppose -- I definitely look African American) and do remember going through this phase as a child, probably around that age. Though at that time (mid-1980s) I didn't know any other biracial children since it was far less common then. I just wanted to chime in and say that I think this is normal and will pass. I think kids pick up on the fact that there IS a cultural preference for light skin in our society (perhaps no matter how much counter programming we try to do as parents) and they verbalize that. I mean 90% of the Disney princesses are still white... ya know? My 4-year-old daughter is also biracial and wishes out loud she were blonde "like Elsa" at least once a week. 

I love the Beyonce song where Blue Ivy sings about brown being beautiful. Maybe add that into the rotation? And watching more shows with a cool girl Black or brown protagonist, etc., would be great (Doc McStuffins, Gaby's Dollhouse). And also I think trying not to make her feel bad for wanting to look "white." It doesn't have the historical connotations it does for us to a child. She might just want to look like you or her favorite princess? I remember as a little girl feeling SO guilty I felt that way and not understanding why adults didn't "get it." I try to empathize with my daughter and realize she's just picking up on the signals our world is sending...and I try to send different signals since she's still highly interested in my opinion at this age. We talk a lot about how her curly hair is super cool, etc.

What a tough situation! Unfortunately I can't speak from personal experience, but in my work with kids, and have encountered similar things. This article may be helpful for understanding some of the identity development process for multiracial kids: Chameleon Changes: An Exploration of Racial Identity Themes of Multiracial People by Miville et al. You can find the article for free online if you search for the title. Also, Sesame Workshop just started a new racial justice project called Coming Together that has videos and resources that you may find helpful. https://www.sesameworkshop.org/what-we-do/racial-justice

Best of luck!

You, a White-identified woman, are insisting that your child embrace a marginalized American racial "identity" that you do not share. That's heavy for a 4-year-old. Perhaps you should let it go until your child brings it up on their own.

I'll be fascinated to read the replies, and wish I had wisdom from you. My children are bi-cultural, with a parent raised in a different country, but not bi-racial. You are obviously a loving and very thoughtful mom, but it struck me as I was reading your post that I wonder if maybe you've focused TOO much on the differences? In your effort to make your sweet baby feel loved and accepted for who he is, maybe pointing out the differences has backfired? It's hard to imagine, in the environment you've created, that implicit bias has affected him. Kids will resist what we try to teach them for a variety of reasons, and it sounds developmentally appropriate Just a thought. You're doing great!!

I really cannot say anything about your situation. However, I attended a great seminar by Dr. Breeze (https://www.abreezeharper.com/ ) about antiracism parenting. She might be able to help you from her experience and from her academic studies.

I'm a white mom of a biracial (black) daughter who is about to turn 18. I think you are really over thinking this and perhaps putting too much pressure on a 4 year old which is why they are pushing back. You are expecting too much to think that a 4 year old can have a fully formed racial identity. This is a process and your child will eventually decide for themselves how they identify. Right now they are exploring, trying things on, like the labeling of skin color and such. Even at 4 your child already knows that it is harder to be black than it is to be white, the "I don't want to be black" comment is just an expression of that painful reality, not racial bias. You can't control this, just continue to model diversity and inclusion. When my daughter was 4 she had about 100 Barbies, all white, she refused to even entertain the black or brown Barbies. Well meaning relatives would buy her black dolls and books with black characters etc.., and she would have none of it. A few years into elementary school she just began referring to herself as black. She has never identified as biracial and she is now a very proud and confident black woman. 

This sounds really stressful and I'm sorry I can't offer an I've been there perspective. But since I don't see any other responses thought I would note that at 4-years old my children would often insist on certain points and trying to correct them only made them further entrenched. Also, when they sensed my anxiety about something they would double down (incredibly frustrating obviously). Your situation is a lot more complicated because the issues are so important, but I would keep these things in mind here too. At 4 years old your child is surely sensitive to constructs that would categorize them as different from a beloved parent, even if it groups them with an equally beloved parent. Perhaps your child is resisting a concept that seems to set them apart from you in this way, and you can reframe the discussions a bit to mitigate this. You might also double check whether your child is receiving direct input from other sources that are a contributing factor here -- sometimes there are discussions going on at school or with another adult.  

I identify as a black woman, however my father was black and my mother is Vietnamese.  Raising a confident black girl who loves herself requires a tremendous amount of hard work because our entire society doesn't value our beauty.  I appreciate you writing this and reaching out, but what you're doing is not nearly enough.  Please drop everything and read this column written by Jamilah Lemieux from the Slate parenting advice blog called Care and Feeding RIGHT NOW.  The link is below.  It is the BEST thing I have ever read regarding raising black girls in America.  Please feel free to reach out to me if you ever need anything, including help surrounding your daughter with some Black Girl Magic.

https://slate.com/human-interest/2021/01/how-to-teach-confidence-biracia...