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Black or Multiracial? Figuring Out Mixed Kids’ Identity

Black or Multiracial?

The other day I came across a post from a fellow multiracial mama about how she refuses to call her kids black but always refers to them as multiracial or mixed.

It generated an interesting discussion about why, why not, and whether that is truly the message we should be giving our children.

What is their true identity? And, what, if any, is the message we as parents should be giving our children about their identity?

My own experience as mixed Iranian/British growing up in Canada was that my parents just didn’t talk about identity. It left me confused, in denial and ashamed at times when teasing at school pointed out the differences in me. It was only at University when I was old enough to embrace my multiple identities that I began to understand the absolute need to talk about it.

Because of that, I have always made it a priority to talk to my mixed kids about the multiple cultures and identities that make up who they are. When faced with the potential backlash that perhaps we talk about race and identity too much, I know that to ignore it and hope that it doesn’t become an issue is absolutely the wrong message we need to be giving our children.

So what message do we give our children when their identity permeates the boundaries between black, brown, multiracial, mixed race, biracial, multicultural and all things in between. And does it mean they’re not just ‘black’?

Can they be both?

For me, the two are not mutually exclusive though many mixed race celebrities in the US are conflicted. While Taye Diggs refused to call his mixed son Black, Hally Berry only refers to herself as a Black woman. And most famously of all, we didn’t often hear the former President Barack Obama referred to as mixed but instead the first black President of the United States.

So do I refer to my daughters as mixed or black and does it vary with each one depending on how much outward features they’ve inherited as black girls?

I’ve come to see my daughters’ identities as evolving. Evolving with age, and with their own experiences. And, like me, I know that at different times, they will identify accordingly. When I was immersed in Iranian festivals and food and culture, I felt wholly and truly Iranian. Other times, I knew I could only partially lay claim to this identity and mixed Iranian and English felt a more appropriate term for how I felt. Other times, like when I moved to England from Canada, I felt my Canadian upbringing come out strongly.

Identity is More than just a feeling… it’s an experience

My daughters will likely want to identify with the political solidarity that comes with black identity. They will, at times, feel very strongly about who they are as black women when they are faced with the injustices of discrimination and racism.

They may, on the other hand, also be aware of their white privilege. And know that their experiences as part of a multicultural, multiracial family lent them different experiences than that of their Nigerian cousins.

And so, it is not our job as parents of mixed, multiracial children to teach our children that they are mixed and not one or the other. But rather, to help them to embrace and be comfortable with all the parts that make up their identity. Acknowledging all the while that this will change and identities will shift as they explore what that means for themselves.