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I’ll never forget the afternoon my little boy came home practically in tears because a classmate told him “he isn’t black.” Suddenly, I realized parenting was about to get a whole lot more complicated for me and my husband.

I’m Chandra Severin, executive assistant to the publisher and CEO of The Globe and Mail. I’m white, my husband is black and we have two mixed-race children. That fateful day, my then six-year-old son had been colouring the Antiguan flag for his school’s culture night. His classmate questioned his choice, even after my son explained that his father is from Antigua and he, like his dad, is black. Later, when my son told me what happened, I was completely taken aback. I had no idea kids that young would notice and react to a person’s skin colour.

My husband and I have always been aware that our children are relatively fair and that people may not identify them as black. Originally I thought this may help them avoid the racism my husband has faced. But I now realize there’s more to it than that. People may not always know how to place them and may ask questions they should not have to answer, such as “What are you?”

Of course, as the mom of biracial kids, I’m not alone in these concerns. Take this piece in The Washingtonian, in which a white father discusses a conversation he is afraid to have with his mixed-race son. His words hit me to the core. “At some point, my son is going to be personally confronted with or subjected to racism.” He goes on to say, “there’s one thing I won’t be able to do: truly know how he feels, since I have never been subjected to racism. Though I will try my hardest to understand his situation, I will be a step removed. That will make me feel completely powerless.”

Powerless is not a word I want to describe me as a parent. I know the pressure is on to teach my children to embrace and celebrate who they are. But I also need to teach them to be prepared for a world that may discriminate against them, as unfamiliar as that may be to me. That’s where I found this series of articles in Psychology Today eye opening. One passage that particularly struck me: “For white mothers, it is a shock to see the ways society treats their children of color. They are caught off guard by the way their white peers consider it a right to touch their children’s hair, comment on their physicality, make assumptions about their talents for basketball or math or hip-hop dance based solely on their physical characteristics. For people of color, this is nothing new. For white mothers, it is a painful initiation into once invisible systems of oppression.”

With my kids getting older and becoming more aware of who they are, I increasingly see the need for non-minority people to talk about race, too. Although it can be uncomfortable, race is not something we should ignore. Rather than pretend we don’t see it or pride ourselves on being “colour blind,” we should make an effort to learn about each other. As Bee Quammie writes in the Huffington Post: “Teaching your child ‘not to see’ colour is a disservice to them. They shouldn’t have to suppress someone else’s identity to see them as human, and you wouldn’t want someone else to do that to your child. Embracing the fullness of who people are is the key.”

Everyday is a learning experience for me. The more I read, the more I understand that my children will have some tough choices to make. As Kassidy Brown argues in this Medium piece: “Many mixed race children have to deal with serious identity issues that can follow them well into adulthood.” To prepare our kids for this, my husband and I know we need to teach them about both of our cultures and allow them to see the respect and admiration we have for each other.

For us, this means talking constantly about race. We buy our three-year-old daughter dolls with a range of skin and hair colours to teach her there is no one version of beauty. For our now seven-year old son, the conversation has begun to get a little more complicated. For example, at one point, he came home asking to be Muslim like one of his best friends. I realize he is simply trying to identify with what he sees around him and I do my best to encourage him to love who he is and understand and celebrate the differences and similarities between him and his friends.

Ultimately, what I am teaching my children is that they are not half-black, half-white. They are not half anything. They are black and white. My children are a beautiful combination of both races and I want to help them embrace the best of both worlds. My hope is that they will grow up feeling proud of their mixed heritage and loved for who they are, not what they are.

What else we’re reading

As we approach the new year I am preparing myself for all the messages I will see about diet, exercise and getting in shape. As women, we are bombarded with conflicting information – be thin like the beauty standards we see in the media, but also be strong and part of the new body-positive movement. This Shape Magazine article by K. Aleisha Fetters discusses the struggle women face and offers insight into new ways to accept and celebrate your body. She writes, “true body acceptance is about making those decisions from a place that honors your body for the amazingly awesome home it is – no matter its size or shape.”

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