The most important thing a White mother of a multiracial child can do is to become embedded in communities of colour, that is, to create or become part of the communities where your child can have her experience of the world reflected back to her. How have you taken the initiative to do so, and what are your suggestions for new mothers like you?
As mothers, we ask ourselves endless questions. I recommend new mamas to look at your core group of friends. Do the majority of them look like you? If we want our kids to understand how the world can thrive and coexist together, it starts at home. I’m grateful that my own mother taught me from a young age that every family looks different. Growing up homeschooled, she took the initiative for me to be around kids of various cultures. Her teachings have impacted my adult life and the diverse friends I have today. Without question, I have continued this style of parenting with my daughter as we’re fortunate to live in a multicultural neighbourhood in Hawaii.
I would also suggest creating a space that represents your kids with their books and toys.
For Emme, we’ve accumulated storybooks that have little girls with curly hair on the cover and baby dolls with blue eyes and brown skin. For her first birthday, we searched everywhere to find a doll that resembled her but ultimately had to have one made because of the lack of representation in stores. This is common, but not an impossible task!
How do you navigate the term “White fragility” as a White mother raising a biracial child without facing accusations of usurping the conversation?
My world is not THE world. I know I have white privilege. I’ve never had someone walk across the street when they see me. I’ve never had a stranger ask if I was lost while walking in my own neighbourhood. I’ve never had six police officers surround me while I was bike riding home. I’ve never had a friend’s mother not shake my hand. I’ve never had to keep a receipt from the store to prove I purchased the food I was eating. I’ve never had someone follow me around while shopping to make sure I wasn’t stealing. I’ve never had someone ask me if Emmerson was my child. All of which have happened to her dad.
When someone is aggressively dismissing something I’ve witnessed for years, it’s difficult for me to keep my composure. It’s something I’m working on. I know there will come a day when Emmerson will watch how I handle a situation of conflict, and I want her to have the tools to articulate herself.
When it comes to mixed children, the word “exotic” tends to come up. How do you feel about this word?
There are many labels and questions that arise with a biracial child. I understand they mean it as a compliment, but it’s not. When you hear the word exotic, you tend to think of a wild animal or an exotic dancer. Biracial girls are often disproportionally objectified. Our child’s innocence is of the utmost importance for us to protect. While we’re on the subject of labels, mulatto is one I’ve heard too often. Many people don’t understand the weight of this word. When Emmerson was just an infant someone very close to our family said she was the most beautiful mulatto baby they had ever seen. I knew they only meant it in admiration, but it made my blood boil.
It was the first time as a White mother I had to educate someone with the history behind it. If you search for the word ‘mulatto’ it will come up as a Spanish word describing a hybrid breed of a horse and a donkey. During slavery, they used this word to negatively describe biracial children. Children of White owners and slaved women would become slaves themselves. If a White woman gave birth to a biracial child, that child was free. This is a heavy historical word that has been washed down to a compliment. In response to these remarks, I would make a suggestion to use another word like unique or beautiful.
Older generations were largely raised on the idea that talking about race causes racism, so if we just act like everyone is the same, it goes away. But, unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. Your child is going to have different experiences than you because of their race. How do you plan on avoiding “colourblind parenting”?
Racism is a learned behaviour. We have a responsibility as parents to show our kids how to treat themselves and others. I am incredibly fortunate to have had a mother growing up that set an example of loving people and their culture. A recent example was when I went into a store last week asking for children’s books on race and racism. The man working at the counter looked at me and said, “do you really think a toddler needs to learn about racism?” I looked him directly in the eyes and kindly replied, “my daughter is Black.” Immediately he retracted his statement and scrambled to find words. He assumed my daughter looked like me, and if that were the case, in his mind, she wouldn’t need to learn about race. I am a mother who has to teach my child how to respond to racism, inspire her to break stereotypes and educate her about her history. It’s unavoidable. Our family sees colour and culture. It’s not something that’s tainted, it’s admired.
How have you been feeling emotionally with the news of George Floyd and the protests around the globe?
Those first few days were very dark. I couldn’t look away from my phone. The sadness quickly turned into anger. This was a feeling I’ve had too many times before. It was another catastrophic act of police brutality. During our neighbourhood protest, a woman approached the group screaming obscenities full of hate. It was a moment, as a mother, where time slowed down, and I listened with such sadness while her three small kids watched. All over the globe, people are coming together for Black Lives Matter. It’s an emotionally moving experience. We are demanding the dismantlement of systemic racism, criminal justice reform, accountability for officers that do not deserve their title and congress to make lasting change!
Has having a multiethnic child opened your eyes in many ways?
I fell in love with her dad when I was 16. We actually met when we were 5 and 6 on the playground where our mothers worked. For years I had an idea of what it would be like to raise our child. My mother’s intuition hasn’t steered me wrong. The one eye-opening thing I didn’t expect was the attention she would get everywhere we go. I am blessed to have a healthy daughter who is full of joy, but it’s my responsibility to protect her little spirit. The last thing I want is someone dwindling her light.
One day your daughter will learn about the year 2020 in school, from the pandemic to protests. When she asks you about it, how will you sum up 2020?
She was a part of it. The pandemic was incredibly scary in the beginning as a new mom. Being cautious about germs, not taking her to the store for weeks at a time, staying in our small apartment. However, it was the most bonding we’ve ever had as a family since her dad was home from work so often. She helped me create our signs for protests and stood with me each week we attended. We have photographs to show her she was standing up for black lives before she was two years old. It’s pretty sweet to see how her joy and involvement has touched a lot of hearts during our rallies.
Lastly, who is your Mother Muse?
My mother-in-law, Pamela. She raised five incredible Black men. I’ve watched her stand with courage in the face of adversity. She is a force. Each one of her sons has their own distinct gift, but all of them share her joyful spirit. I know Pam will always encourage me as a mother and give me sound advice. She has known me since I was a little girl, but our bond really grew once I became the mother to her first grandchild. I am tremendously grateful that Emme has such a beautiful woman of God as her grandmother.
Interview with Muse. Jenna Wonser
Photographed by Tahiti Huetter