How wonderful it is when you and your partner decide to start a family and you are blessed with a child. When people of the same race have children, chances are the child’s appearance will be similar to the general appearance of others in that race. Yes, it is true that there is no one set of features for any given “race,” but we have come to expect certain general features associated with certain races.
So a black couple will tend to have children that have appearances that reflect their parents and other black individuals. However, when interracial couples, especially those with very different appearances, have children genetics can sometimes result in uncommon features that lead onlookers to wonder about the child’s racial origin.
The child may have a platinum blond afro, hazel eyes and dark brown skin. There could be a child, like my nephew, who has dark brown skin (inherited from his Black American mother) and almond shaped eyes (inherited from his Laotian father). There is a couple I know, she is Chinese American and his is Irish American, that have a beautiful daughter who has her mother’s eye shape, but her father’s green eye coloring. There are many mixed children who have features that people aren’t used to seeing in combination.
I often see these mixed children and think how uniquely beautiful they are. They are not exotic or wondrous, just plain beauties to the world. However, this is not the feeling that all people share and these children can be met with inquisitive stares and “unsolicited questions” that can be alarming to the child and to the parent.
“Can a Chinese person have green eyes?” “Are you really black?” “Are you wearing contacts because black people don’t have blue eyes?” These are among the questions that people can confront mixed children with.
This is especially true if the family lives in a community where mixed children are a novelty or where one race dominates the landscape (example, an interracial child who visits the native country of one of their parents).
So how should you respond to these questions or stares?
Firstly, it is important to understand where these questions are coming from. As a parent, naturally our first reaction might be to become defensive. You may feel your child is being attacked or not accepted. However, before you react, try to gauge the person’s intentions.
Are they sincerely just curious about your child or are they being malicious? Most people are genuinely intrigued by what they may see as an unusual look.
If the person is someone you know casually, you can simply respond by saying that your child is fortunate to have family from many cultures. Smile and let your child hear the positive tone in which you speak. Use positive energy to convey to your child that it is a bonus to be who they are.
You can also say in an affirming tone something to the effect of “yes, it is different for a Chinese person to have green eyes. She is Chinese and Irish. What a beauty, and so smart too.” Or you could respond “of course he’s black but he’s also Danish.”
If the person is someone who you will frequently interact with, you can go further and use the opportunity to share about your family experiences as you feel comfortable. Remember, your obligations are first and foremost to promote your child’s self -esteem, so keep that in mind at all times during your conversation. Try to keep the conversation positive and if it begins to make a turn towards the negative, end it and move on.
When the questions can become malicious
If you get the sense that the questions are malicious, you can still respond that your child is fortunate to come from varying cultures, but you should remove your child from the person’s presence.
Later and depending on the child’s age, discuss the incident to see how the child is feeling. Give your child space to express their feelings and try not to put YOUR feelings onto the child. Remember children have a very innocent way of viewing situations. Rather than burden your child with how you think they “should” feel, make sure to address how they “really” feel.
Address this issue BEFORE the questions/stares come
With any child, it is important to remember that your role as a parent is key to developing a positive self image. You should feel good about who your child is and talk openly about the child’s cultural heritage.
While we may hope for a color blind world where all people are accepted and respected equally, this is not a reality we currently live in. Rather than ignore your child’s unique blending, you may wish to celebrate it. Allow your child to express how they feel abour their appearances and help prepare them with responses when inquisitive people to feel the need to ask questions.
A common question asked of my children – “What are you?” My children get a laugh out of this question now and respond “a human being!”