I’m White and My Sons Are Black. How We Talk about Racism

What Black History Month Means to Our Bi-Racial Family

When I first met my husband over 20 years ago, I imagined our life together and our future kids. I pictured them as the perfect combination of the two of us and believed that they would be seen in the world as ‘half white and half black’. Man, was I ever wrong. Just think of how we acknowledge and identify Barack Obama. The son of one white and one black parent, he’s bi-racial and yet he’s usually seen as black.

This is also true in our lives. No one seems surprised that my husband is Dad to our boys, but I’ve gotten several looks when I’m introduced as their mom. The truth is that my husband and I are raising two wonderful black sons to become wonderful black men in a world where racism is alive and well.

When it comes to laundry, making lunches and homework, I’m in charge. Likewise, the responsibility falls largely on me (my sons’ white mom) to talk about male puberty, sex and even racism. Some days, I struggle to help my sons navigate the world because I don’t have the experience of living a life without white privilege. I’m doing my best to be ‘woke’, learn more, share what I read and challenge the feelings of others surrounding race and stereotypes.

When this video, ‘Black Parents Explain How to Deal with the Police’, popped up on my feed recently, it broke my heart. I saw my two sons in the faces of these kids who were learning how to protect themselves if there were ever confronted by police and it reconfirmed my fears and worries about racing them in a world full of racism and discrimination.

This isn’t the first time that racism hit too close to home. When 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighbourhood watch coordinator in 2012, it really hit me. I really started to fear for my sons. I can clearly remember a day my oldest son Ty was wearing a hoodie and had a toy gun…when I turned around to see him I had a visceral reaction. My son could have been Trayvon, Tamir, or any one of the too many young men gunned down without provocation. During this time, my husband had job offers from the U.S. We decided not to even consider a move south, as we just didn’t want to raise our boys in the States where the relationship between black youth and the police is so volatile. I’m certainly not so naïve as to think this doesn’t happen here too—even in the ‘burbs north of Toronto, we aren’t immune to racism. In fact, my sons have had to deal with racism several times; in class and getting ice cream in our own community. I can’t protect them from hatred, though I wish I could, but this mama bear is doing her best to make sure my beautiful boys love who they are, feel confident in the world and learn how to fight racism and discrimination in their own ways.

How can you make sure that the generation we are raising KNOW better and DO better? February is Black History Month and here are some ways that we keep the conversation going in our family.

  1. Teach them about important black role models, black inventors and key black politicians and activists who helped to move the civil rights movement forward.
  2. Read about Canada’s role in the Underground Railroad and plan to road trip to these important historical landmarks.
  3. Search #BlackHistoryMonth to find some incredible stories that are left out of our history books.
  4. For younger kids, pick books that have people of all skin colours and nationalities on the pages. Try these books for Black History Month or books for kids that celebrate difference and diversity.


1 Comment

  1. Karen on February 14, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    Thank you, Heather. I can definitely relate. As a mother I quickly got a reality check of how rampant stereotypes and prejudices are. I am Caucasian and my husband’s background is Chinese. My son looks like me, but my daughter looks more Asian. Once I had a bank appointment. The receptionist looked at my daughter and said loudly “Where did you come from, China??” I glared at her and said “No, my uterus!” I had had too many rude comments that week to bite my tongue.

    I have met Caucasian neighbors who proceeded to rant about “too many Chinese here..” upon meeting me. It feels like a punch in the gut knowing that these people look down upon others (like our kids) merely because they look different. Racism is ugly.

    As a family, we celebrate our heritages and family traditions with our kids. We are trying to give them strong roots and pride. I have always tried to buy books and toys showing many races. Our friends are diverse.

    Yesterday my daughter read her new “Henry’s Freedom Box.” I mentioned that not only people of African heritage, but also of Chinese and Indian heritage were slaves on many Caribbean plantations.

    Every summer we go to Cleveland and have visited a former Underground Railroad safe house in Ashtabula County several times.

    We are all a part of the same race-the human race. Let’s celebrate our uniqueness. Enjoy your two handsome boys. I think they will be strong and kind.

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