Celebrating Black History Month With My Biracial Kids Is Tricky

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It is Black History Month in America, a time schools and mass media make small attempts to acknowledge the same 20 African American revolutionaries. For a black parent raising black children, however, black history is a perpetual conversation. It is an ongoing education, enlightenment, with unending opportunities to connect our children to their roots and ancestry. For those of us who are raising biracial children, the conversation gets a little more nuanced.

  • This conversation took an interesting turn during the 2020 Oscars. 

    My oldest realized that there was only one black woman, Cynthia Erivo, being nominated for lead actress in a film about Harriet Tubman. My kid assumed it was an automatic win, but I suspected the reality and that a hard conversation was to follow. As the Academy Award went to Renee Zellweger for her portrayal of Judy Garland, my kid was stunned. She couldn’t wrap her head around the idea that a film about Harriet Tubman, someone who saved the lives of hundreds of slaves, wouldn’t be valued enough to win an Oscar.

    I explained that black history is meaningful and impactful to black people. I explained that during Black History Month and for Dr. King’s birthday, everyone likes to throw around facts, quotes, and gratitude, but that doesn’t equate to empathy for black people or our ancestors. These performative actions don’t equate to valuing our stories or our heroes because, after all, Harriet Tubman saved black people, and not everyone. Her heroism is specific to our community and can’t be universalized, like the work, tales, and experiences of many figures throughout black history.

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  • I also took time to explain to her that this is also why representation matters.

    It is through mass media representation that our children can learn about concepts like empathy, compassion, and interconnectedness. It is by seeing heroes who look like us that we can imagine options for lifestyle choices that can empower and inspire us to be our greatest selves. Through mass media, we can explore our emotions and also better understand the ways in which we connect to others within the larger conversation of human interconnectedness. To be able to see ideas about the human experience all the time is something that white and white passing people have the privilege of experiencing all the time. 

     We don’t. 

    That is why Black History Month is important, but also why black history is a continual discussion.

  • I then had to remind my child of her privilege.

    Often when diversity is a goal, those in power, tend to choose people who look like her because of her proximity to Eurocentric features. She will be able to find a sense of identity and possibility through actresses like Zendaya, Yara Shahidi, and Storm Reid. She will watch them go to college and thrive. She will watch their hair journeys and their love stories. She will watch them tell stories of what it means to be black women, and that is a privilege that dark skinned black AFAB and girl-identifying kids won’t have. There is a lot of power in having access to these images, ideas, and role models who look like my child.

  • As we ended our conversation, my kid challenged me.

    She told me that she recognizes that the lightness of her skin will always give her an advantage within our community and also out in the world, but she wanted to remind me of the significance of seeing black parents love, take care of, and fight for their kids the way that I do all of those things for her. She wanted to remind me that, while she sees the value in seeing parts of herself represented, although minimally, that is only a small part of the puzzle within her identity development because it means a lot for her to see positive images that reinforce black love and parenting, too. She reminded me, “My mom is a smart, dark skinned, compassionate human being.  I want to see that represented alongside portrayals of light skinned kids like me.”

  • On that note before sending her to bed for the evening, I am reminded that we as parents have to take representation into our own hands

    Our work to showcase black leaders and educate our children about Black History Month is something that has to happen all throughout the year. We have to find mass media that glorify ideas about black love, black families, and black womxn as heroes. We have to be responsible for putting these images, ideas, stories, and possibilities in front of our children, regardless of their race or ethnicity.  Because, as my child reminded me, the bigger picture includes a comprehensive view of humanity and our collective capacity for love, empathy, and greatness.