The day my mixed race son was born in 2009 was a turning point for the way I thought about race.
Despite living for decades as a multiracial person myself, suddenly I started asking deeper questions about race, racism, and mixedness. I realized I needed to move beyond reflecting just on self-identity, and start placing our family in critical conversation with a national global politic. What was our relationship as mixed race Asian peoples to a planet devastated by European colonialism and to our home, a colonized nation, devastated by four centuries of violent white racism?
How would my son experience this world? What would he learn about himself? And how would he grow to contribute to its transformation, or perpetuate its ongoing devastation?
In the 2010 Census over nine million people self-identified as mixed race and over two million people self-identified as mixed race and Asian. Multiracial and Asian are the fastest growing populations in America. Multiracial is the fastest growing self-identification amongst youth. The current 5-and-under age set are majority children of color.
Children of color, mixed race youth, and Asians are a going to make up significantly growing percentages of upcoming general cohorts in the United States. Yet we know barely anything about these groups, how they experience race, how they’re racially socialized as they grow up and are taught to engage or not engage politically.
When, as a new parent, I searched for research, parenting books, kids books, or even toys that reflected our family’s unique racial makeup and that would engage us in these types of conservations I found barely anything. In society’s eyes, after all these decades, people like my family still barely exist. If we do, we aren’t significant enough to involve, and can’t possibly have racial experiences that are worth exploring beyond post-racial fetishizing.
That gap is what inspired me to write my new book Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children In a Post-Racial World, which is coming out this week through Routledge.
For this book I headed into the field, eventually interviewing 68 parents of 75 young multiracial Asian children to find out what exactly is happening around race in these families and for this burgeoning next generation of youth.
What I found was astounding, and worrisome.
Of 75 multiracial Asian children mostly under the age of six, at least half had already experienced racism as reported by their parents.
At the same time of the 68 parents interviewed, at least half did not think this could be true even though they were the ones that had relayed their children’s racist experiences.
What does this tell us? That mixed race children experience race in very real ways, but their parents do not like to see it. Far more parents bought into the idea that their mixed children were either too young to understand their experiences and/or that they were post-racially privileged.
The result was that adults did not talk to their multiracial kids about race and did not equip them to deal with discrimination or to become critically resistant and engaged citizens. Moreover, parents themselves (both whites and people of color) demonstrated very underdeveloped knowledge about what racism, oppression and discrimination are, and a resistance to examining their own identities and experiences of race.
In sum, I found parents of multiracial children care deeply but overall have great trouble understanding the experiences of their children, are in particular denial about the types of racism their mixed children face, and suffer greatly from under-developed racial awareness themselves.
Which shows, without a shadow of a doubt, that we still have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do when it comes to mixed race in America. In this time of Islamophobia, xenophobia, Black Lives Matter, school resegregation, rising income disparity, mass incarceration, growing protest, visibility of injustice, right wing and domestic terrorist backlash, here’s a blatantly obvious truth: Racism persists in the U.S.
It persists like hell and needs to come down. Yet something not always so obvious — how do we bring it down? How do we dismantle so we can rebuild? How do we win?
“We win when we organize across race and the lines that divide us.” Those were the words of author, attorney and long-time activist Deepa Iyer at the recent Seattle release of her own book We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future.
She is, of course, absolutely right. But I would add we win when we get every American (whether an activist or not) engaged, conscious and aware; when we make sure no one’s missing at the table; when we see all our people feel personally invested in transforming this unjust society.
However one group that’s often missing when we talk about our multiracial future are, ironically, multiracial people themselves. That is, people who don’t exist on sides of racial boundaries, but right on top of them — who literally embody crossed lines.
Raising Mixed Race is not about celebrating multiculturalism, plastic multi-ethnicity, or mixedness as post-racial in any way. It is about the vast reality of gross racism in this country, how said oppression intersects with and impacts the lives of multiracial peoples, and how we must not only support but engage mixed race children in becoming politically aware, critically conscious and invested citizens.
If we cannot find a way to fold these youth and their families into our antiracist work, we will never achieve the egalitarian society we’re fighting for.
Please join me this Friday, December 11, 9:30a-1:30p for the Facebook Release of “Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children In a Post-Racial World.” I’ll be giving away four signed copies of my book as well as over 20 other outstanding books and films all by/about multiracial peoples.