When we first began to see CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien promoting the network’s series Black in America, both my wife and I promptly saved the dates of July 23 and 24 as “must-see-TV.”
Though we both were eager to see the news network’s offering and were poised to spend our post-viewing moments engaged in our customary discussions and debates about the issues that were sure to be presented, in our household a series such as this is viewed from two distinctly different perspectives.
My West Indian heritage tempered by my New York City upbringing has always given me a unique vantage point from which to view the condition of Black America. I will concede, however, my wife’s view is even more unique.
Born and raised in Poland, my wife, Kathy is my polar opposite in terms of the physical. Her blonde hair, fair skin and blue eyes are in stark contrast to my dark complexion and the inherited physical characteristics of my African forefathers.
Throughout our 12 years together, we have learned that our differences help to support our individuality, and that our similarities have helped to forge our common goals; one of those being, raising our son Justin as a well-grounded and confident young man.
As we watched Black in America, it became evident that not every interracial couple was able to find common ground on just how to raise their biracial child.
In one particular segment, an interracial coupled divulged that they were at odds about how to raise their children. The African American mother was adamant that they needed to “raise their children black.”
The child rearing declaration of the mother caused my wife to make her patented “What does THAT mean?” face. Within a few seconds of making the face, she turned to me and asked “How do you raise a child black?”
As with many of her questions about race, I found myself at a loss for an immediate and intelligent answer.
Kathy and I have never felt the need to determine a race that Justin should identify with. At eight years of age, Justin speaks fluent Polish and listens to Bob Marley. He is just as proud of Lech Walesa, the pioneer of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, as he is of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. He looks forward to his future trip to Poland as much as he has anticipated his past trips to Jamaica or the March in Jena. He is simply being raised as our child.
Contrary to the myth of the “confused biracial child,” inheriting a birthright of multiple cultures does not invariably lead to a child who feels that he does not belong to either of the two. As with child rearing in more traditional, single-race families, it comes down to parenting with a purpose and nurturing with values.
I’m still not sure what raising a black child means. Based on the statistics of incarceration and educational attrition of young black men presented in Black in America, I would hope that raising a child black would not entail raising a child to fulfill the sociological norms that these American statistics support.
It just seems that raising a child to achieve greatness would supersede attaching a race to the method used to raise that child.
My son will continue to be raised conscious of his African-Caribbean-American heritage because my pride and his cocoa complexion demand it. He will also be raised to embrace and take pride in his Polish heritage because it is his birthright and is as fundamental to who he is as his DNA.
So, how do you raise a biracial child? Just like you raise any other: with unconditional love.