My Experience with Raising a Son of Mixed Race
Published on: October 12, 2020
Liway shares her story about how she makes her bi-racial son less conscious about his skin color and tells us how we can encourage children to celebrate diversity in their daily lives.
By Liway Tayag
I can’t count how many times we’ve been brought to the limelight because people stare at my son and make rude comments about the color of his skin or ask why he is black.
I can’t imagine my facial expression at these times and I don’t always know what to do. At first, I used to flash a big smile towards my boy and walk away — save the chastise, sometimes.
I got these exchanges in our area of Bangkok where I have lived for over eight years now. I guess I can’t blame people. It’s even tolerable back in Manila where I grew up compared to Bangkok. Every weekend I’d take my son on morning walks and would get stares, glares, and complaints on why my boy doesn’t have clear skin like Mommy’s, straight and smooth hair like everyone else, or why I even like black men.
Because I knew enough Thai to understand I would politely tell them how beautiful my boy is and how skin color is not the basis of anything. End of the conversation. Walk away. (At least that’s what I wanted to say; I might have spoken in the wrong tone and conveyed a different message altogether).
See, when we don’t speak certain truths like this, it reinforces racism. We’re not quite there yet but we may be well on our way with our racially-based biases. If we don’t speak the truth and instead choose to walk away with a pretentious smile or a shrug, we normalize it. We miss that opportunity to have more people walk with us in this truth.
I don’t get how people can think it is fine to comment on complexion or explain what they think about you right to your face. It makes me anxious that when my boy finally grows up, there’ll be more of this judgment.
When he was three, my son started going to the same school where I worked. He came home telling me a child called him sii daam (Thai for black). I felt livid but it led me to study more on racism and how a thought can become a truth for very young, impressionable children. I know for one it isn’t taught like any precious value. It is caught and reinforced. I found a lot of research that documents the ways young children observe racial differences as early as preschool. They might start excluding the others from play or other activities (Tatum, 1992). At that time, I scrambled to find my inner peace. I decided to explain and confront the truth and hold that space for my son who was upset.
A few weeks after talking to him about these things, he began to ease up. He’d tell himself with blooming confidence, “my skin is beautiful”. I am thankful too, for my friends, particularly the mother of one of my students, who runs a shop in the school cafeteria. She would take the time to tell my son how her skin color is the same and that both their skin tones look beautiful. I slowly found my village to raise my child.
From there, I became committed to growing my understanding of how important our role is in learning and unlearning racially-based biases. I’ve found a deeper meaning now in the first unit taught in schools upon the start of classes — All About Me. I believe we can encourage children to celebrate diversity by fostering positive attachment to one’s identity, by taking time to walk through with children as they observe differences and similarities and their strengths too.
Here are some ways to do that walk-through towards diversity:
- Expose children to toys that promote diversity — dolls, yes for boys too!
- Travel if you can! Or encourage interaction with diverse friends.
- Hold Diversity Days at home by serving food related to a place, doing a different tradition or doing diversity art. (My son loves mixing different shades of brown for our art activities)
- Read cultural books over and over (and over and over) again! See below.
The world is a huge melting pot and our children must know we can celebrate our differences. We need to acknowledge that we won’t always have the opportunity to experience different ways of life so it is in us to create awareness. To delve deeper into these matters and later on, I’d imagine having to pair this advocacy work with talks on racism, oppression, etc.
But for now, be still, my heart. For now and until forever, I’ll tell my boy every day that everything he is, is beautiful and loved.
Here are some books we’ve found useful (for ages 2 and up) that you may like to read with your child:
- Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley
- It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr
- Mixed Me by Taye Diggs
- The Skin You Live in by Michael Tyler
- We’re Different and We’re the Same (Sesame Street)
- Who We Are by Robie H. Harris
Tatum, Beverly. “Talking about race, learning about racism: The application of racial identity development theory in the classroom.” Harvard educational review 62, no. 1 (1992): 1-25.
About the Author
Liway Tayag is an early childhood development and special needs educator and a parent-teacher coach. She has lived in Thailand for a little over 8 years. Currently, she is in Manila managing her childcare center, Jaden’s Play Den, with her 5-year-old son, and running an educational consulting firm. You may reach her at www.presentparentingsolutions.com
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