14 June 2020

Please Don't Upset Racially Mixed Children


The protests in the United States has people in many countries including Canada asking, “What can I do to help end racism?” My approach has been to listen to the stories from south of our border and within our borders: this is the birthplace of the solutions we need. However, I’ve realized that these stories weren’t addressing my concerns about my children and that’s a story I want to write.

My husband is white and our son and daughter are mixed race. I would say bi-racial but that isn’t true. My parents were from Sri Lanka—my mother’s grandfather was French, somewhere in my father’s family there was someone African but we suspect other ancestors as well, including a Chinese one. My husband has roots in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

There is absolutely no doubt that people are suffering in the United States and—to a lesser extent in Canada—from racism. I have no interest in diminishing this suffering—we should all be amplifying those stories. However, the way we discuss these stories are adversely impacting children of mixed marriages and that is where I want to focus: I want you to imagine being one of those mixed children while you read.

The research on implicit racial biases, often based on the Implicit Association Test (IAT), has provoked some people to state—with puzzling confidence—that all whites harbour implicit racist attitudes. To be clear: for my children, this is their father that we are talking about. When our children have their feet in at least two worlds, sometimes many worlds, telling them one of their parents could dislike them because of their race is not merely the height of cruelty, it is also untrue.

But the IAT, that measures beliefs and attitudes people may be unwilling or unable to report, has numerous problems. For a test to be relevant it has to be replicable—give the same result each time you take it—and valid so measuring what it purports to measure: “Greg Mitchell, a law professor at the University of Virginia (stated) the replicability of the IAT is extremely poor. If the test suggests that you have a strong implicit bias against African Americans, then ‘if you take it even an hour or so later you’ll probably get a very different score’. . . . More fundamentally, there appears to a very tenuous relationship between the IAT and behaviour. That is to say, if your colleague, Person A, does worse in the IAT than another colleague, Person B, it would be far too hasty to conclude that Person A will exhibit more discriminatory behaviour in the workplace. In so far as there is a link between the IAT and behaviour generally, it is shaky.”

If we ignore the fact that IAT is neither reliable nor valid and look at the results—even they do not show that all whites have implicit biases: 18% don’t. Since there are serious methodological questions about this test in the first place, it shouldn’t be used as a justification for saying stuff that would upset mixed race children.

Like most mixed race children, my children have a wide range of looks: they get very dark in the sun and by the end of a long Canadian winter, they look almost white. Once my son and I were grocery shopping at the end of a long winter and we encountered one of his high school classmates. My son told me that this young man asked him afterwards what race he was. My son cheerfully listed my husband’s European roots and my Asian and African ones. When he was finished his classmate said, “No wonder you’re an alpha male in our school. You’re seriously the master race.” Never before had I heard this horrible term being used in this way and it tells you a great deal about the hope I have for this new generation.

This young man—who is white—might go on and have racially mixed children. I can guarantee you that many of this generation will do the same.

For them, and for my children, I have a simple ask: don’t tell racially mixed children that one of their parents is biased against them. It’s cruel.

What my children know, to the core of their being, is that their father would lay down his life for them without a second thought. His love for them is unconditional, deep and one of the most important truths of his life.

Please don’t make generalizations that mess with the family we have created and the children whom both my husband and I love. You can’t stop the damage of racism by ignoring the reality of mixed race children. Keep them close to your heart and don’t say anything to suggest that both their parents have anything but deep, unconditional love for them.

6 comments:

Eve Fisher said...

Well said, and Amen.

Melodie Campbell said...

This is a powerfully written and important post, Mary! Thank you.

Leigh Lundin said...

I’ve never heard of the IAT, but now I’m hearing Jeff Foxworthy in my head.

•  If you joined the KKK for discount bedsheets, you might be a racist.
•  If you listen to Fox & Friends for the recipes, you might be a racist.

My Swedish-ancestry father was as white as a man could get, but he saw we children got somewhat of a black education. He’d occasionally take us to a black church, which had a lot livelier music than our United Methodist hymnal. He’d drop us off on a street corner to play kickball in the Projects, what whites I suppose would call a ghetto. And in an ugly confrontation, he literally lost the farm defending rights of black friends. He didn’t see it as a choice and he passed that on to us. He led by example.

My formidible brother met his wife, standing up for a lone woman against racists. Glen claims he politely offered to detach their body parts and rearrange them in more fitting ways. The men, knowing Glen’s fearsome reputation, abruptly decided their pitbull needed feedin’ and their truck needed shampooin’ and anyway they needed to get home to the wife.

My niece is smart, beautiful, and popular. I don’t think her friends see her as black. And if anyone gave her a hard time, God help them.

R.T. Lawton said...

Mary, well written, and thanks for the info on the lAT. I was not aware of it before now.

O'Neil De Noux said...

Wow. Well done.

Mary Fernando said...

Eve - Thank you!
Melodie- Thank you - it was one I needed to write.
Leigh - wonderful stories!
R.T. Thanks. The IAT is one of the tests that make people say 'everyone is racist' and it's a lousy test.
O'Neil - Thank you!