[ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN PRINT ONLY. REPRINTED HERE WITH PERMISSION FROM RICE PAPER MAGAZINE]
In the United States, the fastest-growing census demographic is "multiracial" - those who check more than one box to answer the "race question. For some, this growth can't come soon enough. Many believe that more multiracial people will eventually make physical differences irrelevant and usher in a new era of racial harmony. Other well-meaning people try to be colour blind, unaware that they might be overlooking real problems that non-white people face each day. In her book Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Children In a Post-Racial World, author Sharon Chang looks at these issues as well as many others - and adds an extra complication: whether subtle racism and racist social structures can affect toddlers and young children.
" . . . the new vocabulary in the book has helped me talk about thoughts and feelings I didn't have words for."
Raising Mixed Race is an ambitious book, diving into issues like poverty, education, and media representation: challenges that are often linked to race. In a particularly revealing section, the parents Chang interviewed were almost all hesitant to talk about race with their kids. Most wanted to keep their children innocent, and felt that they didn't understand race anyway - but Chang says that are not blissfully unaware. She cites a study that revealed that three-year-olds preferred same-race playmates and that white children increasingly wanted white playmates as they got older. Preschoolers can treat people differently based on skin colour, with one Chinese-American mother telling Chang that their four-year-old "would not accept whites speaking to him in Mandarin, saying, 'No. You don't speak Chinese.'" From birth to adulthood, Chang writes that peers and adults keep trying to fit multiracial children into a dated five-race construct (black, brown, yellow, red, and white) to determine if they're closer to one particular race, denying them the right to identify with every part of their own heritage.
Chang's conclusions are, for the most part, hard to argue with. Parents should give their children more credit and talk about race so they can better resist the forces of institutionalized racism. However, the book's prose and organization might be hard to follow for anyone expecting another feel-good parenting book; Raising Mixed Race is denser than your average magazine article.
Though it is not light reading, Raising Mixed Race is in many ways empowering: the new vocabulary in the book has helped me talk about thoughts and feelings I didn't have the words for. I hope this discussion moves to mainstream arenas like talk shows and checkstand magazines, so that more people can gain the same knowledge and tools that Chang has given me."I hope this discussion moves to mainstream . . . so that more people can gain the same knowledge and tools that Chang has given me."