The New York Times reported President Barack Obama identified himself as black on the first family’s Census form. I was not surprised. Biracial and multiracial are relatively new terms, and I don’t expect those born at a different time to embrace them.

Obama is 48 and was raised during a time when children had to choose. More often than not, children chose the race that matched how they appeared to society. Obama has described himself as a the child of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya. It is not for me or anyone else to decide how someone identifies himself. I cannot tell someone who he is or who he should be. That is solely a personal decision.

I expect the matter of identity will be a tough one for me. Writers and sociologists have told me Simone and Nadia may change how they identify themselves as they mature. They may even change how they identify themselves based on their environment. In the end, though, it is their decision. As their mother, I will have to respect that.

So, what do you say? Have any of you had to deal with a child who has changed his identity?

5 thoughts to “Racial Identity

  • Joyful Mom

    I’m so interested to see how identity unfolds with my daughters. They have a few different cultures they can claim and I expect to see an evolution in how they come to identify themselves.

    How kids identify racially and culturally is such a deeply personal decision and as parents I feel it’s our job to put aside our own expectations and be flexible.

  • Lovelyn

    My mother is biracial. She identified as black ever since I’ve know her, but about 10 years ago she went through a kind of change. “Who’d thought I’d get into my fifties and suddenly start having a racial identity crisis,” she once told me. So these days she’s biracial. The change came when she decided to get her masters degree in psychology. Her thesis was about racial identity in biracial children. I think that in the course of interviewing lots of other biracial people she saw that there were more options than referring to herself as simply black.

  • Velour

    I will tell them how society may see them – but that the outside world should not determine their identity or how they feel about themselves. I’m not biracial, yet the outside world has tried to fit me into various categories and define me – which I’ve refused. I’d like them to be the same…to recognize and embrace the contributions of both parents as far as genetics and upbringing. I don’t feel it will be a big problem since the one-drop rule isn’t a part of my Caribbean background – and I don’t plan to raise them solely in the U.S. where these rigid “racial” categorizations are such a huge deal. We plan to travel with them often. I wouldn’t want them too much in that “racial mindset,” because I feel it’s very limiting. I plan to raise them more with a focus on culture. There isn’t such a thing as race, anyway. The plan is that they will identify with the cultures we pass onto them more than anything – and learn to appreciate all cultures around the world.

  • Quiskaeya

    Agreed 100%. As you said he is coming from an era where he was probably labeled and taught to see himself as a black man. Beyond that there maybe a political interest involved in that he doesn’t want to alienate himself from the black community. The biracial community is not yet a structured community, that he should fear alienating himself from it. His accomplishment is considered the world over as a black accomplishment and will certainly go down in the history books as one. I completely agree on all points on what you have said.

  • Quiskaeya

    As far as my own children, I haven’t had to deal with changing identities as of yet. My 2yo is still young. However, with my 8yo he really seems very comfortable with his ID. It’s not an issue with him. He doesn’t really even talk about it. I noticed he prefers to say he’s both Haitian & Israeli than to say I’m black, biracial, etc. I’m good with that. As you recall from my “On Being Biracial” even I was a bit amazed w/ how comfortable he was with IDing himself. I truly hope he goes with whatever he’s most comfortable with. Great post!

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