Question: I’ve got one for you, Mama. We’ve got a few years before kids, but pretty early into our relationship, we discussed that — in very basic terms — our potential kids would have to navigate between Black and White worlds. I would love to hear how you instill “Black” values and sense of pride in your beautiful girls, without alienating their White heritage.

Answer: This is a tough question for many reasons. First, what I consider black values may not hold the same distinction for others. Second, families, regardless of race, ultimately decide what does and does not work for the unit. As long as everyone has a say, all will work out well. Third, having pride in one area doesn’t necssarily negate pride in another area. How’s that for a disclaimer? That said, I will give four examples of how I try to instill black values or a sense of pride in Simone and Nadia.

First and foremost, I want Simone and Nadia to learn and understand black history. Right now that comes in the form of books. Later, we will take family field trips.

When Simone was a toddler, Ken and I took her to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on Martin Luther King’s birthday. She looked and pointed and asked questions. She had no idea she was learning about civil rights. I was so proud and then she asked when we were going home. The lesson: Make sure your teachable moment is age appropriate.

Second, I collect black folk art, which often depicts black life. I should say, I collected folk art because I purchased most of the pieces before Simone and Nadia were born. We once were at an arts festival and Nadia saw a painting that resembled a piece in our home. She pulled Ken by the arm, smiling and chattering, all the way to the artwork. When I caught up, I explained to the artist that the reason my daughter was so excited about her work is because we have two of her pieces hanging in our living room. The lesson: Be a model for your children.

Third, I require Simone and Nadia to respect their elders. Friends and family have limited choices about how the girls may address them. The choices are: aunt, Ms., uncle and Mr. I think it’s important for children to learn adults are not their friends. This strategy also serves as a way for me to welcome family and friends into our village. The lesson: You had better listen to and respect these folks or else.

Fourth, family is everything. I would like for Simone and Nadia to be close. (They are only two years apart.) For that reason, they share a room. When they are older and want and need a bit more independence and privacy, they may have separate rooms. For now, they can share time and space. They are individuals and they are family. Family always comes first. If they leave together, I expect them to return together. The lesson: You are your sister’s keeper.

So, what do you say? Answer the question and leave your answer below.

9 thoughts to “Honeysmoke Says

  • Mrs. K

    What a great post. This is very helpful to me (also a future mother of biracial children). I will keep these things in mind.

  • class factotum

    I love that your children call adults “Mr/Ms/aunt/uncle!” Those were my only options as a kid as well. I suspect it had something to do with being brought up by a dad in the air force.

    It bugs me when people introduce their children to me by my first name. I don’t even presume to call my friends’ parents by their first names now and I’m 47! If I address Lindley’s dad as “Mr so and so” and he tells me to call him “Bob,” I will, but after several years, that has yet to happen, so I expect he prefers “Mr.”

    I had to inform my friend’s 29 year old daughter that no, everyone does not call everyone “Dude” and that I did not want her to call me “Dude” – that she could call me “Class” or “Ms Factotum” if “Class” was too familiar for her.

  • Blanc2

    We do many of the same things you describe, including keeping our kids in the same room for many years. This year our daughter has a class project to do a multimedia research project, paper and presentation on an historical figure. Based on our encouragement and guidance, she selected Thurgood Marshall.

    In addition to the obvious, we have talked to them about the fact that, as they go out in the world, they will encounter some who may try to force them to “choose a side” — “are you white or are you black?” That, I think, will be the toughest racial issue the will arise in the life of a biracial person. I realize that some will automatically view them as “white” or “black” without their choosing, but we cannot control what other people think of us. We can, however, control our self-image, and I hope that we have given them enough inner strength to realize that they are both black and white, not just one or the other.

    • Honeysmoke

      I shared a room with my younger brother until I was 7. The main reason has more to do with base housing than anything else. I think children had to be a certain age before their parents could qualify for a three-bedroom home. Even when we had our own rooms, you could often find us in the same place. I’m grateful my brother and I remain close to this day.

  • Yvonne

    What a great topic. I think making sure the history being taught is age appropriate is crucial. I homeschool my two little ones and its essential that black american history is taught accurately, but when my children are mature enough to digest the information. I also think its important to address adults as Ms., Mr., Aunt or Uncle. It’s funny because I often feel like an old fogy because no one else I know does it. It seems like its cool for kids to call adults by our first name. I cringe when I hear our neighbors child call me by my first name. When my children try the same thing, they are quickly corrected.

    Great post and right on point.

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  • ET

    Thanks for this thoughtful response! Your girls are very lucky to have such a thoughtful mama. Keep up the blogging!

    – ET (the original reader with said question)

  • Chiara

    This is a long the same guidelines, but slightly different. I am a biracial child and often wonder that if I marry a black man, will my children not identify with their small, but significant white side? Does anyone have any advice in regards to this aspect? Or, how would you encourage your children when they are in a serious relationship to handle this. When you don’t see evidence of it everyday in a white parent, do they not identify at all?

    • ET

      Great question, Chi. Love you!

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