Living Interracial

Multiracial children face unique challenges in the South

“He was spit on, teased and beat up after going through the wrong neighborhood. He was teased because of his looks,” Jeffery Braxton said.

Millsaps College junior Timothy “Trevor” White, 20, still remembers the stinging words that confused and puzzled him following his visit to a grade-school friend’s home years ago.

“My friend (who is white) asked his dad if I could go to the country club and his dad said, ‘No.’” White’s friend added, “You can’t go because you’re black,’” White, who is from Zachary, said.

It was the first time White said he felt singled out of an activity because of his interracial identity.

“I was more confused than mad or sad, and I didn’t know why at the time,” he said.

Child psychologist Bryan Gros and Baton Rouge Counseling clinical social worker Todd Atkins said issues affecting interracial couples and their children are challenging, but can be overcome.

“There’s no indication that interracial children suffer from any more depression or anxiety than that of the general population,” Gros said. “There are additional things they do have to cope with and learn to deal with, and they do have to work through identity issues.”

Atkins said interracial couples and children face a unique set of challenges in the once segregated South.

“In the Deep South, mixed-race couples and their children struggle for acceptance in both their families of origin and community. Because modern families have less influence to constrain who their children marry, there is now much more diversity, including interracial diversity. From a psychological perspective, ambivalence about mixed racial origins creates isolation, confusion and a sense of not belonging.”

About 9 million, or 8 percent, of the minority population is multiracial due to the increasing numbers of interracial marriages. Multiracial people together with blacks, Hispanics and Asians, will represent a majority of the U.S. population by mid-century, according to Census Bureau estimates.

White has worked through some of the isolated incidents of insensitivity he faced growing up as an interracial child.

“As a 20-year-old, I understand that there are people in the world who are ignorant,” he said.

White was born to a black father, Thomas, and a white mother, Bridgette. He also has two younger sisters.

“We have raised them to respect others and themselves,” Bridgette said. “They were told early not to talk about others due to differences — no matter what that difference may be. They have their own mind and don’t care what others think or say about them. Their dad taught them not to start anything, but to shut it down quick if someone started something with them.”

The race question is a little more complicated, Bridgette said.

“I told them early on you will be viewed mostly as black,” she said. “They did ask sometimes when taking standardized tests what to put. I told them black, but they said they are both black and white, and there should be an option for that. My middle child makes her own box and puts, mixed.”

Filling out the race section on standardized test forms or applications can be tricky for interracial children, Gros said. The message society sends out is often a confusing one. The box that appears for people who don’t pick one race is, “other.”

“That says, ‘I don’t fit,’” he said.

White, who is a pre-engineering major at Millsap’s College, said he has become comfortable with the topic of race, can joke about it and said he will not choose one race or the other for the sake of becoming boxed in.

“I don’t think of speaking of my mom as a white person or dad as a black person. I see them as mom and dad,” White said. “I’m multiracial, and I’m mixed with black and white. If they ask me who I prefer to be, I say ‘I’ll live my life the way I want, whether black, white or Hispanic.”

Even though White has become more assertive about his racial identity, race issues were tougher to navigate through his childhood years.

“When you’re younger, people tease you and you see it as them joking around or stereotyping you,” he said. “They’d say, ‘you can shoot because you’re black or you talk proper because you’re white.”

Dating challenges were also common.

“White girls would say, ‘My parents say I can’t date black people,’ and the black girls would say, ‘I don’t date white boys.’”

Gros said families can work through these types of challenging situations by celebrating their children’s different ethnic sides and preparing them for difficult situations they may encounter.

“To help children work through those issues, my recommendations are for parents to embrace both races,” Gros said. “They need to celebrate African American customs and other traditions that black families do, as well as customs and traditions that white cultures celebrate. You see it in families where one is Italian or Irish. They celebrate both heritages.”

Identity issues and peer pressure can affect interracial children in a negative way if parents fail to address the matters early on, Atkins said.

“When a person feels persistently rejected or marginalized because of race, it can erode self-esteem and create anger, self-hatred and resentment. This phenomenon is compounded in teens who are already dealing with identity formation and trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in,” he said.

Michael Hatfield, 22, a security guard from Prairieville who is biracial, is comfortable with his biracial identity and owes much of his self-acceptance to his mother, Carla, who is black and his father, Michael, who is white.

“Most people look at me as black and not as interracial,” Hatfield said. “I don’t really think about being interracial. I am who I am. It was never a big deal in my house.”

When he fills out the race identity box on applications, he checks “other” and writes in “African American and Caucasian” or he chooses the biracial box if it’s available.

However, he was not immune to teasing while growing up, he said.

“You just cope with it. Kids can be cruel,” Hatfield said. “If it wasn’t the biracial thing, they would have found something else to tease me about.”

Hatfield said his parents taught him an important survival tool.

“It doesn’t matter what you are on the outside. What matters is what’s on the inside,” he said.

Gros said there are ways children and young people can teach others to view their heritage in a more positive light.

“Have the child deliver a presentation on the cultural differences and similarities of both races or talk about how different races can still get along despite their different physical appearances,” Gros said. “Children can also talk about the fact that one parent is a different race from another and present a family tree.”

Parents also need to address bullying issues affecting their children, Gros said.

“Children of interracial heritage are at a greater risk for being bullied or teased, and parents need to talk about it and tell them what to do if they are at school and how to tell people to stop and when to defend themselves,” he said.

Parents Jeffery Braxton, who is black, and his wife Vivian, who is Asian, helped her 12-year-old son from a previous relationship, who is black and Asian, work through a bullying experience several years ago.

“He was spit on, teased and beat up after going through the wrong neighborhood. He was teased because of his looks,” Jeffery Braxton said.

Children outside his stepson’s neighborhood pegged him as black because of his skin tone and wavy hair. Braxton said his stepson regarded himself as a person of mixed heritage and not just black.

“The world does not know you have an Asian mom at home, they just see that you look African American,” Braxton said he told his son.

He said teaching his stepson to accept his black heritage was a necessary part in helping him cope with the elements that he will be facing in daily life.

“They (children) are faced with confusion outside of the home,” Braxton said. “People can be mean. It is up to us as parents to love them and make them feel strong so that they can be upholding citizens.”

Maxine Crump, president/CEO of Dialogues on Race, an organization offering resources to individuals and businesses wanting to improve the community around issues of race, said Braxton’s actions are understandable.

“The father of this child is trying to help him understand the irrational attitudes he is facing here in the South. He is not trying to get his son to take on the designation. In reality, science has proven that there is no such thing as race,” Crump said. “Race was an American construct and we are suffering under the weight of this unjust legacy today.”

Crump also said interracial children are overburdened with issues concerning their heritage.

“Nothing is wrong in any way, shape or form with being mixed race. We are not separate species. We are all human beings and the diversity is part of the richness of America and that includes mixed races. If (interracial children) are sad, it comes from those of us who carry ignorance and irrational attitudes about what it means for people with a different skin color to parent a child.” Crump said. “That is the craziest thing we could be concerned about in the 21st century.”