FAMILY:

Where Did He Get Those Blue Eyes?

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by Christina Simon

A Mom Talks About Raising Mixed-Race Kids

The other day, my 10-year old daughter referred to herself as a “white girl.”

My husband and I glanced at each other.

“Sweetie, you’re not white, you’re mixed,” I gently reminded her.

“True,” she replied breezily.

In our mixed-race family, the issue of race and self-identify is an ongoing conversation. I’m of mixed-race. My dad is white. My mom was African American. My husband is white. My kids, therefore, are mixed.

As a mother of mixed-race kids, I know I have two important tasks. First I want my kids to understand both sides of their heritage, African American and white (Jewish). Secondly, perhaps my most complicated challenge is to help foster a strong sense of self-esteem in my kids. Yes, they are different than non-mixed kids. But, I want them to know that they are unique and special, in part, because of their mixed heritage, not in spite of it. My hope for them is that they grow up able to comfortably navigate both of their worlds, embracing who they are as exquisite individuals.

It’s not always easy to explain race to children. I’ve stumbled over the right words to use more than a few times. I don’t like the term “bi-racial.” It sounds too clinical. Do I say “black” or “African American?” I tend to use both terms. My daughter has light skin and hazel eyes. My son has darker skin and blue eyes. When the kids were younger, they often identified themselves as different races. My daughter would say that my son was African American, but she was white. I’ve explained the concept of being mixed to them in the same way it was explained to me by my parents. I was always told I was an incredibly lucky person to have parents from two different races and cultures. I often tell my kids the same thing.

Talking to kids about race inevitably brings up my own struggles with being mixed, making these conversations more difficult. I felt as if I had a foot in two very different worlds. I wasn’t white, yet I wasn’t entirely black either. When I talk to my kids about being mixed, I emphasize the positive attributes that come with belonging to two races. I’m also honest about the fact that some people may not like them because they’re mixed. These people, I tell them, are ignorant. It’s always eye-opening to explain racism to a child. I tend to draw on inspiring references from history like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement to explain the African American struggle for equality. I smile when my son tells me it doesn’t matter what color somebody is, that what matters is their character. I couldn’t have said it better!

Sometimes, strangers will ask me if my son is mine. I’m always stunned when this happens. It’s painful and makes me question people’s awareness of race. I wonder if they realize how insensitive it is to ask that question in front of my children. Other times, they try to be slightly more diplomatic and ask me where my son got his blue eyes. It’s the same question, just phrased differently. I politely explain that my husband has blue eyes. Even if my son wasn’t my biological child and he was adopted, he’d still be mine. I’d prefer they keep questions about my son to themselves because it feels like an intrusion into our privacy. These questions only come from white people. Black people can instantly tell if someone is mixed. White people are often uncertain. My kids haven’t said anything about it, probably because they know my son has the exact same eyes as my husband, so they don’t need an explanation.

I haven’t had to deal with my kids being called racist names. Yet. Sadly, I think it is inevitable. Because it happened to me growing up, I’m always ready for the conversation should the need arise. My kids know there is something called the “N” word. They don’t know what the actual word is. I’m afraid that if I tell them, they will use it carelessly like they sometimes do with other bad words. They’re too young to understand the profound meaning of the word. I’ve discussed this dilemma with some of my African American friends who have kids the same ages. They too are waiting to tell their kids the actual word. Eventually, I’ll have the task of explaining this toxic word to my children. I won’t tread lightly. I’ll explain its history and origins. It will be a big, powerful family conversation.

One of my all-time favorite moments is when my kids draw picture of our family. They always depict each of us with very different skin tones and eye colors. It’s incredibly sweet and endearing to see our mixed-race family through their eyes. I hope they will always be proud of who they are, as I am incredibly proud to be their mom.

This is part 1 of a two-part series about race and children.

Christina Simon is the co-author of “Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles”. She also writes the blog, www.beyondthebrochure.blogspot.com about applying to private elementary schools in Los Angeles and life as a private school mom. Christina is a former vice president at Fleishman-Hillard, a global public relations firm. She has a 7-year old son and 10-year old daughter. She holds a B.A. from UC Berkeley and an M.A. from UCLA.

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out the first episode of our DVD series, “Ruby’s Studio: The Feeling Show,”which helps children express their feelings. We want to be a parenting tool for you!

Posted in: Family, Identity, Parental Wisdom, Tough Topics

Comments (40)

  1. mel

    This is a very interesting post. I am not of mixed race. My family is mostly caucasion although we do have Indian ancestors in our family. Its interesting though, I have very dark hair with dark eyes and olive colored skin while one of my brothers has blondhair and blue eyes and is fair skinned and the other brother has dark hair and olive skin like mine but has green eyes. Its funny how that type of thing can vary even if your family is not mixed. People should realize that by now. Although I myself know that only a child mixed with caucasion blood could have Blue eyes.

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  2. calvin

    thank you for sharing your experience. I’m mixed, however my mom (who happens to have dutch-chinese blood) never said single thing about this multicultural identity, so I felt very insecure about my identity. reading experiences from others helps me to appreciate what I am.

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  3. spelhouseLove

    What’s interesting is that I share in this world even though I am the daughter of two black parents and so is my husband. Our daughter has grey eyes, fair skin and straight hair, so I get the questions, stares, etc. I never thought the combination of my brown skin and my husband’s dark brown skin would create our light child, but God has blessed it so. When we lived in NYC, folks would ask me if I was our son’s nanny, LOL… and the “but, you can’t be the mom” saga continues.

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  4. Shaylah

    I am half black and half natIve American. My mother was full mi’kmaq and taught me a lot about that culture since I grew up without a father. My husband is a copper Inuit from Nunavut. We have one child a daughter named Wynter who doesnt look African American whatsoever. She is only 20 months old and has long big curly jet black hair. She is really light which is odd because her father and I are pretty tanned in colour. She has freckles across her nose and she has grey blue eyes. My husband and I both have brown eyes. Many people ask me where she got her eye colour from. I just say ‘i have no idea!’

    It’s funny how genetics work. It really makes you think.
    Ps. You family is beautiful.

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  5. Socamom

    You would be stunned to hear that not just mixed race families are having issues discussing race with their kids! My parents are from Trinidad, and my kids are immersed in the Caribbean culture here in the states. My husband is from Delaware. My 6 year old asked me what “African American” meant the other day, and I was struggling to explain it to him. He finally told me that since he was born here and he doesn’t even KNOW anyone in Africa, that he was just a plain American. Caribbean people have so many races to explain (many times all within one family – or person!), that we just don’t. I can’t wait until this is a non-issue, but since it isn’t, I guess we’ll have to find acceptable answers for our kids questions!

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  6. Peppa

    I am an African woman married to a white man (also Jewish). Our daughter is still young but I do worry about the day she starts to talk about race. The other day she said daddy was white and mommy was brown. It got me thinking, “this conversation may happen a lot sooner than I thought”. This article helped me think a lot about my conversation with my now two year old should it come up and how to help her deal with her struggles and help her love herself and be confident in who she is. Thank you.

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  7. Carrie

    I loved this article and the family is beautiful.. I am african american and my husband is white we dont care when we still get those crazy stares in the stores especially since we are alot younger but since we are now planning a baby Im glad to know a perspective from other parents or interacialchildren on who i can relate to when we do have our mixed bundle of joy !! we have a crazy idea of what he/she will look like because he has brown hair like me but his is lighter and has eyes that change from hazel to green and light brown… and my eyes are drk brown but my mothers eyes are light brown also so were totally excited and cant wait

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  8. Courtney

    I really enjoyed this article..My husband is biracial (white father,black mother) and I am white..So 1 of our children looks just like her dad,but is pale-other looks like me ,but is darker..i just love when people ask ” is she yours?” lol

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  9. Goldilocksnme

    I too have people constantly asking me where my children got those green (oldest son)/ blue (2 youngest kids) eyes from. I never equated it to them hinting that my kids weren’t mine. But it totally makes sense that it’s a more “p.c.” way to insinuate that their not our kids. It IS always white people, (I never picked up on that distinction before either). My youngest 2 kids have blonde hair which neither my husband has nor do I, and we do get those “looks” from people. People need to not let their curiosity get the better of them to the point where their being rude and asking these types of questions ESPECIALLY in front of the kids

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  10. Elizabeth

    I am your children. I mean, race-wise, at least, we have a lot in common. My mother is white (maternal grandmother Spanish, maternal grandfather Irish and German.) and my father is mixed (paternal grandfather Portugese, paternal grandmother African American and Native American) I look, at the same time, like every and no other race. I think Christina can understand this, your children probably get mistaken as being other races all the time. My daughter has it pretty much the same way….her father’s family is African American, Mexican, and European. She got so tired of trying to explain her ‘race’ to everyone that would ask, that her answer to “What race are you?” became “American.” And isn’t that actually kindof accurate? I think that we ‘mixed kids’ are making up the new “American” race.I totally appreciate this article. I am a new fan! 🙂

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  11. Mildred Espree

    As someone who is historically multi-racial, with family history in America going back to the 1600’s, with a family tree on two sides that includes (Creole–French-Spanish-African-Native American, English and Irish racial lines), I have found that my DNA does not reflect the history, the pain, the scorn and the misunderstanding — all that is a part of my consciousness, along with faith and hope in a future that will be all-inclusive. I married a Creole man whose history and DNA are very similar to my own and I have two children who identify as Creole and who look exactly like their history implies. They are often mistaken for Latino — which they are, but not, as well as Italian or French-Creole. They are all these things as well as black. Black history is theirs too because once-upon-a-time in America, my relatives crossed racial lines, committed suicide, developed addictions and suffered because of their race. Once upon a time in black and white America — the one-drop rule applied to people who could not completely identify with anyone anywhere in America. Not if they told the whole truth about their emotional and psychological landscape — in America! Today my children live in a less painful reality than I did — looking the way I do. One is brown and one is white — they look alike though and identify they same way. Creole means native to the land. It our Louisiana-Texas Gulf Coast way — for many generations — of subversively claiming to be Americans in an America that didn’t want us. Julie Eshelman-Lee wrote in 2004, a poem in which she says “To be Creole begins in a basket that holds everything.” That is my history. It is who I am and what my life represents. Bless all of you. Your struggle is my struggle too.

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  12. AD Powell

    By what standard do you say that your children are not white? Their ancestry is predominately white. Do you believe that “white” equals racially pure? If you feel that your Jewish husband is definitely white (despite the fact that extreme racists do not consider Jews white), why do you apparently believe that your children are somehow unworthy of the description?

    Reply

    • caffeine

      Ouch. What does worth have to do with race?

      Reply

  13. Daniella

    Im so glad I came across this post I am also mixed race and I had my son a year ago. He has blue eyes and blond curly hair. I am light skiined but i dont have the “typical” mixed race features. Frequently I am asked is he yours? and he just looks white!. It realy frustrates me as he actully has more of my feature’s than my partners but all starngers see is he is light skinned with light hair. Ready your story and everybody ele’s comments have made me feel alot better in knowing that I am not the only person who goes through this problem. And that it realy dosent matter what people say or think as long as my son knows who he is.

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  14. Gracia

    A huge cheers to The Mother Company for this series! I’m a 34 year old “mixed girl” who hopes to be a mother in the coming years and this warms my heart that so many parents engaging in this conversation.

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  15. Allison

    I can absolutely relate to this article. I have an 11 month old son of mixed race (White mother/African American Father). People don’t realize how rude and insensitive they can be when asking questions about a child’s race. I had a co-worker flat out say “So what is he?” I was at a loss of words when this happened. As if it should matter….I wanted to say a beautiful, healthy boy but I replied with what I knew she was asking and told her he’s half white and half black. In addition, his eyes are another topic of discussion….I have hazel eyes and my son’s father has brown eyes. My son seems to have a mixture of grey, green, and brown in his eyes right now and EVERYONE wants to know where he gets his eyes from. Sometimes I just want to respond with “Why the hell should it matter to you?” but instead i politely tell them my eyes are hazel so he gets it from me….People really need to think before they start asking questions about mixed race children. I really believe my son is the best of both races… and people should just respect that instead of question and critize it.

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  16. Allison

    I can absolutely relate to this article. I have a 11 month old soon of mixed race (White mother/African American Father). People don’t realize how rude and insensitive they can be when asking questions about a childs race. I had a co-worker flat out say “So what is he?” I was at a loss of words when this happened. As if it should matter….I wanted to say a beautiful, healthy boy but I replied with what I knew she was asking and told her he’s half white and half black. His eyes are another topic of discussion….I have hazel eyes and my son’s father has brown eyes. My son seems to have a mixture of grey, green, and brown in his eyes right now and EVERYONE wants to know where he gets his eyes from. Sometimes I just want to respond with Why the hell should it matter to you but instead i politely tell them my eyes are hazel so he gets it from me….People really need to think before they start asking questions about mixed race children. I really believe my son is the best of both races… and people should just respect that instead of question and critize it.

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  17. Alexia

    Thank you so much for such an honest and insightful piece! This is something as a person of mixed heritage (black father/white mother) that I have always struggled with. My husband is also mixed (Arabic father/white mother) and our child is a beautiful combination of all of the above! Since she is only 15 months we haven’t had any discussions about race yet, but it’s good to know there are some very thoughtful and inclusive ways of looking at the topic of race in our family.

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  18. Christina Simon

    Thank you all for your wonderful and insightful comments! I enjoyed writing this piece for The Mother Company.

    Reply

  19. merci

    I am a mixed race mommy w/a mixed race child. My mother is Asian, my father is African American and my daughters father is African American. Luckily, my daughter has a mother who looks like her. Sounds like a small detail, but it isnt. I grew up in a large mixed race family and we lived in military community. Military families travel the world and they are accustomed to meeting people and interacting with people who look different. I can not say the same is true for LA, its a large city where people can remain insulated from the rest of the world, and they do. I have no idea what my daughters experiences will be here. I am trying to remain positive but its a unique and rewarding experience to be apart of two very rich cultures and I am grateful. I plan to share the joy with my little one and somehow teach her how to navigate the heartache.

    A personal side note about identity: my brothers call themselves “Black” my sister will say that she is “Asian”. I am a bit more specific: when it comes to personal/family matters I am “Asian” when it comes to social/political issues I am a “Black” woman. I wonder what my daughter will my daughter identify herself as?????

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  20. Michelle

    Hi : )

    I am of mixed heritage, Japanese and American White, who was raised in Japan for half of my childhood. There was a lot of discrimination because this was back in the 70’s early 80’s in a non-military community (since my father was a non-military Japanese parent).

    We knew we were different, (as in Japan is a country with “one look”, as opposed to let’s say Mexico or Hawaii), and when we would tell our Mom what people were saying or doing, she would simply listen and let us decide how we felt about it and didn’t interject her opinions to sway us in any one direction.

    Coming to America, (California specifically), I was so surprised to see a range of races. It was soooo much easier being “mixed” in a country that has many different “colors” of people and cultures.

    It amazes me how much people make a big deal of being “mixed” here, when in reality, this is the easiest place to be “mixed”.

    I can understand some children need more support then other’s, and if that is the case, then definitely give the extra support…other than that, simply teaching your kids about all their different heritages is the most important, and they will figure out the rest for themselves.

    I have children that are from a “mixed” father as well; my kids are 1/4 of four different races. I raise my daughter’s with a lot of Japanese culture and language, even if they are technically only 1/4 Japanese.

    I try to explain to people that citizenship is different from blood line, and blood line is different from the culture that you were raised under…but culture is by far the biggest determinant on a person’s identity…

    …as in, as a child I was an American citizen, and Japanese and German/Irish by blood, but Japanese by culture. Now I am mostly American by culture…and being “American” can be interpreted many ways…*HaHaHa*.

    A subject with many angles to view from… : )

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  21. Jackie

    Great post!
    I’m a mixed race woman with a mixed race child and I can totally relate.

    I think it’s fantastic that you talk to your kids about their race, heritage and culture and I consider it very important for a child’s sense of self. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    BTW – what a gorgeous family you are!

    Reply

  22. Let’s Talk About Race « The Mother Company

    […] is Part 2 of a two-part series on children and […]

    Reply

  23. bethany

    Great post, and sorry you have to deal with such insensitive comments. Why would anyone ever ask those questions? Rather baffling, as if it’s relevant. If they know you well enough to ask personal questions, they’d have no need to ever ask that one!
    What beautiful kids, and may you always have the words you need to guide them.

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  24. Sidra

    Although my blue-eyed son is “white” we have encountered the same question about his biological heritage when paired with his Italian brown-eyed father. People have pondered the physical traits of the proverbial mailman. Crude comments aren’t necessarily racially motivated. They are just regurgitated from ignorant, clueless beings. I, for one, applaud interesting looking people. Cocoa is this year’s white!!!

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  25. Aja Hannah

    This article really hit home. I’m a mixed kid and so are my sisters. The only problem is that we didn’t have parents or educators like this growing up. We were told one minute to be proud and the next that being mixed wasn’t as big of a force as being black or white. We got very mixed messages and then there are the problems in school. As she mentioned self-esteem is a key issue in this problem. After a while, it really will begin to get torn down when a mixed kid realizes who they are is to be defined by their skin and yet they have no definition.

    My sisters and I keep an online diary or blog about this called Diaries of a Mixed (Up) Kid that talks about snapshots of our lives in this growth. We want people to understand this struggle so I hope you don’t mind that I link to this site in our next piece. It’s important to have these strong parent figures that understand a mixed kid as a single-race can’t.

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  26. Jodene

    Thank you for sharing your very personal and insightful perspective on multiculturalism and multiracial families. When my son was five, my mother – who is Japanese American- said he was Black, to which he replied, “No Grandma. I’m African American.” His self-perception has changed over time, and at the ripe old age of 10, he acknowledges his European, African American and Asian heritage and prefers to call himself “American”. Or just by his name, Amani. I would like to believe we are moving forward in our views of race and multiracial families, recognizing that we are all unique and beautiful.

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  27. Porcha

    Wow, this is very insightful and such a realistic approach to a very sensitive topic. What a wonderful gift to be able to share both heritages with your children. The world is a global village and the more we teach our children to embrace their differences, the better. Thanks for sharing:)

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  28. Suchada @ Mama Eve

    Oh, I wish I could show you a picture of my kids! I have dark eyes and a complexion like you (my mother is Thai and my father is white). My husband is white, and we have one fair-haired, green-eyed son, and one dark-haired, dark-complexion son with blue eyes. My younger son looks a lot like me, but many people asked me if my older son was mine.

    I feel somewhat insulated from race issues, perhaps because I grew up overseas, and not in the U.S., so I haven’t thought much about how I will handle it with my children. It’s never crossed my mind that it would be an issue, because I haven’t felt like it was much of an issue with me (no one has ever been overtly racist to me). I appreciate how sensitively you’ve handled the subject. Thank you!

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  29. Jenny Heitz

    This is a well thought out piece on a complicated subject. I can’t believe how insensitive people can be, especially when it involves someone else’s child. Hopefully, as the next generation becomes less race oriented, the likelihood that your children will EVER hear the “n word” will lessen considerably.

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  30. Denica

    I am a mother of two wonderful bi-cultural children and I applaud this piece. We all try to keep our children innocent and shelter them from the sometimes harsh world until we feel they can understand/handle things. Navigating this learning process is difficult when you have kids with mixed heritage. The world and its comments come to your door step. It is hard (but it can be done!) to raise a child to embrace their differences as well as celebrate them. My husband and I tell our children that they are blessed to experience the world from two different perspectives. With love, and by example, we teach them that it is not the color of a person’s skin that is important – but the content of their character.

    Reply

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