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Janelle2002

As A White Mom, Helping My Multiracial Kids Feel At Home In Their Skin

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Last year, after months of watching — and re-watching — the movie Frozen, my daughter Selma, who is 6, announced she didn't want to be brown. "I wish my skin was white," she told me one day in our living room, where we were hanging out after school.

I knew she idolized the film's alabaster-skinned heroines, and it made my heart ache. Our daughters started picking up on the differences in our family's skin color at a very young age — I'm a white-skinned woman raised in the South, my husband Jason is part-white, part-American Indian, with medium-brown skin, and, depending on the season, both of our girls look more brown than white. There's research showing that children can recognize differences in race as early as infancy, and can develop racial biases as early as three.

Knowing all this, we've tried to raise our daughters to be comfortable in their skin, making sure they're in schools with other black and brown children, searching out books and movies with black and brown main characters. I had even tried, unsuccessfully, to steer her away from the snowy princesses.

But our attempts clearly weren't foolproof. "You're beautiful the way you are," I told Selma, stroking her long hair and trying to mask my sadness. "I love your brown skin." She wasn't convinced. "I wish it was like yours," she told me.

As more families resemble my own, more parents will have to figure out how to talk to their kids about being mixed race. The Pew Research Center found that in 2010, about 15 percent of new marriages in the U.S. were mixed, up from about 7 percent 30 years earlier. Multiracial children are the fastest growing group of children in the country. Between 2000 and 2010, the population of children like mine — a mix of two or more races — increased almost 50 percent. By 2022, the number of multiracial students in American elementary schools is expected to grow 44 percent.

As more families resemble my own, more parents will have to figure out how to talk to their kids about being mixed race.

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At the girls' schools, on the playground, at the swimming pool, I notice people scanning my multicolor family, and I don't think it's a stretch to assume they're trying to figure out what's going on: Who belongs to whom? How are these people related? From a young age, we want to help our daughters feel at home in a world that's still getting used to kids who look like them.

Jason and I met 15 years ago in San Francisco, where being an interracial couple felt to us like a total non-issue. Our young family moved to my home state of Virginia in 2010 to be closer to relatives, and, for the first time, I worried about how we would be received. Virginia is home to the landmark Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia, which overthrew laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The case was brought by a married couple — Mildred Loving, a part-American Indian, part-black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man — after they were awakened in the middle of the night in 1958 and arrested for violating an anti-miscegenation statute in place in Virginia at the time. That was decades ago, but I still worried how we would be welcomed in Richmond, where racial segregation remains severe and Confederate statues line the streets near our home.

One day, a white boy who attends school with my daughters ran laps with us during before-school running club. "Is that your daughter?" he asked. I said of course she was. "But she looks nothing like you," he replied. "That's the funny thing about genetics!" I said, trying to keep it light. "She looks just like her father."

A family portrait by the author's daughter, Selma. Courtesy Kristen Green hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Kristen Green

A family portrait by the author's daughter, Selma.

Courtesy Kristen Green

Selma was listening to every word, wide-eyed, keeping pace with us. In these conversations with strangers, I find I'm really talking to my daughters; what I say could end up being what they say in situations where they're on their own, and I want to equip them well. The boy needed a little more convincing, but he eventually seemed satisfied and left to run with other kids. Selma never mentioned it again, but I know these interactions stick in my daughters' minds.

The night Selma announced her Frozen wish, I shared it with my husband. I could see he was bothered by her words but also unsurprised. "She'll have to come to this on her own," he told me, but he promised to talk to her about it. Tucking her in that night, he told her that her brown skin was something to be proud of and that it made her special. She nodded and kissed him goodnight, but we've been trying to come up with everyday ways to give Selma more positive messages about her skin color. I started referring to her as Jason's "twinsie" to make her feel connected to him — and his dark skin color — and she embraced the nickname. Just last week, she requested a Barbie for her birthday, and we bought her a brown-skinned, brunette one, as well as a Doc McStuffins doll set, which features a black female doctor.

Lately, both girls seem to be developing a more complex vocabulary for skin color — their own, and everyone else's too. Just the other day, Selma informed me that I am a blend of peach and white, while she's a blend of brown and white, explaining that that's why she is "light brown." Amaya, who's 7, currently calls herself "tan," while labeling her sister "brown." Sometimes they want us all to put our arms next to each other poolside to see who is darkest and who is lightest. When the girls talk about this with each other, I typically listen without commenting. As much as our daughters need messages from Jason and me, they also need to consider this on their own.

Look to NPR for the rest of the article http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/07/24/419213835/as-a-white-mom-helping-her-multiracial-kids-feel-at-home-in-their-skin

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I know these kids' feelings on this. My brother and I were the only mixed kids in our household (our father being mixed and our mother being white--we were raised by our mother) and we were much browner than our siblings or mother and stepfather. I remember being a young teenager and being inspected by the security in stores while my white friends walked by unmolested. I stayed out of the sun for years and years and went much paler but I'm back to brown now that I've moved to Texas. I was doing my job signing stuff today and my boss assumed I spoke spanish--was going to put it on my nametag.


Met in 2010 on a forum for a mutual interest. Became friends.
2011: Realized we needed to evaluate our status as friends when we realized we were talking about raising children together.

2011/2012: Decided we were a couple sometime in, but no possibility of being together due to being same sex couple.

June 26, 2013: DOMA overturned. American married couples ALL have the same federal rights at last! We can be a family!

June-September, 2013: Discussion about being together begins.

November 13, 2013: Meet in person to see if this could work. It's perfect. We plan to elope to Boston, MA.

March 13, 2014 Married!

May 9, 2014: Petition mailed to USCIS

May 12, 2014: NOA1.
October 27, 2014: NOA2. (5 months, 2 weeks, 1 day after NOA1)
October 31, 2014: USCIS ships file to NVC (five days after NOA2) Happy Halloween for us!

November 18, 2014: NVC receives our case (22 days after NOA2)

December 17, 2014: NVC generates case number (50 days after NOA2)

December 19, 2014: Receive AOS bill, DS-261. Submit DS-261 (52 days after NOA2)

December 20, 2014: Pay AOS Fee

January 7, 2015: Receive, pay IV Fee

January 10, 2015: Complete DS-260

January 11, 2015: Send AOS package and Civil Documents
March 23, 2015: Case Complete at NVC. (70 days from when they received docs to CC)

May 6, 2015: Interview at Montréal APPROVED!

May 11, 2015: Visa in hand! One year less one day from NOA1.

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I know these kids' feelings on this. My brother and I were the only mixed kids in our household (our father being mixed and our mother being white--we were raised by our mother) and we were much browner than our siblings or mother and stepfather. I remember being a young teenager and being inspected by the security in stores while my white friends walked by unmolested. I stayed out of the sun for years and years and went much paler but I'm back to brown now that I've moved to Texas. I was doing my job signing stuff today and my boss assumed I spoke spanish--was going to put it on my nametag.

My older daughter suffers from this complex issue as well being that she is darker than I and her smaller sister. She tries to avoid the sun like a plague. I try to stay out in the sun so I can get darker and make her feel better.

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I know these kids' feelings on this. My brother and I were the only mixed kids in our household (our father being mixed and our mother being white--we were raised by our mother) and we were much browner than our siblings or mother and stepfather. I remember being a young teenager and being inspected by the security in stores while my white friends walked by unmolested. I stayed out of the sun for years and years and went much paler but I'm back to brown now that I've moved to Texas. I was doing my job signing stuff today and my boss assumed I spoke spanish--was going to put it on my nametag.

This sounds like my experience as well. Anyone who knows me says I am the whitest girl they know but on the outside, I'm clearly brownish. No one ever mentions how much I look like my blonde-haired, blue-eyed mom even though I am her spitting image because I have dark brown hair like my dad, and green eyes like... well, people on both sides of my family. I don't speak Spanish, and I've learned to stop being offended when people speak to me first in Spanish. I grew up with people asking my mom if I were really "hers" since I was ambiguously shaded. It was a terrible thing to hear as a child.

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I follow my Grandfather in losing my hair and browning quickly. Living at altitude you do have to be extra careful but unlike most I do not seem to need suncream etc.

Perhaps Spanish blood from shipwrecked ships of the Armada?


“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

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