Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Multiracial Children and Identity

Multiracial Children: Teaching Kids they can be Many

I was not going to write about Allena Tapia’s commentary in The Huffington Post earlier this month, but it kept coming back to haunt me. The title of her piece was “Multiracial Children: Teaching My Kid to Check the Latino Box on Applications.” She happily explained that “I’ve told my children from day one to always self-identify as Latino or Hispanic on any official forms.” That was followed by this: “I tell my children to always choose Hispanic or Latino based on the positives they stand to gain from doing so. Yup, I said it.” She admitted to seeing more of “the multiracial,” but said it’s not always an option and then she asked if her children were genetically 50/50, would the tiebreaker be the cultural influence?

First of all, Ms. Tapia is putting race and ethnicity in the same category. She spoke later in the piece about the Census and the fact that in 2010, they sent in the completed census form back with two Latino children, their Latino father, and her as “the lone Caucasian in the bunch.” Had she actually read the instructions, she would have known that she could have checked that her children were Latino and White.

Hispanic is an ethnicity and white is a race. Tapia stated the following aha moment at the end of her commentary:

     “My husband loves being Latino. My children think of themselves as Mexican-
       American. They love to talk about their culture and identity. They’re proud…They
       are truly Latino, 100%. Through and through.”  

By implication her children are not proud to be anything like their mother, who is white. That’s fine, it’s their identity, but I have some problems with the way it’s being presented. First, why shouldn’t they be as many races and ethnicities as they truly are? Were they even told about this option? Is it somehow bad to be any percent white? I think not. If they were in need of a bone marrow donor, they would have to look to the group that is Hispanic or Latino and white. It’s an important fact of their genetic code.

Another thing that bothered me about Tapia’s commentary was her blatantly broadcasting to the readership of The Huffington Post that she advised her children to choose Latino as a way to get the goodies, and I’ll say it for her, prosper from affirmative action. Should kids be told by their parents to self-identify as one race or ethnicity to play the system?

To pigeonhole any young child into any one thing is dangerous if it’s not the truth. My son wanted to embrace his entire heritage when he was young, so we changed the way race was reported on his school forms. We took action rather than be made to choose. Then, when he was in college, he called me one day and told me he had been invited into a “Black fraternity,” but he would have to say he was black to join. I advised him to first see what his university had him classified as, even though he had checked both black and white on his application form, not to get the goodies, but to be honestly what he felt.

He went to the school and found that someone had checked off “White” for his race on his official records. He called me back and asked what he should do. I told him that if they were not going to let him choose more than one race, he could choose whatever he wanted for whatever reason. It was his choice as an adult, not anyone else’s and if they would not allow him to choose to be multiracial, he could do whatever he wanted. He could be black one day and white the next and screw the system that wouldn’t allow him to be who he truly felt he was. He called me back a little while later and said, “Mom, I’m black now!” and we both laughed. We knew the system, we knew the game, we chose to play it then, but he was an adult who knew he was 50% Black and 50% White.

So, Ms. Tapia, if you teach your multiracial kids to check any one box on any form, be sure you also let them know that it’s OK to be proud to be multiracial.


  1. Well said! I have two biracial children; one identifies more with being black, the other is more "racial neutral." In my house, they are simply my children, empowered and trusted to be who they truly are.

  2. Susan, you gave some solid, valid, and thought-provoking points in your commentary (above). I know there are those who think, erroneously, that there is only one race, the human race. When it comes to a person's life their racial makeup is critical. Krystle Delgado Felton needs a bone marrow transplant. That bone marrow MUST match her particular blood-type. Krystle is Mexican and Filippino. If a close enough match isn't found Krystle will die.

    Put yourself in her place. Let's say you are Black and you need a bone marrow transplant or you will die. Many of your relatives and friends have been tested for a match and none has been found.

    You accidentally find out that your father (deceased) was half Black and half Native American. Your mother didn't want you to know about your Native American heritage; she was ashamed of it, so she kept it from you. That lie of omission nearly cost you your life!

    Ms. Tapia, I hope you are reading this comment. If you never thought of this before please think of it now. YOUR lie of omission might one day cost your child's or children's life(lives). God forbid either of them ever needs a bone marrow transplant. If they never realize they are Mexican AND White there will not be a match.

    Susan Graham is someone I admire for her courage, her steadfastness, her compassion, her dedication, and her genuine love for all multiracial people of every age. I agree with her wholeheartedly when she wrote these words:

    " sure you also let them know that it's OK to be proud to be multiracial."

  3. so many people make that mistake.