Family / News & Politics / Parenting

Racializing the family: developing Anti-Oppression parenting philosophies

I have to tell you, writing this first post has been quite a challenge. I’ve been on a no sleep marathon thanks to the arrival of pearly whites in the mouth of our 8 month old. I’m suffering from post-partum brain fog – “honey, can you get me the thingamajiggy out of the whatsit?” I’m also awed by the many wonderful writers who make up the lesbianfamily.com team, and hope I can measure up! Unfortunately, every time I try to write something down, I can hardly finish a sentence without baby brain kicking in…

So I’ve decided to start with an introduction. I’m Kwynne, a 30 year old black queer and new mom to a (right now) very sleepy baby boy (sleep is for the weak, he seems to be telling me). I’m currently a stay at home parent, but I hope to get back to work very soon to make headway on that never ending PhD dissertation.

I used to blog at Butch Baby Makin’. I gave up that blog a few months ago, for many reasons. The blog was mainly a space to document my TTC and pregnancy story as it coupled with my gender identity as butch. The baby was then “made”, he arrived and then suddenly? Well, I really couldn’t keep up with all the swirling topics in my head (let alone the very real gender flux I have been thrown into – more on that in another post).

So here is something that has been on my mind..

Are lesbians families thinking about race and racism and how these issues affect our families? Are we, by nature of having experienced at least one form of marginality, developing anti-oppression parenting philosophies? What do they look like?

This question of course comes from my experience as a black queer partnered to a white woman, suddenly thrust into mainstream motherhood and finding that my allies are few and far between. I am awed every day at the number of asinine questions I’ve received about our child, and the lengths some have gone to figure out his racial origins. “What he is mixed with?” has been one of the more popular questions, and many ask me if his “dad” is white? South Asian? Latino? Light skinned black? My partner has been asked if her husband is foreign, placing this non existent “father” quite squarely outside of the nation.

Personally, I’m beside myself with the cake batter race theories* and often find myself tongue tied when I try to answer. I have to admit, I wasn’t necessarily prepared to deal with the questioning of my son’s racial history so outrightly. Maybe I’m one of the few who don’t see race as being so easily inscribed and I wish I could avoid these questions entirely and wait for the day my child can make his own decisions about his racial identity. As someone who has lived in this brown skin for 30 years, I have never really been asked these invasive questions. It seems that my racialized drag is quite obvious to others. I’m wondering where the skin colour line is drawn, and when one no longer becomes racially intelligible.

When folks find out I’m also queer, another line of (offensive, oppressive) questioning gets heaped onto me, and I’m at a loss. What do all these academic texts call it? Oh yes, intersectionality! I’m at the crossroads of homophobia and racism, and am not quite sure how to get through it.

So, what have been your experiences? I wonder about others working through these situations, as lesbians/queers who are parenting/will be parenting/hope to parent kids of colour. And even though most of the folks I’ve met in the lesbian parenting blog world have been white, I wonder what thoughts you have had about this topic (if your family does not include folks of colour). What kind of anti-oppression politic are you creating within your family?

Thank you again to Liza for asking me to join this wonderful team. I hope that my brain fog can lift more often and to become a much more active participant!

*My partner and I have come to use the term, “cake batter race theories” to describe our society’s tendency to see race as a biological truth, rather than a social creation – an emphasis on skin colour, facial features and hair texture, among other things, as a way of categorizing people. For many, race is so literally what is on the skin, that we (and I include myself here, as I’ve been guilty of it as well,) believe that we can predict the shade (and therefore race) of our children as easily as it would be to mix cake batters of different colours/flavours. Let’s put it another way. A lot of people think you mix ‘A’ + ‘B’ = a predictable little ‘C’ when really there are eight bazillion possible outcomes. People then look at ‘mixed’ race children and try to determine the ‘race’ of their parents, assuming that each parent is a ‘pure’ A or B. Of course we have to question the very idea of ‘race’ itself but perhaps that too is a question for another post.

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  1. Fabulous first post, Kwynne! Thank you so much.

    I think a lot about what it will take to raise an anti-racist child, and I think the intersection of being a lesbian parent with an unknown donor bio-dad does bring this out in interesting ways.

    Just Tuesday, one of the day care teachers at Noah’s school noticed that I have blue eyes, and launched into a series of questions about why Noah does not. Not per se a racial question, but certainly one with bio-racial implications.

    Interestingly, 2 of the reasons we picked this day care were that they had experience with lesbian families and the staff was integrated. (In our classroom, the teachers are, Mexican, African-American, and white South African.)

    Your cake batter theory reminds me of a woman I met when I was studying in South Africa in 1996. She had been an exchange student in Colorado, and had been extremely frustrated by the constant effort everyone she met seemed to make to determine her race.

    In US terms, she didn’t “look” like any easily identifiable group, including white, and because of the charge of racial language here, when she did choose to self-identify to people, they were wildly uncomfortable with her choice of language. In South African terms, this woman was “Coloured.”

    (For readers who may be unfamiliar with the term, under apartheid, “Coloured” meant anyone who was of mixed race origin. Most often, it referred to people who spoke Afrikaans at home and were religiously Dutch Reformed Church, but who were to American eyes, light skinned blacks. In most cases, that “mixed race” ethnic origin took place generations ago.)

  2. Oh Kwynne it is SO GOOD to “hear” your voice again. Great post. When I finish my %$*#$ final exam I will attempt to give a real reply and not just squeeee that you are back and writing.

  3. Kwynne, a lot of what you’re talking about here has been experienced by Kristin and I in regard to Julia. We always figured that people would talk behind our backs about Julia’s racial heritage, but we weren’t expecting the outright questions, the rudeness (often in front of Julia, as if she can’t understand their words or tone)… in many ways we are erased as her parents because her skin tone is different than either of ours. When Kristin and I are together and seen as a couple (rather than a woman with her mother/sister/friend) Julia is always assumed to be adopted. People act shocked and then embarrased when we tell them that Kristin gave birth. And then they choose either to not talk about Julia’s looks at all, or they relate all their comments about her looks to what her “father” must look like. As if all Kristin gave Julia is a lighter tone to her skin, a little less curl to her hair — a dilution of her racial heritage rather than an addition to the complexity (cake batter race theory, I like that).

    But, rude questions aside, I’m actually finding that I prefer it when people address their questions to us. I’d rather confront their questions head on, and have Julia see that her mothers are willing to jump into discussions on race and slog through the muck of it all in order to teach (and learn!!) rather than have it all be Something Of Which We Do Not Speak. Still, it gets messy sometimes, and I worry that each mistake I make damages her in some irreparable way.

    So, to answer your question: Yes. We’re very much working on and implementing Anti-oppression parenting philosophies, but they’re in constant flux as we educate ourselves, work through biases, untangle knotted intersectionalities. I’m hoping to learn a lot through your posts and especially the comment threads that follow.

    And, LOVE the title of this post. Not just because it’s a great title (and it IS a great title) but because I can tell that you’re used to writing academic papers… oh the colon! the wonderful, wonderful colon!

  4. Nicely said. I’m with you and Trista on this one – some of the questions about our (biracial) son and his heritage (since both of his moms are white) are obnoxious. But still I’d rather field obnoxious questions than have them not be asked.

    I’ve been wrestling with a lot of what you said here but haven’t managed to commit any of it coherently to paper (screen). Maybe you’re the inspiration I need…

  5. I’m not too well known around these parts, so a tiny bit of background: I’m Erin, partner to J and momma to 22 month old James through domestic transracial adoption. James is biracial/black and J and I are white. Kidlet number 2 will be a child of color too, either carried by J or another adoption.

    We’ve had our share of horrifying questions and comments (Where’s he from? What’s he mixed with? Is your husband mediteranean? And my favorite: the co-worker who asked if James was ‘milano’ Bwahahaha) and are working hard to educate ourselves as white mamas to a son of color.

    As for what we’re specifically doing… We’re listening. To people of color. To adult transracial adoptees. We’re reading their blogs and extending ourselves and being willing to grapple with race instead of pretending it doesn’t matter. We’re working on expanding our circle of friends to include more people of color. We’re making decisions about our community, schooling options, etc that take race into consideration. We’re answering questions about what we’re doing even if we fear that what we’re doing isn’t ‘right’ or ‘enough’. 😉

    We’re raising our son to identify primarily as black, instead of ‘biracial’, but will give him opportunities to intersect with people of mixed race who primarily identify as multi-racial. If he feels that ‘biracial’ is a better term for his racial identity, that’ll be ok too.

    We’re taking the two “Bill of Rights” I posted about here to heart: http://androckabye.blogspot.com/2006/03/bill-of-rights.html

    And we’re not shying away from interupting oppressive speech, no matter how non-confrontational both of us are by nature.

    Nice to ‘meet’ you all!

  6. Thanks for a thought provoking post and I think I’m going to spew some of the thoughts I have in my head…

  7. You couldn’t stay away! (Insert evil laugh here)

    So good to hear your voice. This is stuff I’ve grappled with since trying to conceive a baby with my ex (a baby who would have been mixed-race) and now becoming a foster parent who will parent white children and children of color on a short-term and maybe eventually permanent basis. Look forward to reading more.

  8. Kywnne, oh Kwynne I am so glad to see you writing again. I have missed you! While I don’t have any answers to your questions, they are important ones and I look forward to more discussion as it comes. Welcome back to the world of writing my dear. I missed you!

    Wendy

  9. Hi Kwynne, what a terrific post. I publish a blog called Anti-Racist Parent, for parents who are committed to raising children with an anti-racist outlook. I invite all of you who are interested in this topic to stop by.

    Also Kwynne, sorry to do this so publicly but I couldn’t find an email address for you anywhere – I’d like to ask if you might be interested in being a contributor to ARP? Please email me at carmen AT newdemographic dot com. I’d love to chat with you about this. Thanks!

    (I hope I haven’t violated any blog etiquette principles with this comment, moderator. If so, please feel free to delete this comment. But if there’s any way you could pass my contact info onto Kwynne, I would really appreciate it.)

  10. Hi Carmen — thanks for stopping by! I’ll add your blog to the “Resources” section after I’m back from Christmasing. (Which is also when I’ll finally update the About section to include info about all the awesome bloggers here. Sorry I haven’t done it yet!)

    As for the etiquette question, I think we’re all making it up as we go along. I certainly understand why you asked Kwynne to join your team too! She’s a great writer!

  11. Hi Liza,

    Whew, thanks so much. Glad I didn’t step on any toes here. 🙂 I’ve been really enjoying this blog, I hope you keep going strong in 2007! Happy new year everyone!

  12. It is so great to hear all these voices. I hope we can all continue to talk about these issues. I can’t wait to hear more strategies, as I’m sure as our son gets older, the more I will look to those in similar situations for guidance.

    But for today, our first hurdle is sleep!

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