Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Tragic Mulatto

While my overwhelming feeling about our son we expect to be born this summer is joy, I have also have some of the self doubt that likely affects all new parents. One particular concern is the complexity of race my son will face:

Why is the biracial child always supposed to be a tragedy stuck between two worlds? Historically it was typically the white parents that hid these inconvenient results of affairs (Strom Thurman). Now the typical scene is older white grandparents raising a mixed child after the dissolution of the relationship that brought it about. Certainly the acceptance of these children that were once viewed as proof of the crime of miscegenation (or even rape) has improved in recent decades, but they are still often viewed as problematic in-between people. While the virulence of Racism (the belief that race makes a person superior or inferior to others) has become exceedingly rare, the problems of race in America—prejudice, misunderstanding, inequality, resentment, interpretation of history—are far from resolved. Here in Clarke County, Georgia there is still a palpable division between black and white populations. While much of racial integration in the United States may be producing a melting pot, here it still quite obvious on a drive through Athens that “haves” and “have nots” are still mostly divided by race.

So I will be a white father to a son that everyone will usually identify as African American. He will be biracial, but in most people's minds that will count him as black (eg: Haley Berry and Barack Obama both have one Caucasian parent). He will carry the cultural weight of expectations based solely on his skin color. He will have people expect him to be somehow better at sports, more sexual, cooler, tougher, more rhythmic, and less interested in learning. These are the expectations (even admirations) that our society puts on black boys. He will be informed by people that barely know him that he has been wronged by crimes committed years before his birth, and because of this he must act or identify himself in way to amend these ills. He will be told by others that he must be a individual, and any identification with any ethnicity or appeal to his unique dilemmas as a biracial man is nothing but weakness or whining.

But what will his father tell him? I am a product of my own place and I have never known many of the pressures my son will face. I wish I could say that my own experience of interracial marriage has helped me “figure out” the complex and often unspoken rules and taboos of race in today's America, but I have no great wisdom to offer my son.

What he will have for certain is two parents who know themselves and will love each other and him deeply. Beyond the self-knowledge he will have from the experience of his home, I'm not sure he will have much education on the confusing situation he will inherit. I suppose like most children he will have to figure out his identity on his own.


l. l. hargrove said...

Your post reminds me of a conversation I had a few weeks agao with a white woman who adopted a biracial boy. In so many words we were discussing the 'tragic mulatto.' She seemed desperate to change things in the world for him. I tried to be encouraging but also honest. I don't see much use or hope of changing the world ... esp. our American slice when it comes to treatment/acceptance of biracial children.

But the church .. now there's a place that I think God wants me to do my part in helping realize change. That change starts with me and my three black boys. I think that's what you're getting at. I think you're on the right track. Your heartitude will come out to your child; no matter what he faces in the world, he'll be okay.

(an attempt at encouragement from an adoptive mother and author)

ps. check out for a place to connect for your fiction. i like your work

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JD said...

So I went to L. Hargrove's site and did a little reading (her blog is mostly on interracial love portrayed in literature) For more reflection on my own interracial marriage and parenting you can read the discussion on this post.

Joanna said...

Wow, this was a great post. I keep thinking about it and mulling it over.

Before we had the twins, we were working towards what probably would have been an interracial adoption. I did a lot of reading, but actually found more wisdom from the interracial couples we knew when we were living up north.

A Vietnamese woman married to a caucasian man mother to African-American twins told me that in the beginning she really obsessed over identity issues for her boys. She still tries to find ways for the twins to connect to their own unique heritage, but she's also relaxed over the years and seen that the boys find a lot of their identity just being secure in their family.

I think beyond that, of course, is the security that covenant children have as they're embraced as part of the body of the church.

JD said...


I have had several people I respect approach me personally to discuss this post. I realize it may give the wrong impression. I think I need to clarify some things:

First of all I am very happy about my son, and I am not at all disappointed about his racial make-up. I am proud that my son will look like King's "Dream" for America. I already love him and look forward to meeting him. Certainly I am not afraid to raise him.

Second, I don't think my son is any sort of "tragedy" nor will I refer to him as a "mulatto" which is probably a derogatory term. I may have fallen prey to the blogging pitfall of needing a catchy title for posts.

Thirdly, I am not implying no progress has been made in race relations in this country. This is obviously false. My own marriage, which would have been illegal 50 years ago, disproves this.

I was only saying that there are still racial issues that my son will face, and it may be difficult for me as a white man to prepare my son for this.

[Bernay] said...

Wow, I'm a year late. But this post was very interesting. As stated (and recently pointed out by my mother), I do see several interracial children accompanied by a grandparent.

Personally, I didn't think mulatto is derogatory. Mind you, I'm also from the south. I see you mentioned that interracial marriage was illegal less than a century ago. It was Loving v. Virginia in '67 that allowed interracial marriage here (declared our miscegenation statute unconstitutional), meaning my great grandparents were never truly married. :|

King's Dream was more along the lines of not regarding color, but I understand you nonetheless.

Just as a man, no color involved, you have the ability to prepare your son for the adversity he might face as a mixed child. A majority of blacks in America are a amalgamation of races, and yet we have been able to find an identity. Your son can do the same. Great post.