Dear Dr. Bill,
My 8-year-old grand-daughter is the child of a white mother and black father. Her father is no longer in the picture and my grand-daughter often struggles with issues of her “color.” For example, she says people assume she was adopted because her mother and brother are white, but she’s brown. And it bothers her that she’s the only brown person on her soccer team and in the church choir. I wish I could help — but I’m at a loss on how to encourage her.
I appreciate your sensitivity to your granddaughter’s struggle with racial identity. I asked my friend Dr. Veola Vazquez for her input on your question. Veola is an expert on this issue and comes from a biracial family herself. Here’s what she suggests:
First, don’t be afraid to talk about race with your granddaughter. She needs to know that it’s okay to be just who she is. Both you and her mother should communicate openly with her about her feelings and experiences. Ask open-ended questions like, “Tell me what you like or don’t like about the way you look” or “Tell me about a time when you felt different from the kids at church.”
Provide her with opportunities to interact with children and families of various ethnic backgrounds. This may be difficult in her particular neighborhood, but Dr. Vasquez feels it is critically important. There are support groups throughout the country for interracial families and biracial children.
Expose your granddaughter to multicultural media. This could include books, TV shows, videos, toys, dolls, games, and artwork with multicultural characters and people that look like her. She needs to see beautiful, successful, happy people who are like her. She needs role models.
Finally, teach her about racism in an age-appropriate way. She will need to understand that sometimes people don’t like others who are different from them and may treat them unkindly. She’ll also need to learn how to respond to the comments or questions of others.
Thanks for writing, Gwen. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Family Expert page.
Listen to today’s audio here.