I had a long day on Tuesday, but I had signed up to listen to a webinar put on by EmbraceRace, a nonprofit that works to encourage color-conscious parenting. The webinar was about ‘Why and How to encourage cross-racial friendships in young children;’ I recommend the webinar if you are interested. The main take away I had from the webinar was not actually about cross-racial friendships (though that’s important). It was about the positive (emotional & academic) outcomes associated with a strong, positive racial/ethnic identity (see some related research here & here–there’s lots more, but this was from a quick google).
I got to wondering: what am I doing to affirm A’s Turkish identity? Because we chose to name him a Turkish name, he will be treated as Turkish in many contexts, although he looks White. I want his Turkishness to be a source of pride for him, not a source of discomfort/angst/embarrassment. I want him to have a strong, positive ethnic identity. I have been talking to A as if he were White—for example, when we talk about race or skin color in books, I talk about ‘people who have pink-y skin like us.’ In many ways, he is White—and he will certainly benefit from White privilege—so I don’t want him to grow up ignorant of that. But at the same time, because we named him a Turkish name, he won’t always be treated as White. My husband and sister-in-law, who grew up Turkish in the United States, will be able to speak more to this, but I wonder: What is the role of the White parent in raising a child who may not always be treated as White?*
Obviously, a lot of the cultural affirming needs to be done by my husband. I can’t really understand what it’s like to be treated differently because of your name or language you speak at home. We are lucky enough to live close to my in-laws, so A has those family spaces to feel culturally affirmed & supported. Additionally, our niece who is Turkish-Iranian, lives just a half an hour away and is only 9 -months older than A. They will be able to grow up together and have each other as support. They won’t question each other’s identities as some of their peers might to them.
The question of what the White parent can do to affirm identities that are typically ‘othered’ (i.e. what can I do to affirm A’s Turkish identity) still stands. I encourage my husband to speak to A in Turkish as much as possible. When we read about immigrants, I try to say something like ‘your baba is in an immigrant! That means his family came from a different country to live in the United States. How cool is that?’ I want to get more books about children from immigrant backgrounds or children with uncommon names in the American context (I feel like books have been my answer to a lot of questions around identities for kids, but they can be powerful tools!). We do hope to travel to Turkey soon, but there’s a lot of unknown questions with that.
Overall, it is a question of modeling pride (and allowing him to have mixed feelings, particularly during school-age and adolescence).
*P.S. Turkishness is an ethnic (or even national) identity, but I think this question could be applied to parents of biracial children as well.