Affirming A’s Turkish identity

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.

Yes, that’s your penis…

‘Yes, that’s your penis…’ 

‘No, we don’t put our toothbrush on our penis. That’s yucky for our toothbrush.’

‘Most of the time, we touch our genitals in private.’

‘A, your penis has poop on it. Can you please not touch it right now?’

‘That’s where your urine comes out.’

‘Daddy has a penis, too.’


All of these lines are things I have actually said to A over the last few months during diaper changes. It seems we’ve entered the developmental phase (an extremely common activity at this stage—so universal that I can almost guarantee that everyone reading this did it at this age) where A’s genitals are really interesting to him.

I started talking to A explicitly about his genitals recently. It’s not a revolutionary act, but it is important to me to use anatomically correct words with A. Mostly, because I want him not to feel any shame around his genitals (though there are other arguments, like this one). It’s just a part of his body that, at this point in his life, is associated with peeing and pooping. I want him to feel comfortable in his body and knowledgeable about it. And eventually during adolescence and adulthood, I want him to have a healthy way of thinking about sex (that feels so weird to say about my 15 month old…), and I think that starts early. (It goes without saying that this whole approach to genitals is a culturally-situated one–not everyone will feel comfortable with it or even the end goal.)

Regardless, I think it is important for A, but I think it would be even more important for girls. American culture will encourage A to be confident with his body, but it may not be so kind to his young friends with female bodies. I remember laughing with my husband about A touching his genitals, and I paused and wondered out loud: ‘if he were a girl, would we think it was this funny?’ Would I say, ‘Yes, those are your labia/clitoris/vagina.’? I hope we would. If we have a daughter in the future, I will consciously try to use anatomically correct language when she touches her genitals during diaper changes. Having knowledge of your body and confidence in that knowledge can be empowering for woman of all ages.

I haven’t quite un-learned binary ways of talking about gender, which extends to conversations about genitals. I don’t want to tell A that ‘boys have penises and girls have vaginas’ because that’s not necessarily true. If anyone has any children’s books recommendations about transgenderism/genitals/etc, I would love to hear them!

Choosing a last name

I wrote about how and why we chose A’s first name, but my husband and I also spent time talking about what A’s last name should be.

I didn’t take my husband’s last name when we married—for many and no reasons at the same time. It wasn’t something I every really thought about honestly, mostly because it wasn’t a precedent set by my mother. She kept her last name when she wed my father in 1985. It was my father (according to family lore, at least) that wanted to have my mom’s last name as my sisters’ and my middle names. My sisters and I all have the same middle and last name: my mom’s last name (as our middle names) then our dad’s last name (as our last names). I’m not sure why they decided this way instead of hyphenating it or ditching my mom’s last name all together. But they did, and I like it.

When we got pregnant,  we discussed what A’s last name should be. We never really considered hyphenating, though that seems like a good option for some. We debated mostly if he should have my last name or my husband’s last name. Ultimately, we decided to do as my parents did: my last name is A’s middle name; my husband’s last name is A’s last name.

When I talk about last names with other women, they often say that the only reason they changed their last name when they married is so they have the same last name as their children. I get the sentiment, but given my background, it doesn’t bother me as much as it might bother others. I didn’t feel any less connected to my mother because we didn’t have the same last name. And I don’t feel any less connected to A because we have different last names.

For the next kid (not any time soon-don’t worry!), I’m not sure what we will do. Should we switch the order for the next kid—my husband’s last name as the middle name with my last name as the kid’s last name? That would be the fairest, after all. If I am being honest, I am already leaning towards sticking with what we did for A. It does mean that the maternal last name only gets one extra generation of life—I’m not passing down my mom’s last name to my son, for example. But I’m not really concerned with legacy in that way. It doesn’t bother me, for example, that if A has children, they probably won’t have my last name in their name anywhere. At the same time, there is something romantic and rebellious about giving the next kid my last name. We’ll see…

By the way, I do NOT consider myself more feminist than others who do something different with last names when they marry/have kids. What I think is radical is the conversations and debate about family names, just as much as the actual act of naming (though that has power too–and is more permanent than a conversation). Disrupting the patriarchy means critically thinking about the paternal family name as the norm.


Storytime & Avoiding Colorblindness: Last Stop on Market Street

A friend of my husband very sweetly gave A the book, Last Stop on Market Street (written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson). Unlike my reviews of Tubby (part 1 & part 2), I actually love how this book presents race and family. The picture book is about a boy and his grandmother leaving church and traveling in a bus. Nana, the grandmother, has an unrelentingly positive and curiosity-seeking demeanor that she uses to gently encourage CJ, her grandson. The last stop on Market Street, we eventually learn, is a soup kitchen where they volunteer every Sunday.


Nana and CJ look African American (though the reader is never explicitly told how they racially identify). Many children’s books with characters of color deal with race in one of two ways: First, there are children’s books that use characters of color to discuss the Civil Rights Movement or slavery. Racial struggle is the central theme; these types of books have their place. They can be powerful tools to help kids understand huge topics like slavery or Civil Rights. Second, there are books with characters of color that fall into a “colorblind” narrative (the whole “my kid doesn’t see race” idea). In this type of book, characters of color and White characters interact without any recognition of White privilege or how American society organizes power along racial lines. They become weird post-racial utopias. This type of colorblind book is actively dangerous, because it risks exacerbating racial inequality. (I get this might be controversial for some. Read more about colorblindness here and here.)




It is important to me, however, to have books showing characters of color going about their ordinary lives but still relishing in and respecting their culture. Last stop does exactly that. For example, at the beginning of the book, CJ’s friend (a White boy) gets in the car with his father, and CJ asks his Nana “how come we don’t got a car?”. Those few lines, combined with the visual representation of race in the illustrations, hints as the economic realities of race in the US. There are lots of other subtle examples that prove how delicately this book deals with race.

We can’t just read this book to our kids and expect that exposure to be enough (that falls into colorblindness, which, as I said before, I believe we should strive to avoid as parents). We still need to have active, explicit conversations with them about the book and how race is shown. In a future post, I may put together a few examples of how I might use Last stop to stimulate conversations about race with A or other young kids.

I didn’t even get to touch on how disability and blindness is portrayed in the book, which is beautifully done as well! Overall, I would highly recommend the book for any parents or people looking to buy a present for a young child.