Raising Children of Color in America

. May 11, 2020.
THE ABDE FAMILY
THE ABDE FAMILY

Parenting is a joyful experience, but no one can deny its challenges. As well, non-white families often face different challenges from their caucasian counterparts. Whether Muslim, African-American, Hispanic or another race or creed, families often experience racism in their lives, sometimes overt and sometimes subtle or nuanced. As parents, we all want to spare our kids the negative experiences we have endured, but that is not always within our control in the real world.

To provide some insight into the experiences of some Toledo parents raising children of color, three mothers shared their own experiences with race and in America.

THE ABDE FAMILY

 

Angela Abde is the mother of 3 boys, aged 18, 12 and 7, who are of Lebanese and Mexican descent.

Do you feel racism still exists in modern-day America?
Today’s racism is apparent in social media posts and comments made by our president. It is subject to the crisis we as Americans seem to be having at the moment.

Do you recall the first time you experienced racism?
When I was a teenager, my older sister and I went on a road trip out of state. We had stopped at a diner, where the service was abrupt and bordered on rude and, as we were leaving, the waitress threw away the dishes and utensils we used right in front of us.

When was the first time your child experienced racism?
At the age of 7, my oldest son was nicknamed “white boy” by his Mexican friends. My boys have been teased about having mixed-raced parentage, but they have never been excluded for it. Within their groups of friends, they’ve experienced more curiosity than prejudice.

What was your response?
I had to define racism to my boys at an early age as a result of the teasing they incurred from friends. I help them to understand that they are American, but if someone wants to know their ethnicity, they should answer honestly.

In your opinion, how is growing up in America as a child of color different?
My family is 3rd generation American, and so I never felt different or excluded. I think our government is trying to make it possible for people of color to achieve the same level of education and privilege as white people. While America is not perfect, and some pockets are more progressive than others, as a nation we are taking steps to be more inclusive.

If you could give advice to parents out there, what would it be?
Take your children to all the different cultural festivals that your community has to offer. Help your children make friends, ask questions, and experience the food, music and traditions of different cultures. The more you understand, the easier it is to accept our differences.

What is your favorite part about raising a family in Toledo?
The festivities that unite us as a community, such as Greek Fest, German Fest and Gay Pride, to name a few. We have a world class Museum and Zoo, and Toledo also has its own hockey and baseball teams. Toledo is big enough to be called a city, but still small enough to be comfortable.

THE MAJUMDER FAMILY

THE-MAJUMDER-FAMILY

Dina, who was born and raised in Bangladesh, now resides in Old Orchard with her husband, Shuman, and their two boys (4 and 7).

Do you feel racism still exists in modern-day America? Why or why not?
Absolutely. In times of crisis, in particular, others are quick to blame immigrants and foreigners for any problems that may arise. Muslims in particular are targeted because of the way the media depicts them. Only a handful of Muslims are “terrorists,” but the country perceives it differently.

How did you explain race to your kids and at what age?
My boys are 4 and 7. My older son has asked questions about skin color and different religions. I try to explain things to him as clearly as possible, but mostly emphasize that human beings are all essentially the same regardless of appearance and belief systems.

Do you recall the first time you experienced racism?
Growing up in different countries and attending international schools, I was not aware of being different because I was always surrounded by a wide variety of people. When I first came to the US to study, people commented on how well I spoke English. That struck me as being racist. More recently, I was told to go back to my country by an opthamologist in Toledo, which was a humiliating experience.

When was the first time your child experienced racism? What was your response?
I don’t think they have experienced racism directly. My oldest was referred to as “that black boy” by one of the neighbor’s children, but I don’t think it was meant in a derogatory way.

In your opinion, how is growing up in America as a child of color different?
I think we have to try harder to be seen in the same light. I want my children to embrace and be proud of their differences while still believing themselves to be American, and deserving of all the same rights and benefits as their peers.

If you could give advice to parents out there, what would it be?
It’s important to be honest with your children and prepare them for whatever they may encounter. I will keep explaining the history of this country and our place in it as they get older and have more questions.

What is your favorite part about raising a family in Toledo?
It has the feel of a small town in some neighborhoods, with families riding their bikes down the street and waving at their friends. There is also a wonderful metropark system in Toledo.

THE BEDWELL FAMILY

Emily Bedwell and Mike Deetsch with their children, Ethan and Cassady. Photo taken by Heather Meyer as part of the “Porch Project.”

Emily Bedwell and Mike Deetsch with their children, Ethan and Cassady. Photo taken by Heather Meyer as part of the “Porch Project.”

Emily Bedwell and her husband are the white adoptive parents of two siblings Ethan, 8, who is biracial (white and black) and Cass, 4, who is white.

Do you feel racism still exists in modern-day America? Why or why not?
I think it does, but it is often more subtle. People may not realize they are making racist assumptions. Raising a son who is biracial, and who will ultimately be at least 6 foot 4 inches, I am especially conscious of these assumptions and how he will be perceived as he grows older.

It is also structural. For example, with the Covid-19 crisis that we are facing, the systemic challenges facing people of color are more apparent. These communities have less access to healthcare, and they are more often in jobs that have been deemed essential but expose them to the virus. Also because of structural racism and lack of generational wealth, people of color are more often in multi-family residences, where staying away from each other is hard.

How did you explain race/racism to them and at what age?
When my son was 4, we read a book about Jackie Robinson and it talked about Jim Crow laws and how African-Americans were treated. He was very confused, so my husband and I had to first explain to him that his skin color was different and then try to explain how people of color were treated.

When was the first time your child experienced racism?
When Ethan was 2 and we still lived in Kentucky, another child said, “Look at that kid – he’s brown!” as though he’d never seen a colored person before…maybe because he hadn’t.

In your opinion, how is growing up in America as a child of color different?
I worry about taking away his innocence because I will have to talk to him about how the world will see him. We have always talked about racism as being in the past, and at some point that will change. I feel that right now my whiteness protects him in terms of how the world treats him.

If you could give advice to parents out there, what would it be?
One thing is to make sure your child knows that they are beautiful no matter their skin color. Don’t be “colorblind.” It is okay to see color, because the world will, and they have a rich heritage associated with that skin color. I think white people are uncomfortable talking about race and color, but we have to especially in interracial families. It is important to notice our differences and embrace them.