1. Educate yourself, so you can educate your children.
That awkward, or, rather, tragic moment when you meet a person who has a child who is half Black, and you realize they know little to nothing about Black culture/history.
If you’re going to, or already have a child who is half Black, you need to learn about Black culture.** I’m writing this piece with the assumption that you also know about your child’s other identities, and will pass those along to her or him as well. If your child is half European-American, the good news is our education system is set up to teach them about that half of their culture. If they’re half Black and half something else, then you need to work twice as hard.
So how does one go about learning about Black culture? This is not the type of question that can be answered with a few websites and book titles. Nor should you sit somewhere and attempt to “observe” Blackness. That’s ridiculous. Your learning experience is not synonymous to an anthropological dig, but a life long dedication to learning about a group to which you don’t belong. The learning process will be multifaceted, complicated, and eternal. Hopefully you’ll continuously immerse yourself in Black culture while passing down the richness of the African Diaspora down to your children.
How did my mother do it? Again, a question that isn’t easily answered. My mother was raised in the Bahamas, and came to California in the 70s. She says she felt rejected by white Americans because they looked at her as being different—she had an amazing tan (before tans were lucrative), and a thick Bahamian accent. She was often told to “go back where she came from.” Black-Americans, and other people of color, accepted my mother, and her community of friends has always been mixed. While my mother knew about Bahamian culture, she learned about other parts of the African Diaspora through friends, and her own “learning experiences.”
When I was a little girl, together, we read books, and watched films centering African-American history. We went to cultural events where she was often the only non-Black person, but I always noticed it more than she did. Together, we learned about African-American traditions, about soul food, about soul music. When school history books got Black history wrong, or simply ignored it, she told me what she knew, and supplemented the rest with books. She introduced me to Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Alice Walker when my schoolteachers didn’t. Billie Holiday, Bob Marley, Al Green, and Natalie Cole sang my childhood lullabies.
In order to learn more about Black culture, my mother didn’t take an “Intro to Black Culture” course. She didn’t have a token Black friend who broke down my complicated history. My mother immersed herself in a culture that was not her own with the same investment that she had when learning about her own ethnicities. And she’s never stopped learning. She still sends me articles about race, about Blackness, about being half Black. We continue to have conversations surrounding Black/mixed-race politics. My mother’s investment and eagerness to learn about Black culture not only allowed for me to learn more about myself, but it also showed me that I come from a culture- a race of people- that is worthy to be learned, to be loved, to be celebrated.
** I want to clarify that I’m not suggesting you should learn what it’s like to be Black, as that is impossible. While you will have great empathy for the Black experience, you will never understand what it’s like to be Black, or mixed, unless it is your experience, and that’s okay.