3. Have Black friends. Plural. No Tokenism Allowed.
Look at the pictures on your wall, your facebook page, the phone numbers in your phone. How many Black people can you call your friend? A real friend—not a co-worker, not the person you chat with as they provide you with a service, but someone who you celebrate with, laugh with, cry with, “get real” with. Not only should your child have relationships with people who share their multiple backgrounds, they should also see that their parents choose to have friends who share their backgrounds. Such relationships are validating to your child’s identity.
I always joke with my mom that I have more white friends than she does, but I guess it’s not a joke, because it’s true. My mom was/ is NOT that white person who sets out to make a Black friend simply because they’re Black (there was a girl in college who actually told a mutual friend, “Let’s make Kirsti our black friend.” FAIL). My mother has simply always had Black friends, since before having me. Raised in the Bahamas, she never had the “I’m-the-only-white-person-phobia,” and as I said in a previous post, when she came to the U.S., it was Black people, and other people of color who welcomed her into their communities.
When I was growing up, my mother wanted to make sure I had positive Black role models around me. My pediatrician until I was 18 was a Black woman, our Pastors were Black, and many of the people my mother called her close friends were Black, people of color, and if they were white, also had mixed race children. Many of these friends became adopted “aunties,” and “uncles,” of mine, and took me in like I was a blood relative. They were church ladies, nurses, producers, mothers, fathers, business owners, musicians, beauticians, hard workers. They played pivotal roles in my own positive association with my Blackness. While my mother exposed me to great music, food, art and writing produced by Black folks, it was especially her creation of a Black community (which included mixed families) that allowed me to feel safe, proud, and not alone in my skin.
If it’s still not obvious why creating your own community of color is important, let me break it down differently. Your child is looking to you for guidance about how to perceive themselves. If you’re telling them that they’re beautiful, they’re special, they come from a strong history, but you don’t interact with people that look like them, what kind of mixed (no pun intended) messaging is that sending them? Why am I special and awesome, if mommy/daddy/parent avoids, or has no interactions with people that look like me?
If you’re realizing that, oops, you have no Black friends, it’s time to make some- not one token friend who you refer to as your “Black friend,” but a community. You need to build authentic relationships. You first, may consider why you don’t have any Black friends. And if the answer is: “There aren’t any in my neighborhood,” then you probably need to move. Did you see Buzzfeed’s “27 Things you Had to Deal With as the only Black Kid in Your Class?” As someone who could relate to most of the things listed, it ain’t pretty, but I’m fortunate that my mother created a community where I never felt like I was the “only one” at home.