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No, Don’t Be Colorblind: Practical Suggestions for Multi-ethnic Families

Some have commented on some gray hairs they supposedly see on my head. I usually tell them I’m sorry they are going colorblind. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about race.

And I’m asking you not to be colorblind.

Instead, celebrate it.

Nikki and I have five children under the age of ten; two by adoption and three biologically. Five of us are white, two of us are part black and part hispanic.

We have been a multi-ethnic family for almost two years now, and have not faced many challenges or had to deal with many difficult situations regarding race. The few ignorant comments we or our children have heard have been ones we could talk through with our children pretty easily. I expect it will get more difficult as they get older.

Opinions on race and diversity are in full swing with the 50th anniversary recently of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and because of numerous situations around our country. One of the statements I’ve heard come up again is God is colorblind or I don’t see color. This is so sad and wrong because it doesn’t recognize the beauty of God’s creation.

I understand the intention of those who say that, but I think it sends the wrong message that we don’t care to see the differences that naturally exist in humanity; and perhaps when we say we are colorblind, maybe we are just picturing everyone else looking like us. You can’t help but see the differences in people, and we shouldn’t strip people of those differences or the stories behind those differences.

I see color. And I celebrate it.

Others have written great pieces from a theological perspective on this idea of not being colorblind, like Trillia Newbell. But here, I want to specifically encourage multi-ethnic families to celebrate their diversity in practical ways.

Talk About It At Home

You can’t help but see the differences, so don’t be shy to talk openly about them. We do this in simple ways like when Nikki makes two different shades of sunscreen to protect all of our skin best. We have no trouble saying this one is for the darker skin and this one is for the lighter skin. We talk about why our children use different skin and hair products, and we recognize that some of our children get rosier cheeks than others when they’re embarrassed. We laugh when one of our sons sticks a comb in his hair and when the other makes a mohawk with his hair. We don’t get upset when they see a darker skinned video game character and say it’s Manny! They are recognizing differences. And differences are okay.

We talk about the statements our children hear at school from other children, like why that child might have ignorantly said Africans are weak. At this point, the depth with which we discuss the history of racial tension is getting deeper, and will continue as they get older. But we don’t shy away from discussing difficult topics to the degree they can understand. We want our home to be a safe place where questions can be asked and topics can be discussed.

 

Talk About It With Others

Sometimes other people aren’t sure what to say. I get it. They don’t want to be offensive. So it might help if we talk openly with those who are more reserved and help them realize that it is okay to ask questions or recognize the obvious.

I took the boys to their first baseball practice last week. I introduced myself to the coach while the boys were huddled up nearby. I was trying to point out my sons, and the coach reservedly tried to ask for a visual indicator of who they were exactly. He politely asked the one with the yellow on his sweatshirt? I made it easy for him: the one with the black sweatshirt and the one with the darker skin (my son was the only darker skinned boy there). Just that simple permission to recognize the obvious made for a brief okay, thanks from the coach and might open the door to other conversations.

Learn About It

You might not understand everything about a particular race or culture. You might not know how to do certain things. Don’t remain ignorant about it–be open to learning!

When we first found out that our adopted children were coming home, I called an African American friend of mine and said I don’t know what to do. What do I put in his hair and how do I use a hair pick? I hear that your skin is ashy–what do I do about that?  He was kind enough to tell me exactly what kind of brushes and picks and lotions to get. Now I know what I’m doing.

During the foster care status days before the adoption was finalized, I remember that our case workers were not permitted to initiate a conversation about some of the things they knew we wouldn’t understand, like how to care for African American hair. We had no experience with that kind of hair, but the rule at that time was that the social workers could not tell us about it unless we first asked. I remember thinking that was so strange–why is it taboo to tell us how to care for a specific type of hair?

Along those lines, I remember a great blessing we received when a friend of ours brought a basket of girl hair products to us within the first few days of the children coming home. She explained how she used them on her daughters who had similar hair types and even showed Nikki how to do some things. Nikki has gotten pretty good with all kinds of hair now, and I remember when she was learning how to do braids a certain way at first. At the pool, a group of African American women complimented our daughter’s hair to Nikki. That was very kind of them, and Nikki followed that up with can I ask you a few questions? They were very gracious to teach her a few things.

Take time to learn. And when you learn, marvel at the uniqueness of God’s creation.

Dream About It

I thought I’d end by telling you about some fun conversations we’ve had around the dinner table. Every so often the children will talk about the future–how many children they want to have, where they’re going to live, and what occupation they’ll have. Several times, the kids would say something like what if Sarina marries a white guy? What if Caleb marries an Asian girl?

Our response: how cool will our family picture be?

Dream about the future together, and celebrate your diversity as you do. Let your children (and others) know that we don’t need to fear the backlash that might come from some ignorant people in these situations. Let them know that they don’t have to be selective about their future based on some warped ideals that some might hold.

No, don’t be colorblind.

Celebrate it.

How do you celebrate your diversity?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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