Seattle author writes about the challenges of raising multiracial Asian children in America and helping then overcome racial biases.
If you have mixed-race kids, teach mixed-race kids or know any mixed-race kids, you should read Sharon Chang’s book. Chang is a local writer and mom who saw a vacuum and tried to fill it with information she wishes her own parents had.
The book is “Raising Mixed Race: Multiracial Asian Children in a Post-Racial World,” and yes, that last phrase is meant tongue in cheek. This definitely is not a post-racial world, and one of the strengths of Chang’s book is that it helps people see how race continues to shape our lives.
Chang grew up in Southern California, the daughter of a Taiwanese father and white American mother. She’s lived in Seattle for 16 years and is married to a man who grew up on Vashon Island. His father is white and his mother is from Japan, so they’ve had lots of conversations about growing up mixed and not having anyone explain how people might react to them, or why.
How does a kid feel when relatives, or strangers, openly comment on their features — “That’s a good nose” or “Too bad about the eyes”? What does a parent say when a child says, “Mommy, I want blond hair”?
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But what really prompted her to write the book was the birth of their son in 2009. When I visited her home near Columbia City on Tuesday, she said she wanted to be able to help him navigate the world and, more, she wanted him to grow up in a better world. “When you have a kid, you want to step it up,” she said.
Chang was already interested in children and education. She was working on her master’s in child development with an early-education specialty when her son was born. (She taught in a preschool for a time.)
For her thesis, she decided to interview parents of mixed-race Asian children about their experiences, and she found that many of them had no idea how to talk with their children about race. In fact, they often wanted advice from her. She created a blog, which is still going, multiasianfamilies.blogspot.com.
She expanded her thesis work, interviewing 68 parents of 75 multiracial Asian children from Seattle and elsewhere. The comments of those parents are spread through the book and give a sense of the diversity of thought and of the need for some kind of preparation for dealing with the experiences they and their children have.
Chang is also committed to social justice, and when she read what had been written about mixed-race children and multiracial families, she noticed the books didn’t really deal with racism. And the books she read about racism didn’t spend much space, if any, on multiracial people, especially not on mixed-race Asians.
So she created the book she wanted and needed.
She starts with the basics, explaining how the idea of organizing people by race arose in Europe and grew into what we know in America today, a system used to justify enslaving Africans and displacing Native Americans, and that still affects every aspect of society.
That framework places white people at the top, black people at the bottom, and other people somewhere in between. She writes about where Asian Americans fit, sometimes as the model minority, sometimes as forever-foreigners. And how mixed-race Asians in a wide variety of combinations of parentage are viewed, and treated. Appearance matters, and Chang notes that having white/Asian heritage, for instance, can be a different experience from having black/Asian heritage.
Chang emphasizes that most of us look at each other through that white framework, which assigns traits to different groups and values lighter skin over darker. Asians, black people, Latinos — we see each other the way the white system dictates and even see ourselves that way, sometimes. Unless we are aware enough to free ourselves.
Chang uses the latest social-science research to talk about how all that operates for people who are mixed-race Asians.
Half the parents she interviewed thought their children were too young to see race or think about it, but she writes about all the research that shows otherwise. Children are aware of differences as young as 6 months old, and as they grow, they begin to add meaning to the differences based on what they learn from the environment. Five-year-old children begin to judge people’s abilities based on the white framework.
The earlier parents, teachers and other adults begin guiding children to a healthier understanding of themselves and others, the better for them and for our society. This book will help anyone who wants to take up that challenge.