One of the most personally satisfying results of my For Harriet article going viral was being contacted by two strangers for advice. They are both fathers of biracial daughters. One father is black and the other is white. While they each had their own questions, three were the same: “How can I make sure my daughter has a positive self-identity,” “How can I help her connect to her black heritage,” and “How can I keep my daughter from being a black or white man’s exotic arm piece?”
How Can I Help My Daughter Develop a Positive Self-Identity?
For this question, I told each father that there is power behind how they want their daughters to identify, and that it is important to fully embrace whatever identifiers their daughters choose, because in doing so they embrace their daughters’ own agency. I recently learned from my mom that while even though in high school my dad said, “Mixed isn’t whole,” he most likely had more of a problem with the terminology than with the concept. At the time, my rebuttal was in the form of a food analogy: “Mixed is like being a root beer float. You have the ice cream, and you have the root beer, and they’re both whole things. Together they make a new whole thing” (and the best dessert I could ever imagine!) However, just a few days ago my mom corrected me about my father’s position. As a little girl, she says, my father told me that people would label me as mono-racially black, but that I was really biracial. My dad was full of black pride, was very politically active in his community, and acted as a paralegal for the NAACP. So I stand corrected… even though my dad may have later feared that I grew up “too white,” his initial stance was that I should embrace both sides of my heritage.
How Can I Keep My Daughter from Being a Black or White Man’s Exotic Arm Piece?
The fathers were a little bashful in asking this question of a complete stranger, but I was neither put off nor surprised by the question. It’s something I’ve had to wrestle with myself. I let each of the fathers know that I have developed my own strategies for determining a potential suitor’s intentions. If a guy compliments aspects of my body, especially ones that are highly racialized, I can pretty well determine that he is interested in my “exoticness.” If he compliments my character, then I know he is interested in me as a person. It’s not a foolproof strategy, but it pretty well does the job.
How Can I Help My Daughter Connect to Her Black Heritage?
I told the fathers that in my case, both my parents were active in helping me learn about black history. As a child I poured over the picture book my mom gave me about Martin Luther King and his influence on the Civil Rights Movement. My father had me watch “Eyes on the Prize” like it was our religion. As I grew up, I saw myself between the pages of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and I befriended Richard Wright’s fictional characters — boys and men who attempted to make sense of the world in which they lived. In grad school, I told one of the fathers, I naturally gravitated toward the few other black students in the program. We collectively normalized our race-based concerns and observations, and these women never questioned my blackness but accepted me as one of their own.
I of course don’t have all the answers, but I’m honored to help fathers navigate the sometimes tricky waters of parenting a biracial daughter. Fathers play a crucial and undeniable role in helping their children develop a sense of self. It’s this inherent power that has led me to write a memoir about my relationship with my own, now deceased, father.