Teaching My Mixie Son “How to Be Black” with Baratunde Thurston

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

HTBBParenting is hard. Can we all just admit that? If only our kids were just mini replicas of ourselves, perhaps we’d be better prepared to handle all of their issues. Because their issues would be our issues. But they’re not. Our kids come into this world with their very own brand of special. Case in point. I’m trying to raise brown boys to be confident and proud of their dual Black American /Spanish heritage. And I am neither a boy nor am I Spanish. And el esposo, while he does claim both male and Spanish on all of his identity papers, he isn’t brown. You see where I’m heading with this?

My sons will be perceived in this country as some sort of Black and I’m happy about that. But I recognize that because their father is Spanish and looks white, they don’t have an in-house role model on which to base their Black identity. And I’m not saying they have to discard their Spanish-ness, I’m just saying they need to have some sort of positive role model to understand Black male identity as they figure out their hybrid selves.

So my idea, at this point, is to just make sure my boys are exposed to all kinds of Black males who are diverse in their thinking, cool in their style, and doing interesting things in the world. With this plan in mind, I took my older son to see Baratunde Thurston, the author of How to Be Black, speak at the Free Library of Philadelphia last week. My son was less than thrilled when I told him he was my date for the night and he scowled on the entire 20-minute drive to the library.

But by the end of Thurston’s hilarious presentation however, which wasn’t exactly geared towards an 11-year old’s interests, my son was smiling and declared himself a Baratunde fan. And I can see why. Thurston is young enough for my son to think him cool. He’s smart, hilarious and he used a lot of pictures in his presentation. But probably most importantly, he wore a hoodie. To my son, that was the true symbol that this guy was the real deal. I’m kidding. But it probably helped. The best part of the evening occurred while we were standing in line waiting for Thurston to sign our book. My son looked at me and declared, “I’m Black.” I had to hold my laughter in because he was serious. But he repeated himself and said it like Thurston’s lecture sparked an epiphany or a revelation that being Black was actually pretty cool. I didn’t press the issue or ask my son to clarify. I just gave myself an internal pat on the back for doing the right thing.

Clearly my work isn’t over on the identity building with my kids, but I look forward to more experiences like this. Unlike my own childhood where my parents allowed me to figure this all out on my own, I want to give my kids a useful set of tools to carve out their  identity. I want them to build an identity that incorporates all of their parts into a satisfying sense of self.

Anybody else working on identity building with their kids? What tools are you giving them? I’m listening and taking notes.


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