White Dads and Biracial Black Kids: Concerns and Challenges
Updated: Jun 16
There are some stories that live in your head rent-free years after hearing them.
For my first book Boundaries of Love: Interracial Marriage and the Meaning of Love (2019, NYU Press), I conducted over 100 interviews in Brazil and the United with people in interracial marriages or longterm cohabiting marital unions. There was a smorgasborg of themes that emerged in this cross-national comparison, so only the biggest or most striking ones made it into the book. Yet there are some stories that still gnaw at me.
Around 2010, I interviewed a Black woman, Felice, who married a White man, named Bob. I came to their quiet suburban home and they were kind enough to let me interview them separately AND together! When I spoke to Felice, she said that right before she met Bob, she had dated a different White man before him. His name was-- let's call him Aaron. They were native Angelinos, had grown up together, and had many friends in common. (Note for the haters: she had also dated Black men, she didn't discriminate.) However, Bob rushed in out of nowhere, winning her heart and sealing the deal.
Recalling Aaron, Felice said something that really struck me.
Felice: He actually had said that he - if we ever did have a relationship where - if we ever did commit to marriage, that his main concern would be for the children.
Felice: Having - he had a hard time with the fact that children would - in the society with mixed children, would have a hard time with people ... because he would see how some kids were treated back then. “Your parents are mixed, and your mom’s Black.”
....we’ve been in touch with him since we’ve had kids and he sees that there was never, ever a problem with us. And it depends on the foundation of the home, too. And he sees that - that was probably - and I’ve seen his mom since, and she said she thinks he regrets it.
Felice: Yeah, because she knows that - she sees that this is the year 2000, and you don’t see that - maybe somewhere else, but still.... his family said that he realized later that that was probably something he shouldn’t have had a concern about. Yeah. because he married somebody that is Caucasian, and they have their own different problems. But yeah, he realized later that that was stupid because that shouldn’t have been a problem. So my kids have never had any kind of problems with friends or other kids or anybody.
Felice's impression was that Aaron, a White man, was worried that his children with her would be treated poorly for having parents of different races and having a Black mother. It made me wonder if, as a White man, it was his peers or family members who had taunted biracial or multiracial kids or perhaps it was something he heard about in other communities or on television. Now that multiracial families are larger in number and society has gotten more used to them, the world no longer seems as hostile to multiracial children in the United States. Nevertheless, he made his decision to profligate the White race (jk!) by marrying a fellow White.
In this story, I love how Aaron's mother was spreading the chisme about her son regretting not having married Felice. It makes me imagine a California-tanned White man with too-white teeth turning in his sleep, reaching into the air calling "Fuhhh-leeeese..." before dropping his arm and continuing to snooze. I also imagine his wife, Jacqueline already sitting up scowling at him as he dozes peacefully. Angrily, she turns away from her husband and pulls the covers over her to (attempt to) go back to sleep.
I'm sure Aaron is happy with his wife or if he isn't, it isn't because she is White. If he pines for her, that's his problem because he messed up. When I interviewed Felice's husband, Bob, about whether he has any issues being in public as a White dude with his mixed race kids, he said no. In fact, people often tell him how "gorgeous" they are. When he walks with them in public, he told me."I strut."
He struts!! Take that, Aaron!
There is a lot of research showing that Black biracials can have negative experiences being in public with their parents. As I described in my book Boundaries of Love, it was largely an issue women faced, whether they were Black or White. In Rio de Janeiro, there are plenty of mixed race people and race mixture has been celebrated as a national ideology. Still, mothers, whether Black or White, said people never thought their children were their own. After having a parasite feeding off of you for nine months and successfully keeping it alive once it is outside of you, strangers assume these ladies are "not the mama!"
I interviewed a different Black-White couple who lived in South Los Angeles. They were a Black woman and a White man pairing. They had one son, named Hero, and were expecting their second child in a few months, this time, a daughter. Her name would be Deborah.
I interviewed Alex while his wife, Victoria was cleaning surprisingly quickly, despite her expanded belly. I had previously asked about concerns in their relationship and he had a new response.
Alex: There is-I would say-I do-their [have] been times where-[their] are anxiety and concerns, I do worry sometimes. I think-everyday worries. Sometimes in quiet moments when my son grows up, I can’t tell him what it’s like to grow up as a Black man in the United States or in the world because there are some things he’s going to experience things that I didn’t experience. That’s just undeniable. I think I can be a father who can teach him how to live life in the world, but that-it-I don’t think it has to be a huge deal, but there are times that I think about that. To me, it’s a slight source of anxiety because I want to be everything to my son. Even if it’s just one little-if it’s a big thing or a little thing. Regardless, it’s something that I can’t say I know what you’re talking about; that I’ve been there. Maybe I can in a way that I haven’t necessarily figured out yet.... and so and flat out, it’s not-it’s damn hard growing up as a Black man in this world. I know that. Not because I’ve done it, but just because I know. I think about that all the time; how to help him.
I had never thought about the struggles White men could face rearing sons who are Black. Cis-gender straght White man are at the top of many social hierarchies, so it can be difficult for them to empathize with people who are not. However, as a parent of someone with less privilege, it becomes your job. It seemed as though it was one that Alex took seriously.
Alex's self-reflection throughout the interview, his actively challenging class structures at his everyday job, and his questioning of the world's inequities were comforting despite his concerns. I have a feeling Hero and Deborah, in combination with Victoria's astute understanding of the world, are just fine.
Men's ideas around fertility and child-rearing are not often taken seriously, including in the context of interracial marriage, in which the views of White mothers are often dominant. If it had not been for these interviews, I would never have thought about the challenges White men can face when raising children who are not likely to be at the top of social hierarchies, the way that they often are. As we see in famous cases like Meghan Markle, even families that are seen as successful can experience harms that White fathers may not be familiar with or even be a part of inflicting harm. By focusing on Black women's experiences in interracial marriage, new ways of understanding multiracial families can emerge that show that a colorblind, race-neutral social life is not a reality, despite societies' insistance it is.
For more stories of interracial marriage, you can check out my book, Boundaries of Love: Interracial Marriage and the Meaning of Love (2019, NYU Press).