Children of mixed parentage account for a growing population in early childhood programs. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reported 620,000 births of children with one Black and one White parent in 1990 and predicted a continuing increase. A similar pattern is seen for marriages between other races and for the birth of children with other dual heritages. Much like divorce, the stress related to interracial marriages comes from society's disapproval of the unions of two people of different races. The stress for children comes from a kind of ambiguous ethnicity or conflicts about their dual ethnic identity.
Early childhood educators are aware of the connection between a child's success and his or her racial/ethnic self-esteem. Identity is an emerging concept for young children. For young biracial or bicultural children it is a fluid or changing identity, depending on the child's development and environment (California Child Care Health Program, 2000). It will be important for children to process their dual identities, and early childhood educators will need to provide support to both children and families during those times.
Socialization of Biracial Children
What typically happens to biracial and bicultural children is that they are socialized much more in one culture than the other. "The child of dual heritage is not likely to have equal exposure to both of her cultural heritages" (Morrison & Rogers, 1996, p. 30). At the same time, the biracial child is aware of the values, perceptions, and typical behaviors of the two cultural systems. Very early in these children's lives, they become aware of being different. Whether it be in child care or preschool, or in the community, the biracial child may experience the social pressure that is often directed to someone who is different.
When parents are asked about the racial or cultural identity of their biracial child, their responses vary significantly. Those responses indicate their uncertainty about the dual heritage or their discouragement with societal pressure. The variation in parents' responses is one indication of the stress that is experienced by families of dual races or cultures. Biracial children experience the feeling of not "fitting in" anywhere during their childhood and it becomes a serious source of conflict for many biracial adolescents (Gibbs, 1989). One of the socialization messages comes from society and it tells children that everyone belongs in a group. From there, children develop their identities within a group. The situation is further complicated because children need to identify themselves with their parents, and each of the parents has a different ethnic identity. Ideally, biracial children need to identify with both of their parents, but society and the parents themselves don't support such development.
Maintaining Languages and Cultures
Faridah and Amr, parents of Ibrahim and Muhammed, talk about the difficulties of keeping both parent languages available to their children and describe their awareness of Ibrahim and Muhammed becoming part of the dominant White culture. Faridah tells us that the common language of the two adults is English because neither of them speaks the other's language. "When we talk with the boys, however, we each use our own language, so that they are becoming fluent in both languages—Malay and Arabic." We realized as we listened to Muhammed's excellent English that the boys are trilingual. Faridah moves smoothly from speaking with us in English to speaking with her sons in Malay, and Amr did the same.
When we ask Faridah about how she and Amr work to keep the two cultures part of their family and the boys' heritage, she describes her role as one of acquainting the boys with foods and home traditions from her country. "The way we furnish our home also reflects our cultures," she states as she describes the lack of items hanging on the walls. She laments that her husband has many books and materials from his country to use with the boys because his friends send packages to him regularly, and that most of her materials have been translated into English. "What we have most in common is our religion," Faridah tells us. That common culture is their Muslim religion, and it influences their eating habits, their social life, and their support network, which is primarily composed of friends who attend the same mosque.
When you get to know parents like Faridah and Amr, you realize the complexity of raising biracial or, in their case, tricultural children. During our conversation, we realized the importance of the information they were sharing for the early childhood educators who work with their children.
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