One of the most common statements made about mixed race babies is ‘ah, isn’t s/he cute. This is in line with a recent study done by Dr. Michael Lewis of Cardiff University School of Psychology. Dr. Lewis used a sample of 1205 black, white and mixed-race faces. These faces were rated for their perceived attractiveness with mixed race faces on average were perceived to be more attractive. His findings were presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual meeting on April 14, 2010.
This coincides with comments made about a lot of mixed race babies. Although flattering for parents, as this implies they are also attractive; consideration should be given to the amount of attention focused on the child’s looks. Reinforcing some of the child’s other positive traits could help with balance. Dr. Lewis went on to suggest that this study could have implications beyond attractiveness and cited Charles Darwin’s hetero-sis (or hybrid vigor) theory of 1876. Hetero-sis is a biological phenomenon that predicts that offspring from varying types are genetically fitter than their parents. I am not a big fan of Darwin, but from a biological standpoint it is possible that mixed race babies could be fitter, solely from inheriting traits from each parent that enhance their defenses.
Let’s get back to the dialogue that should be developed with mixed race babies that will help them in forming an individual identity. Children are born pure and are then influenced by our fears, past hurts and prejudices. Mixed race babies, like all other babies need to be loved, nurtured, cared for and taught to develop a strong sense of self. Since they are a combination of two or more cultures, they should feel free to embrace all of them. Studies show that raising kids to believe that color doesn’t matter in our society leaves them at a tremendous disadvantage and increases their vulnerability when they come of age and may have to deal with race issues.
Babies are little sponges and absorb everything in sight during their first 5 years. Race is really a grown up notion that has no meaning to a majority of preschoolers. Three year olds who become aware of their skin color, speak in terms of color without any regard to race. My children for example consider themselves to be brown and now understand that the combination of the colors black and white made them brown. As a Black man in America, I have gone from being Negro to African American to Black.
This change in terminology was brought on by the collective conscience of the Black American population. Kids, however, have to be taught that Black is a race. Until the age of three and one half, children simply cannot classify something as belonging to more than one category. This tendency toward forming singular categories makes the concept of being a mixed race baby extremely difficult for children three years old and under. Although three year olds do not yet have the same preconceptions of older children, they are still busy gathering information about the world. They quietly collect information and form conclusions based on their observations.
A parent has to be able to give age appropriate responses as the child grows and start asking questions. One of the first questions I received from my son at 6 years old is ‘why aren’t there more black people in the kids programs on televisions’ and ‘why aren’t there that many black kids in his school books. I had to explain to him that there was a time in America when there were no blacks on television or in the newspaper. His mother challenged him to work on changing that image if you don’t like it.
Mixed race children have the tendency to sometimes concurrently see both sides. I see this when I look at art, sometimes their faces have color and sometimes not. There is a tendency for some parents in America to have their kids if they are part black identify themselves as being black. This of course is based on the one drop rule socialized in America. I think the children should be made to understand that based on the norms of American society they could be identified as being black. But, they have a right to chose to be mixed race, biracial, multicultural.
It is sometimes the limits of environment, socialization, education and fear that drives prejudices. Something as simple as a discussion of a threat by persons of another race to one’s means of livelihood, if overheard by a child could instill fear and prejudice in the subconscious. Let’s teach our mixed race babies from a very young age to celebrate our differences. Brown eyes, blue eyes; straight hair, curly hair; big nose, little nose. W. Nikola-Lisa, illustrated by Michael Bryant