Practical Ways to Promote a Healthy Racial Identity – College Addition

The United States is a “melting pot.”  We are a country that basically represents every other country on the face of the earth.  We are supposed to be the place that promotes “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all.

With this being said, growing up in the United States, even with this multi-ethnic diversity, it is not always easy to have a healthy self image.  Kids get picked on all the time for being different.  Heck, adults get picked on for being different.

There is nothing more obvious in our differences than race.

Recently on our college campuses, there have been fine educated young men who have been caught making very racially charged and misogynistic statements.  On college campuses.  The place where we hope our best and our brightest are going to further their education and present us with hope for our future.

God help us if that is what is going on amongst our “educated” elite.  I cringe to think about how people of color are being talked about in the backwoods of the United States.  Oh, wait, I do know… I grew up there.


In light of this, how can people of color and their allies promote a healthy racial identity?

How do Black women get past the ratchet stereotype?

How do Black men get past the thug stereotype?

How do Asian woman get past the sexual stereotype?

How do Asian men get past the “model minority” stereotype?

Why do all my Hispanic friends have to deal with being asked if the are “legal” or whether they “speak English?”

Why are my Middle Eastern friends considered terrorists or just weird?

Why are my Indian friends called “Curry monsters?”

How do we get past all these things thrown at us and still maintain a healthy racial identity?  Why is a healthy racial identity important?

Let me answer the last question first – a healthy racial identity is essential for a healthy self esteem.  Because we really don’t live in a “colorblind” world, like so many people love to say.  EVERYONE sees colors.  EVERYONE sees that first before they even see you.

I don’t care who you are and who you think you are fooling with saying that “you don’t see color.” You do.  And ignoring my color isn’t helping me feel better about myself.  Telling me that you “accept me despite my color” doesn’t help me.  Because I want to be who I am.  I am proud of who I am.  And I would have been a lot prouder a lot earlier if people hadn’t been trying to “ignore” my color while simultaneously denigrating others who looked just like me.  It was bad for my self esteem.  I hated who I saw in the mirror, because I couldn’t see past the color.  Because I am not supposed to “see past” it- I am supposed to embrace it and love it.  Then I can go out into the world confident in who and what I am – a Black woman.  This is why a healthy racial identity is important.

A healthy racial identity allows me to call out racist bs and say “that’s not cool, we deserve better.”  It allows me to wear my hair the way that I feel comfortable, wear clothes that I feel comfortable in and talk in a manner that I feel comfortable talking in.  I means I do not have to fit into anyone’s box.  I can be me, and I can be free.  This is why a healthy racial identity is important.

The first question: how do we get past these things and still maintain a healthy racial identity?  How do we get past the slings and the arrows and still hold our fist up and say “I’m Black and I’m Proud?”

Well, it starts early.  It happens through mirroring and learning from our parents.  It develops over time as we get older and are confronted with racism or ignorant statements.  We learn how to deal with this stuff a little at a time and we eventually learn that we are beautiful and strong and better than those people saying those horrible things.

But what if we have no mirroring?  What if we are raised by parents who do not look like us, as I did?  What if the racist comments or microaggressions happen on such a regular basis that we can never get away from them.  What then?

I don’t have a pat answer to that question.  As a transracial adoptee raised in racial isolation, I didn’t have the tools necessary to form a healthy racial identity.  I hated my color and wanted nothing to do with it.  I was taught explicitly and implicitly that my color was wrong and bad and something to be ashamed of.  I was given away by my mother because of my color.

So, how did I learn to become proud of who I am?

It took a lot of work.  It took a couple attempts at my own life.  It took my children coming into my life and teaching me that Black is beautiful, because i saw it reflected in them, and it was amazingly gorgeous.  But it took a long time and anywhere along the way, I could have fallen off.  I could have become another adoptee suicide.

So, I write this to Transracial Adoptive Parents.

First of all, let me tell you what doesn’t  work: ignoring the situation, making it your child’s responsibility “to deal with when they are older,” bringing your child around people who you know are racist “but mean well,”  allowing racism to go unchecked, having unchecked implicit bias yourself, and finally being “color blind.”

This is what does work:

Start early on honoring your child’s heritage and color.  Surround your child with people and things that represent their culture, as well as yours, so they know that they belong in your world.

Stand up against microagressions and outward racism.  Anywhere and everywhere you see it.  Yes, people will call you that friend.  The one who challenges them when they say they are “chinky eyed’ or make an off color joke – because you know “we were just fooling around.”  For a person of color, every stone of microaggression and every boulder of racism weighs us down and wears us down.

Stand with me as I expose the horrible scourge in our higher education system until these emails and chats and posting salacious pictures stops.  Our children deserve better.

University of Oklahoma, University of Maryland, University of Alabama, Wheaton College, Lincoln University, Penn State, Clemson University…. I wish I could stop, but I could just go on and on and on, there are just too many to list.  A lot of these colleges have suspended kids in the last week.  Think about it – this is after the SAE debacle.  Let that sink in.

We send our kids out to college with a promise of a better life if they go.

Are we upholding our end of the bargain?

Silence = Compliance

About sjwoods318

Mother of six children - five girls and one boy; wife; community organizer, family chauffeur, philosopher, trans-racial adoptee, Deadhead, person of mixed racial heritage, artist, poet, writer who loves to swim, read, and run around with my family.
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