Two nights ago, I sat in a darkened room at my local library with a bunch of strangers watching a documentary on race. “I am or How Jack Became Black” by Eli Steele is one of those rare movies that catalyzes uncomfortable conversations. I stood by the small table I had set up with snacks and water long past the show answering questions and sharing bits of my life with like-minded people. The last one to leave said, “Questions are all I have but I guess that is a good place to be at.”
In a nutshell, the director starts with his multiracial family and traces the history of identity politics in this country. He ends with the question: “How do we move from what are you to who are you?”
Between raising my own transracial family and working on a parenting webzine that focuses on race in parenting, I struggle with trying to balance the identity thing. As if grappling with my identity is not torturous enough, I mull over how to weigh all parts of my children’s identity (birth/adopted) fairly. Most days I fall back on the things I know and own well. I make well-intentioned if feeble efforts to incorporate what I think it would have been their life if my children had been raised under different circumstances. There are parts of their birth heritage that I am still figuring out how to approach. Mostly, I feel like a fraud.
In a recent conversation with my children’s other mother, I touched upon race and class, caste and social order. On hearing that specific conversation in the privacy of my study, I notice how my voice is unsteady. I notice how I speak from a vulnerability that comes from not understanding where I fit in.
Then there are conversations with other like-minded people online. One of them asked in a private conversation why I chose to keep my casteist last name. I wrote back in length touching on reasons why I picked that name and the time period in which it happened. Even as I did, I found myself caught, conflicted.
One day in the last few weeks, I caught a conversation with Brene Brown on NPR. She talked about belonging and quoted Maya Angelou.
As I listened and drove home, it hit me. This belonging I crave. This constant battle between fitting in and standing out. This dilemma between being color blind and color aware. All of this boils down to one thing.
If I can embrace all parts of me, the problematic, the pragmatic, the rational, the irrational, the intellectual, the idiot, all of the parts that make me, me. If I can stand out instead of fitting in. If I can focus on the individual instead of the group, then it will answer most of my questions. In raising my children, if I focus on what makes them Ammu, Pattu and Laddu which includes all of their heritage then I would not have to stress so much on the individual components of what makes them, them. As a parent, I will be doing myself and them a favor if instead of forcing them into boxes, I gift them a curiosity to figure out what boxes they want to check.
In raising my multicultural, transracial family, all I can do is embrace all of me and all of them and leave the world (and its boxes) to itself. By focusing on who they are as individuals instead of what they are as a race, I am doing the best I can do as an aware parent. By raising them the way I know best, by equipping them with the freedom to question and search for answers, by providing them with means to access all parts of their history, I will be the wind beneath their wings as they soar and fly.
Someday them and in turn, I will know who we are.