My Biracial Children

I have biracial children. That doesn’t make me an expert on the subject, but I have an opinion from personal experience. In the early 1960s, I fell in love with my college anthropology professor – a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa. A white friend warned me, “You’ll lose all your friends.” When we contemplated marriage, I said, “Let’s not have children of our own. We’ll just adopt. Think of all the problems they’ll face. They’ll be rejected by both races, not belonging anywhere.”

Anita and Ben Wedding Photo

Wedding photo

He wasn’t having any of it and said firmly, “I want my own children.”

In 1947, Kingsblood Royal, by Sinclair Lewis, displayed the absurdity of a drop of Negro blood when a middle-class white man discovered he had a black ancestor and it subsequently gave him a new identity and turned his life upside down.

mixed race generation - Dennis familyDespite the end of slavery, I think “one drop of Negro blood” continued in a sense. During the 1950s, light-skinned blacks could get jobs “inside.” Dark-skinned blacks worked “outside.” Some black men wanted to marry a light-skinned black woman, regardless of her looks or intelligence. The lighter skin was all that mattered. Skin-lightening creams and hair-straightening were popular.

A Mixed Race Generation

Young people may feel differently today. Lighter skin may not matter to the degree it once did, but in my opinion, it’s still preferred by whites and blacks. It still matters how dark a person is. On a TV show recently, a black girl lamented about being rejected because she was a dark-skinned black. Today, a number of black performers and newscasters (and particularly the president) are light-skinned. I’m being gut-level honest here. Because of this, I’m glad my sons are light-skinned blacks.

What we have now in America is a burgeoning mixed race generation. According to USA Today, one in 14 Americans are considered “multi-racial.” With the increase in interracial marriages, that share of Americans who claim more than one race is expected to grow. My sons are part of this group as well as their children. In fact, mixed heritage is so common, there’s a new site called ancestry.com.

Race continues to raise various issues because racism remains an underlying inherited cultural value that is passed down in subtle ways. My sons are considered black. As a result, they faced life in America differently than their white mother.                                                                                                                                                                                ben_photo_pg_029

When my boys were teenagers, a light-skinned black woman advised me, “Your sons will probably marry white women because they’ll be looking for their mother.”  Two of them married white women and my five grandchildren – part of that mixed race generation – can pass for white.

Several years ago, I observed an interracial couple in the grocery store and wondered what had brought them together. She was white – beautiful and nicely dressed. He had dread locks, slouched pants, and an appearance that shouted, “Unemployed.” When I mentioned this to my husband, he said, “That man may never have any other accomplishment in his life. But he did marry a white woman.”

One Drop of Negro Blood – The Strange Paradox of Race

The definition of race has generated some strange paradoxes. A white woman recently passed for black. Michael Jackson ended up looking like a white woman. President Obama is labeled black despite being half-white, with a level of disrespect and distrust that is unparalleled for a president. Black religious leaders are shot in cold blood in their own church simply because they are black. Subsequently, there’s a fight over removing the Confederate flag, a symbol of the Old South and the racism it represents.

What you think about race depends on your race. Whites talk about race from a white perspective. Blacks talk about race from a black perspective. The problem is, those perspectives are very different based on experience. With a mixed race generation, shouldn’t we be eager to hear the other race’s perspective? After all, communication is essential for any relationship. Shouldn’t we at least try to put ourselves in another’s shoes? At least try? I’d like to hear your opinion.

My husband and I wrote a book about racism in Liberia and America called Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia. After he died, I wrote our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief. Both of these books deal with issues of race and culture.
Beyond Myself Book Cover by Author Anita Katherine Dennis                                                       Slaves to Racism Book Cover