18: Mixed-race by Definition #LifeWideLearning16

My wife’s father is a black man, originally from New Orleans. Because of this, she grew up not knowing which bubble to fill in on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Her teachers told her to choose the one she thought best represented her. My wife felt as though she was betraying her dad if she bubbled in white and betraying her mom if she bubbled in black. Both represented her.

My children do not have this similar struggle. Even though they are also mixed-race by definition, it is in such a way that two of them appear to have a year-round tan and one somehow turned out with blond hair and fair skin (recessive genes, clearly). They do not feel the connection to black culture that my wife does or the struggle to integrate two sides of themselves.

Before kids, we used to celebrate MLK day with lots of our friends, usually up in the mountains. We would take the 3-day-weekend and make it about skiing, eating, and drinking up in a condo that we all paid for. While the skiing and drinking were non-specific and could be done any time, the eating was our little way of celebrating.

Kara makes some of the best homemade mac and cheese you can imagine. Her collard greens, fried okra, and gumbo are delicious. And when she pulls together a MLK day feast, you want to be there and have your fill. It feels like thanksgiving, but with less food that feels like an obligation and more food that feels like you want to hoard it all to yourself because it just that good. And while we would stuff our faces, we would all spend a little bit of time contemplating Martin Luther King Jr. and the ways in which he and the movement he represents have influenced our every day lives.

We haven’t eaten like that on MLK day for a while. We haven’t taken the moment to think deeply about what that food means to Kara or to the entire culture of people from which it came. We haven’t discussed the struggle of the Black Lives Matter protests or how it fits into the broader fabric of human rights that King was such an integral part of. Instead, we are relying upon our kids’ school to help them contextualize the “day off”. Their teachers are doing a good job of sharing the deep discrimination of the civil rights movement era, but they will never be able to connect the dots to their own blackness or to their mother’s.

That will be up to us, and I hope that we do it soon. I hope that we again sit around the dinner table and fill our plates with food that makes us think and makes us tell stories or ask questions. I hope that we teach our children to dig in to the rich history of civil disobedience and injustice and that it becomes a part of them in a way that they can carry forward and share with others.

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