As the mother of two biracial children—my husband is Italian—the subject of being multiracial is near and dear to my heart. Diversity is something to celebrate, but sometimes little ones need tools to better understand the often complex nature of being multiracial. Actress Garcelle Beauvais (most recently seen in movie White House Down) and writer/publisher Sebastian A. Jones have created such a tool with their children's book, I Am Mixed (Stranger Comics).
Beauvais is the mother of three, and her two youngest—5-year-old twins Jaid and Jax—are biracial. And Jones is of mixed heritage, as is his 8-year-old son, so this book is a labor of love. "When I first met Garcelle at the park, we immediately bonded as our curly-haired mixed kids played on the various rides. She shared her vision of wanting to create a series of kids' books that celebrate topics which are socially relevant to all," Jones says.
He says that being biracial is "all about embracing the idea that, 'Yeah, you are different, but that's kind of cool, and how can I learn from you' instead of either keeping things separate, or saying that we are all the same. We are not all the same, thank goodness, and it's a wonderful thing that we get to experience other people's thoughts and perspectives. The big thing that we have to tackle is how to bridge certain cultural gaps from a very early age."
Beauvais caught up with mom.me to talk about the book and her approach to raising her children.
What prompted you to write this book? Were you inspired by a particular event or incident?
I was inspired to write I Am Mixed because of my beautiful twin boys. They're mixed, and I couldn't find any books where my children could see themselves within the characters or find a book that would help them celebrate what makes them special.
What do you tell people who are curious about your children's backgrounds—sometimes rudely so?
I say they are a beautiful mix of Haitian and Irish.
How do you deal with people who don't connect you with your children?
I always try to come from a place of joy. When I meet someone like that, I view it as a chance for me to enlighten them. For instance, since my son Jaid is lighter than Jax, I often get asked if they are both mine. I don't take offense to it. I use the question to open a conversation about how unique each mixed child is and how they can take both sides of the parents.
How have you taught your children to deal with questions about their hair or skin color?
That's why I wrote this book; it helped start a conversation with my boys where I could explain what people may ask them and how to respond.
Do your kids ask you a lot of questions about race?
My kids haven't asked yet, but I wanted to be proactive and give them the words and tools beforehand.
It's 2013. Do you think that there is anything different about raising biracial children now? Do you feel that there are particular challenges?
I think people are becoming generally more open to the change as the various cultures intermingle and fall in love based on simply just that … love. In the past, it was a lot harder, but there will always be those who are polarized by rigid beliefs, which is one of the reasons it is so important for us to tackle the issue of acceptance and diversity for the youth of today.
Mothers all around the country reacted to the Trayvon Martin case. We never want to raise our children with a fear of the world, but how do you think you will prepare them for the difficulties that boys of color can face in this country? I know your boys are young now, but what do you think you will tell them?
This is a topic that puts fear in me. Unfortunately I do have to have that talk with them at some point. I will probably start off by telling them that life is sometimes not fair, and everyone is not always nice and compassionate, and people will judge you by the color of your skin. But having self-acceptance and knowing who you are will help when you are facing these judgments.
Your book is a celebration of diversity. What do you want people to take away from I Am Mixed?
I would love for families to have a conversation about what it means to know about heritage and self-acceptance, hence the term … 'I am.' However, it is also equally important to celebrate not only your own uniqueness but also those who may be different. We can all teach each other.