by Mark Van Streefkerk
According to recent census data, the U.S. is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse at a faster rate than previously predicted, especially among Generation Z. Along with increased diversity comes an increase in multiracial youth, populations that Dr. Ralina L. Joseph and Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith are calling “Generation Mixed.” Co-authored by Joseph and Briscoe-Smith and released in March, Generation Mixed Goes to School: Radically Listening to Multiracial Kids is a first-of-its-kind resource for educators, caregivers, parents, and anyone who wants to learn more about supporting youth populations that are increasingly mixed.
The book is part of a multicultural education series edited by Dr. James A. Banks, the “Father of Multicultural Education.”
As they began research for Generation Mixed, Joseph and Briscoe-Smith started with one outline, but they ended up scrapping it. Joseph, a professor of communications at the University of Washington and critical mixed-race scholar, and Briscoe-Smith, a child psychologist and professor at the Wright Institute, originally planned on writing a book about mixed-race kids presented in a challenges-and-solutions format. The foundation of their own academic work, lived experience, and experience raising mixed-race children was an intuitive starting point as they began brainstorming the book in the fall of 2018. What they ended up hearing from mixed-race kids throughout their research, however, prompted them to go in a different direction.
“After we listened to the kids, we had to blow out our outline,” Briscoe-Smith explained. “We had initially wanted to present problems and solutions, but what we heard from the kids were a diversity of responses … it was really more expansive than we had anticipated.”
Research took place at the University of Washington’s Center for Communication, Difference, and Equity (CCDE) where Joseph is director. Invitations went out to groups that support BIPOC families like Families of Color Seattle, and Joseph said, “kids and parents and cousins and some aunties came in [to the center],” which was essentially a recording studio for the conversations that took place. Joseph employed a methodology of radical listening, which goes beyond a traditional question-and-answer interview and encourages dialogue in conversation with two — and sometimes more — people. Radical listening involves really hearing the speaker from their own perspective, noting the mention of any power dynamics or inequities, sitting in the discomfort of that reality, and then moving to create change, always in consultation with the speaker. “We really let the book organically develop from that through this process of doing radical listening,” Joseph said.
The result was a braiding of critical mixed-race theory, child psychology, and shared experiences from the kids themselves. The topics that mixed-race kids brought up were diverse, but there were some common themes. “Many of the [youths’] requests were to really see them and to believe them in their own racialization,” Joseph explained. “We see kids wanting to be believed: ‘This is my identity. Believe my identity. I know who I am.’ That can be really uncomfortable if this is not who you see this child as.”
One example of friction between a child’s identity and a parent’s perception happened when a white mother was dismissive of her mixed race African American son’s identification as Black. The son kept asserting his identity, growing more and more frustrated, eventually breaking out in tears. “Supportive adults need to hear, understand, and believe, as opposed to trying to ‘fix their race,’” Joseph said. Despite their potential discomfort at how their child articulates their identity, a supportive parent or caregiver can believe their child and take steps to support and protect their identity in spaces where they need to be protected.
Another common theme — even among children as young as 5 years old — was that while they weren’t confused by their identities, the world was often confused about them. “What they were constantly doing was negotiating other people’s confusion,” Joseph said. “When you listen to the kids, you realize they’re incredibly wise in the ways in which they know how to navigate/negotiate through their identities.”
Briscoe-Smith said that one of the most difficult conversations was around asking kids who their allies and trusted adults were at school who supported their identities. The kids couldn’t think of anyone. “The silence around that question was really, really hard,” Briscoe-Smith admitted.
Throughout Generation Mixed are exercises for educators and parents that employ the radical methodology that Joseph honed and practiced in the making of the book. She notes that the book isn’t only for mixed-race people but for families of color and educators who want to interrupt their own implicit bias — and especially for the youth.
“Who the book is for — it’s for the multiracial kids we interviewed,” Briscoe-Smith said. “This generation of kids, we hope we heard them right. We hope we engaged in radical listening ourselves. It was very uncomfortable to scrap the [first] outline of the book. Not as uncomfortable, though, as the stories these kids told us.”
Join Joseph, Briscoe-Smith, and research assistant Meshell Sturgis for a book talk this Wednesday, May 5, at 5:30 p.m. RSVP to receive the Zoom link. Order your copy of Generation Mixed from TCP Press.
📸 Featured Image: A graphic that combines the book cover for Generation Mixed Goes to School: Radically Listening to Multiracial Kids with an image of its authors, Dr. Ralina L. Joseph and Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith (authors’ headshot courtesy of Ralina L. Joseph).
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