Andrea & Isaiah

The mother of a playful multiracial child reflects on American culture
as she looks towards her child’s future

Interview by Katharine Hada

Isaiah — Photo by Jesse Sutterley

Isaiah — Photo by Jesse Sutterley

Q: When you think about Isaiah in 20 years, where do you think or hope he will be?

Andrea: In 20 years, I hope that he will have graduated from college. More than anything I want him to be happy, and I know that sounds cliché. All parents want their children to be happy, but I see him running around in the world saying “hi” to people, just being happy, and I want that to stick. As far as career-wise or goal-wise, I hope he’s graduated from college, but if that’s not his path then so be it. But I just want him to be happy and comfortable with who he is.

“That might sound hopelessly optimistic, but I want him to know that the people in this world are inherently good.”

Q: How would you like him to view the world as he grows and becomes a man?

A: I want him to view this world as a place where he can do anything he wants and he can be anyone he wants to be without judgment of any kind. I feel like my answers are going to be based a lot around current events and the election and everything. Right now his father, my husband Isaac, and I are very cynical about the state of the world. I don’t want him to be like that as he grows older. Right now it’s a very scary time for me raising him, being a multiracial boy. We live in the Bay Area, we feel like it’s so progressive. But just a month ago I heard about an African American man in El Sobrante who was murdered by three white men, and that’s just three exits off the freeway from where we live. And that’s crazy! You think “Well, that can’t happen in my hometown!” I get worried for my husband and for him (Isaiah). And I feel like a lot of this will go over his head because he is so young, but I just want him to view the world as a place where there are limitless opportunities and I want him to view the world as inherently good. That might sound hopelessly optimistic, but I want him to know that the people in this world are inherently good.

Q: Do you worry that he’ll be viewed for how he looks versus who he is?

A: Oh absolutely. It’s horrible to say, but Isaac and I had a conversation about two weeks ago, and as horrible as it may sound, he said, “I’m just happy that Isaiah is light skinned.” Because we’re still going to worry as his parents, but today and always – especially for a man – the darker you are, the higher the likelihood of you getting harassed or arrested or pulled over becomes. It increases exponentially. But Isaiah, being light skinned, kind of decreases his likelihood of being profiled.

Also, growing up in the East Bay, he’s going to have friends of all different shades. And you know that you tend to take on the style of the group. So I think my kid will be that stereotypical boy with baggy pants and a swagger walk and all that, and he’ll be judged by that no matter how he looks. No matter how funny, caring, nurturing, he’ll be judged by how he looks or what he’s wearing first. Like Isaac said though, being light skinned will kind of shield him in a way from that initial profiling. But it’s still going to happen. And I already know that.

From left to right, Andrew, Isaiah and Isaac — Photo by Jesse Sutterley

From left to right, Andrew, Isaiah and Isaac — Photo by Jesse Sutterley

Q: How will you help him combat being profiled?

A: I always want him to be someone who stands up for himself and for others. To say that is easier said than done. Especially when people are getting physically attacked and murdered. As a multiracial little boy, society will see him predominantly as a black boy. I just want him to know — and I am raising him to know — that his ethnicity, his heritage, his roots, he is beautiful. Every part that encompasses him is beautiful, his black side, his white side, his Filipino side. Be proud of that and know that no matter what anybody says. You are intelligent and important. Don’t let anyone make you think any less. No matter what you see or what the media portrays, know that you are beautiful and you have a beautiful story. I think and hope that if he grows up with that kind of pride instilled in him, it’ll be easier for him to stand up for what is right. So that he knows and is armed for when people come up to him.

He’ll know violence is never the answer and you don’t need to entertain any ignorant or uneducated thoughts. You need to know when to walk away. But I know that because he is a man, and because of the way my husband is, if something were to ever happen to him physically, you walk away. But if they don’t let up, you have the right to defend yourself. And I’m a firm believer in that. I don’t ever want it to come to point where it has to come to that, but if he has to, he knows that that is within his rights. But he knows to use his words first. I feel like we as African people have this inner hatred that has come from years of systemic oppression and institutional racism that we just carry with us and we don’t know where it comes from. And it’s hard to unpack a lot of that. But I want to start having those conversations with him early. I know people will come up to him and say things or treat him differently because of how he looks, like we discussed, because of what they think he is. I want him to know. That’s not being cynical, it’s being realistic.

We’re starting these conversations young and there is that hopeful optimist in me that thinks, because we live in the Bay Area, a lot of these conversations are being had already and he won’t be alone.

Q: How would you like to help him deal, prevent, or aid in these struggles?

“He’ll know violence is never the answer and you don’t need to entertain any ignorant or uneducated thoughts.”

A: I think the first thing is exposure. Which is why I’m so thankful for places like where I dance, which has exposed me to so many different women of different backgrounds, experiences, cultures, ethnicity. He’s being raised with that around him right now, since we’re there almost every weekend when I dance. I think that [with] exposure to women of different races, sexual orientation, religion, etc. he’ll be aware that there are people who are different than he is, and he’ll love that. He’ll have friends and know people in that regard that social justice isn’t something he’ll be able to opt out of. He’ll be able to say, “Oh Mommy or Daddy has friends like that.” And know that when he sees someone being persecuted because of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation, or how or where they’re praying, I want him to know and be ready to have those conversations. To know that just because they do things differently, it doesn’t make them any more special or less important that him. But I think exposure right now is really how to get him ready for those conversations in the future, and to help foster that awareness. I also pay attention to things that we have in the house, like art or shows we watch, to make sure they represent diversity. I think that will help a lot. I almost don’t think about it because we have such a diverse bubble here. I think this conversation would be a lot different if we lived in the Midwest or the South, but I think it’s really advantageous to what I do as an educator and in raising him, that we have all these resources at our fingertips to help show that we are all different and love is love and we need to stand up for what’s right.

Q: You mentioned the stereotype or mentality of Black men being seen as ‘tough’. On the flip side of that, do you worry he’ll be stereotyped for being too soft or too light or anything like that?

A: I remember when I was growing up, because I went to a predominantly African American school, I was teased from time to time for, “talking too white.” Whatever that means. Growing up my mom and I didn’t have these conversations at all. But Isaac and I have these conversations damn near every night, and I feel like I have these conversations a lot with my friends. So the fact that he is growing up in a household and an environment where we are talking about stereotypes and what people perceive of you will hopefully help make him a strong person. His dad is very strong and opinionated and he will tell Isaiah, “If anyone ever picks on you for any reason, you can just tell them to fuck off!” Which I think is our mentality. No one else can decide who you are going to be except for yourself. No one else can define you. Don’t give them the power to define you, which is hard, and he’ll have to figure a lot of that out on his own.

Andrea and Isaiah — Photo by Jesse Sutterley

Andrea and Isaiah — Photo by Jesse Sutterley

But I think growing up with two parents who are very strong and aware of who they are, hopefully that will rub off on him. In independent schools, like the one I teach in, teachers start these conversations as young as kindergarten. So ironically, I think that the education within his education is what will help define how he deals with those stereotypes as well.

Q; What are three important character traits you hope you instill in him?

A: Pride, love and advocating of others. If you asked me that question a year ago, I don’t know if I would have given you the same answers. I think there are so many sub-traits you want to instill, but I think with everything that has happened in the world recently, those are my top three. I think with love, it sounds cliché, but if you have love in your heart it will lead the way because love knows no boundaries. And in our society today there are boundaries around that of who you can love, how you love, what you identify as. But love is always important.