April Edwards says that as a child, her white mother and black father didn't talk about race very much with her and her brother. As she grows up, Edwards is becoming more interested in the topic, and it's changing the way the Denver family addresses it.
Edwards is a senior at Colorado Academy and this fall her class watched a documentary called "I'm Not a Racist... Am I?" It's about 12 high school students from New York City who chronicle a year in their lives talking about race and privilege.
One of the characters, Abby, has a white mother and a black father. She's conflicted about her identity, and questions why her parents never talked with her about race.
Edwards relates to Abby. While she understands why her parents didn't talk much about race, she says "it caused a lot of confusion for me… because I didn’t know what it meant to be half black."
Her father, Brock Edwards, says he tried to bring up race in a subtle way.
"I expose them to things that they can see," he says. "An example is that I'm a city bus driver. So they have the opportunity to ride with me and see a lot of different cultures that ride on my bus."
April Edwards' mother, Laura Jolly, says she didn't bring up the topic much at all.
"I wouldn't say there was a conscious effort to not talk about it," she says. "I suppose in a naive way [I] didn't realize I was supposed to talk about race or that I should've talked about race or that it would become so important for April and her brother."
Jolly admits she didn't talk about race in part because it wasn't a big issue for her.
"But when you say race isn't a huge issue for you as a white person, inside you feel like, 'Of course it isn't an issue for you. You're white.'" she says.
Now that the family is talking about it, Jolly says: "It's hard, as the white person, to really say anything."
Brock Edwards says he has been naive, too.
"I never thought of it as a major issue until April began to express the way she felt about it," he says.
April Edwards says she's been interested in race since she was a child, but it became front and center in middle and high school. She didn't know where to sit in the lunch room since she didn't feel like she was black or white. She says her brother started identifying as a black man, and so she wanted to identify as black as well, but April didn't feel accepted.
"It became a whole new kind of struggle," she says.
Her father agrees.
"She wasn't white enough to be accepted, and she wasn't black enough to be accepted," he says.
"Her mother can check a box. I can check a box. Hispanics can check a box. But being of mixed race, she wants to be able to check a box, too," Edwards adds.
But Jolly says that when her son, April's brother, started identifying as a black man, it upset Jolly: "It was the same time [President Barack] Obama was being elected as the first black president, and I kept thinking, 'What about the white mom?'
"You're denying me, as your mom, when you say that you're black," Jolly says.
April Edwards says people often ask her if she's Puerto Rican.
"It used to make me very upset," she says. But then she did an image search online.
"I actually do look extremely Puerto Rican," she says. "I began to empathize with people who made that assumption."
Edwards is now a senior in high school, and looking back, her parents say they would like to change a few things.
Brock Edwards says he would have liked to expose her more to African-American culture.
"Hopefully I still have the opportunity to do so," he says. "I feel that she and her brother weren't given the opportunity to explore that side of their family as much as they could have done so."
Jolly says she wishes she'd asked more questions. And both parents would have liked to listen more to what April and her brother had to say.
Other parents interested in learning how to talk about race can get advice at a workshop in Denver on Dec. 6, and through Jan. 4, 2015, families can tour the exhibit "Race: Are We So Different?" at the History Colorado Center, also in Denver.
Stories like this are made possible with support from listeners and readers like you. Ninety-five percent of CPR's operating budget is derived locally right here in Colorado. Support impartial journalism, music exploration and discovery with your monthly gift today.