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Living Color: Fathers Talk to Their Bi-Racial Sons About Identity

Six fathers open up about the complexities of talking to their bi-racial sons about identity, perception, and dealing with law enforcement.

Mark Johnson-Lewis, 48, and his son, Tyler Lewis, 22, of Columbia, Maryland

Tyler: There’s people who think racism is not an issue. That’s because it’s not an issue for them. 

Mark: It’s easier for me to talk to people of color about issues of race than it is to talk to white people about race. It’s not something that’s on their minds when they get up in the morning. It’s on my mind when I get up in the morning, because of the house that I’m living in. I have a black son, I have a black wife, I have a black daughter. I don’t have to worry about it, but I have to worry about it for them

Andre Chung / for NBC News

Mark Johnson-Lewis, 48, and his son, Tyler Lewis, 22, of Columbia, Maryland

Mark: You’re black in this world, and it doesn’t matter what you think of who you are, you have to be conscious of how others are going to see you. And when you bump up against the law, it’s probably not going to be the best experience because of how others see you. 

Tyler: I want to become a police officer and it’s kind of something that I struggle with being a black man. There needs to be a change in mindset of the way people view law enforcement. And there needs to be a change in the way law enforcement views the average American. You know, not as a black American, not as a white American, but as a person, as a human being.

Andre Chung / for NBC News

Tom Monroe, 58, and his sons, Elias Jack-Monroe, 17, and Theo Jack-Monroe, 14, of Columbia, Maryland

Tom: The national conversation all seems to be about black and white, and these cultural divisions that we make up. People are much more complex than that. To avoid even the appearance of wrong-doing, I think the phrase that I use with them is, 'you don’t even want to look like you’re up to something.' My dad never said anything like that to me growing up. 

Theo: I remember when I was really little, I thought I was white. But then later in life, my skin started getting a little darker and then I realized I was half-and-half. At school I have white friends and black friends. I don’t really judge anybody by their race. I think people are just who they are.

Andre Chung / for NBC News

Anthony Rivera, with his sons, Anthony Jr., 11 (left), and Nicholas, 10, of California, Maryland 

Anthony Jr: I like being myself because it makes me stand out more. It makes me different. So, I like being different. 

Nicholas: You don’t always wanna fit in sometimes, sometimes you wanna be different.

Andre Chung / for NBC News

Steve Elmore and his oldest son, Zion, 7, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland

Steve: To be honest, I think if things keep going the way they’re going, I’d say in a hundred years from now there’s gonna be no more color, I think we’re all gonna be a blend. I mean, I’d like to see that one day.

Andre Chung / for NBC News

Steve Elmore and his oldest son, Zion, 7, Upper Marlboro, Maryland. 

Steve: They’re young now, we haven’t had any confrontations but my wife and I talk about it all the time, especially with things going on in Ferguson. And so our discussions are what is preparing them for their future.

Andre Chung / for NBC News

Benjamin Jancewicz, 31, with his son, Arion, 6, of Baltimore

Benjamin: Regardless of how light he is, he’s still going to be, you know, with a lot of other people doing a lot of other things. And he needs to be prepared. And that just really worries me because, you know, as much of a perspective as I do have coming from a-- a [diverse] culture, I still know that my own skin tone allows me to get away with a lot of other stuff.

Andre Chung / for NBC News

Benjamin Jancewicz, 31, with his son, Arion, 6, of Baltimore

Benjamin: I understand the thought behind not talking about race and not talking about everything that’s going on. But that’s a conversation that the rest of the world is having and I want them to be prepared. They need to be able to respond and they need to be able to articulate themselves. And know who they are so that nobody else can question who they are.

Andre Chung / for NBC News

Thomas Iveson and son, James, 8 of Arlington, VA. Iveson and his wife adopted James when he was a week old. 

Thomas: We can’t share our own insights because we’re obviously white and have a very white experience. But we consciously go seek out other experiences where they’re gonna be exposed either to other blended families or just people who are like them to look at.

Andre Chung / for NBC News

Thomas Iveson and son, James, 8. 

Thomas: I fear for him, you know, because even as a young man even in England, I was pulled over by police just because I was a young man, you know with maybe the hat on. As a black young man you get that even more just because you are a young black man and they are going to assume immediately you’re up to no good. And you know it’s just doubly dangerous here. And so in the light of recent events, I’m thinking, you know at some point, I just might want to move, you know? The police aren’t armed in the UK, he may get pulled over there, but there’s not going to be a light trigger finger that I have to worry about. He’ll at least come home alive.

Andre Chung / for NBC News