Of all the things that will change when my daughter starts school this year, perhaps her self-image is the most profound. From the relative intimacy of a pre-school environment, she’ll suddenly become a small fish in a big pond, surrounded by many similar fishes.
She will probably learn about comparison and self-appraisal at an unprecedented rate. Like all girls, she may encounter objectification of her appearance and uncharitable assessments of other aspects of her worth.
This brings out the lioness in me. I will protect my daughter’s ability to love herself, with roars and claws if necessary.
I Like Myself is my current favourite weapon in this war. In it, a girl uses affirming and celebratory words about herself. She announces that she loves her body, doesn’t care what others say, and knows that what other people see is not the total of who she is.
“I like myself because I’m me, and me is all I want to be!” is our new family mantra. My daughter is lucky if I’ll read her anything else right now: why tell her stories of male trains or a piggy family when I could boost her self-worth by chanting the catchy lyrics of I Like Myself again? And again? And AGAIN! Better still, the central character is a girl of colour.
In a world of children’s books that is still inexplicably dominated by male characters – even animals are routinely masculinised by default (looking at you, Giles Andreae) – and white ones at that, this is a breath of fresh air. It’s a catchy, funny, brilliantly illustrated read that is fabulous for all kids, but for mixed or Black girls I imagine that our heroine would make an especially good role model.
As parents, if we want to counteract the culture that cause our girls to dislike how they look, or even who they are, we have work to do. Words help ideas take root in a child’s mind: they have the power to instil a sense of worth in our kids as they encounter an objectifying world.
This book is a fun, beautiful and powerful tool in our toolboxes, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. AGAIN!
*** This was a guest post written by Zoe Sanderson that has been republished***
“You don’t look Iranian, you look white. I’m just surprised.”
How many times have I heard those words said to me when I’m asked where my name comes from.
I was born in Iran. My father is Iranian and my mother is white English. My family emigrated to Canada from Iran via England when I was 4 years old.
So I was young enough when I got to Canada to assimilate into Canadian culture, adopting the accent, the mannerisms and the language to present myself as white to my peers.
But something about describing myself as ‘white Canadian’ has never and will never sit right with me. Because my experience was never like my peers. Because my experience has always been mixed.
I remember being told once by my best friend, ‘your house always smells like exotic food’. Childhood memories are filled with big family gatherings, relatives all speaking Farsi, special occasions like the Persian New Year filled with feasting and big Iranian community parties. We were a classic immigrant family in all senses of the word. My English Mum had learned- from her 10 years spent in Iran early on- how to cook Iranian food and most nights, our table overflowed with rice and Persian stews smelling of pomegranate and sour cherries.
Don’t get me wrong. I hated being different, constantly searching for ways that I could easily pass into white culture if I needed to. Wanting desperately for my father not to speak with his thick accent in front of my teachers or shout too loud at my soccer games.
That’s the thing with being mixed though. Our experience can sometimes betray our appearance and how we’d like to present to the world. Then, throw in the fact that how we understand ourselves can often be in direct conflict with how others understand us.
Identity is about understanding your place in the world. ‘Feeling’ one identity, more than another because of how you were raised or where you grew up can sometimes not resonate with what you look like so it leads to internal struggles with identity.
When I’m confronted with the question, “what are you?”, I honestly don’t know how to answer. To lay claim to an identity that is symbolised by its language (most of which I know very little) and appearance, I often feel like a fraud identifying myself as Iranian. I feel like I need permission to sit at the ‘mixed’ table and I’m conflicted that I don’t have the colour to back up my feeling that I am mixed.
And yet, to say I am ‘white’ feels disloyal and untrue to the parts of me that have been exposed to immigration, racism, Iranian culture and food.
Sometimes it is not about choosing one identity over another. My preference is to straddle multiple spheres, knowing I don’t exactly fit in when I’m amongst the Iranian community doesn’t make it any easier when I’m around white English folk.
I feel like society wants me to pick one. To box me politely into what they think I shouldbe based on my appearance and how I behave. Why can’t I be multiple things at the same time? I wonder.
My friends have always been foreign. I’ve somehow gravitated towards others who have a similar experience- whether they’re African, European or Mixed, I’ve always found things in common with those who have experienced ‘other’.
My husband and children have made my identity journey even more complex whereby my husband is Nigerian, and my 3 daughters are being raised half Nigerian, Iranian and English.
But their appearance suggests they are black or Biracial and whether there’s space in there for them to identify as anything but that, will be an essential part of their story. The thing that makes them ‘stand out’, their colour, is what will be notable to others. So even if they wanted to identify as white, they probably couldn’t.
As they grow, like other multiracial black and white mixed people, the fraught history between black and white will make for mental and emotional struggles. And it can become intensely personal. Allying yourself with your ‘black side’ can be partly a way of gaining solidarity with a community. It certainly was for me in high school and eventually University where I embraced my Iranian-ness but was only allowed a half- membership. I wanted desperately to find my belonging.
Our appearance as mixed people can tell a story entirely different to the one we’ve experienced. I remember wishing and wanting darker skin so that my ‘claim’ to being Iranian didn’t feel so disingenuous. My siblings, both with darker skin colour and perhaps more Iranian features have a different story to tell.
Of course there’s privilege to blending in and invisibility. Ambiguity allows you to flirt with many identities and cultures and to use those identities interchangeably.
The debates about mixed people being caught in the in-between and ‘confused’ have thankfully moved on. But is the response just that it’s multi-faceted? Will it ever be possible to be black/mixed and white at the same time?
But the fact is having a shelf full of diverse children’s books is important for ALL children. It doesn’t matter whether it’s to instil in them a view of the world that goes beyond their immediate environment or to feature inclusivity, tolerance and respect through the books that they read.
ALL of the above reasons are important. And athough diversity is still not truly representative in our art, media, tv shows that we watch and see all day, we can make it a priority through our choice of diverse children’s books.
With the wave of technology and more and more authors choosing to self publish, we are lucky to live in an era where diverse children’s books are appearing more often in our book shops.
This guide features not only the best books but the BEST diverse children’s books LISTS broken down by theme for your child’s bookshelf. Have a look and choose a few today!
It’s been a long summer and although we spent quite a lot of time outdoors, our evenings were quiet, stay-up-late-and-sleep-in-the-next-day kinds of summer nights. Mostly spent cuddled up in front of the tele watching movies.
We got through some of our favourite childhood 80’s flicks but more importantly, we watched some amazing movies with black characters.
Representation matters… but why?
Our children notice colour from as early as age 2 and if you don’t think they do, go ahead and ask your child who is most likely the princess in the fairy tale. Then hold up a brown skin doll and and a white, blonde hair doll. *This experiment was done as part of a 1970’s university research project. It has been replicated many times since then and can be replicated even today amongst my own daughters.
Unconscious bias seeps in so early we almost don’t notice. And because of that we know, as parents of mixed race kids, that seeing characters and role models that look like themselves is essential. It gives them a reflection of who they are and who they can be.
So without further ado, we have compiled a list of our favourite summer kids’ movies featuring black or mixed race characters (for kids around 3-10 years). These are in no particular order as you’ll see many of these described as our favourites! Be sure to tell us any others that we’ve missed!
THE ALL TIME BEST KIDS MOVIES WITH BLACK CHARACTERS
No, not the 1970’s flick. The newest remake starring Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx, amongst others. It’s still the Annie story but a more modern version for a kid in foster care who meets hard-nosed billionaire and mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx). Stacks believes that he’s Annie’s guardian angel, but the plucky youngster’s confidence and sunny outlook may mean that Annie will save Will instead. One of our favourites!
A sweet movie featuring a friendship between the last girl left on earth and her alien friend. Another favourite of ours, we love the curls in this cute flick. After a hive-minded alien race called the Boov conquers the Earth, they relocate the planet’s human population — all except for a little girl named Tip (Rihanna), who’s managed to hide from the aliens. When Tip meets a fugitive Boov called Oh (Jim Parsons), there’s mutual distrust. However, Oh is not like his comrades; he craves friendship and fun. As their distrust fades, the pair set out together to find Tip’s mother, but, unbeknown to them, the Gorg — enemies of the Boov — are en route.
A Wrinkle in Time (2018)
One of our ALL TIME favourites! Not only because it features a mixed race family, a female black curly girl heroine and some famous names like Oprah Winfrey, but also because she’s a science geek who’s able to blend magic and theory. It’s got all your kids will want in a movie.
Cinderella (1997) Featuring Brandy
Another remake of the classic fairytale, this version is more modernised and representative of the real world. And it’s packed with stars we all recognise and love. Cinderella (Brandy) chafes under the cruelty of her wicked stepmother (Bernadette Peters) and her evil stepsisters, Calliope (Veanne Cox) and Minerva (Natalie Desselle), until her Fairy Godmother (Whitney Houston) steps in to change her life for one unforgettable night.
Karate Kid (2010)
Yet another remake but again one of our classic 80’s favourites so who could complain when it’s a story of a black kid who learns martial arts to fight off the school bully? When his mother’s career results in a move to China, 12-year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) finds that he is a stranger in a strange land. Though he knows a little karate, his fighting skills are no match for Cheng, the school bully. Dre finds a friend in Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), a maintenance man who is also a martial-arts master. Mr. Han teaches Dre all about kung fu in the hope that Dre will be able to face down Cheng and perhaps win the heart of a pretty classmate named Mei Ying.
Black Panther (2018)
I’m not into superhero movies that much but I could recognise the importance of this movie. Loaded with powerful characters and a plot line to boot, it’s the movie ever child has been waiting for featuring black superheroes. After the death of his father, T’Challa returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place as king. When a powerful enemy suddenly reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king — and as Black Panther — gets tested when he’s drawn into a conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people. Definitely not one to miss.
Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
This is a really sweet movie, (or so I’m told). We’ve not actually seen it yet but it’s on our list of favourites given the reviews. It’s about Akeelah, an 11-year-old girl living in South Los Angeles, who discovers she has a talent for spelling, which she hopes will take her to the National Spelling Bee. Despite her mother’s objections, Akeelah doesn’t give up on her goal. She finds help in the form of a mysterious teacher, and along with overwhelming support from her community, Akeelah might just have what it takes to make her dream come true.
Can I say that we have several favourites? This is definitely high on that list!! Everyone in my family (from hubby to 3 year old) love this movie. It’s got a wonderful story about a daring teenage girl who wants desperately to be independent and prove herself to her father. A funny demigod, Maui whom she meets along the way in her quest to save her people and an action-packed voyage. A beautiful story to boot that is about identity, nature, spiritualism and culture.
The Wiz (1978)
Featuring an all-black cast and with the soundtrack borrowed from the 1975 musical, this classic movie couldn’t be more groundbreaking that it is. Featuring Diana Ross as little Dorothy from Harlem and one of the last appearances of Michael Jackson in his ‘natural youthdom’, this movie was bound to steal hearts. Sit back and enjoy an absolute classic.
Are We There Yet? (2005)
This was a a laugh out loud funny story about Nick, a guy (Ice Cube) attempting to win the favor of the newly divorced Suzanne (Nia Long). Nick offers to accompany her children on a flight from Portland, Ore., to Canada to see their mother. With a load of mishaps and obstacles in their way and one accident after another, this is a cute movie with a happy ending.
Dr DooLittle 3 (2006)
The third and sequel to the famous Dr Dolittle played by Eddie Murphy, this is an interesting change to cast Maya Dolittle, the youngest daughter of the man who can talk with animals. She has inherited her father’s amazing gift. However, the ability has brought only trouble. She heads to a summer camp to get in touch with her gift, then realizes that she holds the key to helping the financially strapped camp win an upcoming rodeo. Tell me what you think because the jury’s up on this one though we do love the preteen drama in the script.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Of course we couldn’t leave out Disney’s one and princess movie featuring a black princess. A good attempt at keeping it diverse and the story line was good but there were bits that were a bit stereotypical. But it was a cute movie which my daughters enjoyed and which yours will love I’m sure.
A Ballerina’s Tale (2015)
A documentary of Misty Copeland- the first black ballerina at New York’s American Ballet Theatre. Not only is Copeland a significant role model for any young girl who dreams of a career as a dancer, she’s also emerged as a important example for the black community, showcasing the ways the rarified world of classical ballet is evolving and becoming more diverse. Featuring lots of amazing dancing, the film is excellent for any young girls who are fans of ballet.
I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Stand Tall Molly Lou Lemon. But I’m glad I did.
From the first page, it gripped my kids because it paints the picture of a little girl who stands out. Not because she’s popular but because she is the ‘shortest girl in first grade’. But that doesn’t stop her.
She has buck teeth, she’s short, has a voice like a bullfrog and she has wild curly hair. But she doesn’t care. She holds her head high and uses her limitations to stand tall no matter what.
But one day, she has to leave her friends and her supportive grandma… and start a new school.
She got called “Shrimpo” by the school bully and “Buck-tooth Beaver” but she doesn’t let that get her down.
An absolutely adorable book for children nervous about going to back to school, changing schools or facing bullies.
Molly Lou Lemon shows us that bullies will never win. That if you hold your head high, people will see the light within you. What a character and a lovely story. Perfect for ages 3-8 years.
We’re all pretty aware of the harmful toxins and chemicals we’re not meant to put inside our body. Organic, fresh, local ingredients are what dominate our thinking when it comes to food.
Therefore, doesn’t it follow that what we put on our skin and hair should also be fresh and organic- free of chemicals?
When it comes to hair products, we’re much less informed. And though we seem to understand that ‘no parabens’ and ‘no sulphates’ is a good thing, not many of us (myself included before researching this post) are informed about the reasons why.
How many of you have seen the popular signs indicating ‘no parabens, no toxins, no sulphates’ popularly painted across the packaging of our favourite kids’ products?
Admittedly, I have actively searched them out not knowing exactly what these can do to my kids and what harmful effects they could actually have. I’ve also not really sought out alternatives if I’m honest and just simply accepted that ‘paraben free’ means what it says on the label.
Well, if you’re like me, you may want to become more informed before you buy your next hair product so you know exactly why you’re paying the extra £6 for the ‘vegan-friendly’ stuff over your favourite drugstore brand.
What are Parabens?
Parabens are a family of chemical preservatives that are used to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold in perishable goods. They basically prolong the shelf life of our products.
Most of our beauty products contain parabens: toothpastes, deodorant, shampoos, skin lotion and makeup amongst other things.
So go check the ingredient list on the back of your beauty products and you’ll see parabens go by multiple names: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben. But don’t just go by the label ‘no parabens’. Look at the packaging in detail to find out what are parabens and what do they do. Sneakily, these toxins can be disguised by names such as : Alkyl parahydroxy benzoates but they’re still every bit as much a paraben.
Why do parabens have such a bad rep?
In short, parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, an effect that has been linked to increased risk of breast cancer and our ability to reproduce. How? Well, numerous studies have shown that parabens can mimic the activity involved in the production of estrogen in the body’s cells which can lead to an increased risk of tumours. A 2004 British study even found the presence of parabens in 9 out of 10 breast tumours sampled.
Okay so the situation isn’t as bad as it could be. The amount of parabens in each product is safely controlled by the EU safety standards. And children under three especially are targeted. But it’s the cumulative effect of multiple products that can be harmful.
Are there alternatives that aren’t harmful to us?
Nowadays, many natural and organic health care products have found alternatives to prolonging the shelf life of their products. But sometimes, these can be even more harmful to our skin or hair.
In general, never take marketing and adverts at face value. With so much information available, it’s easy to educate ourselves on the label content of our beauty products.
If you’re looking to steer clear of products that contain parabens, opt for ones that use ingredients such as ethylhexylglycerin (which is plant-derived) or phenoxyethanol, another alternative to parabens, a naturally derived ether alcohol.
The most common sulfate-based ingredients found in personal care products are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth ether sulfate (SLES), commonly known as sodium laureth sulfate. You can find them in soaps, shampoos, laundry detergents, dish detergent, toothpaste, bath bombs and more. Anything that gives you a lather.
Because that is the main use for SLS and SLES. It’s to create lather, giving a stronger impression of cleaning power. While sulfates aren’t “bad” for you, there’s a lot of controversy behind it.
Why are sulphates bad?
The highest risk of using products with SLS and SLES is irritation to your eyes, skin, mouth, and lungs. For people with sensitive skin, sulfates can also clog pores and cause acne. In the 90’s sulphates got a bad rep because they were believed to be carcinogenic because they are petroleum-based. This has since been disproved and the most harmful effect that has been proven is still skin, eye and mouth irritation made worse after prolonged exposure.
Some of the controversy also has to do with how sulfates are disposed of because they get washed down the drain through our sewage systems and can affect marine life.
Are there alternatives?
Going sulphate-free depends on your concerns. If you’re worried about skin irritation and know that sulfate products are the cause, you can look for products that say sulphate-free or don’t list SLS or SLES in their ingredients. How sulphates affect your skin may also depend on the brand and manufacturer. Not all sources are the same.
It’s important to remember not all sulphates are bad. When they’re used in conditioners, they can actually help make hair smoother, softer, and visibly healthier.
Also, manufacturers haven’t been able to find proper alternatives for the foamy action that sulphates give to say, toothpaste. You can still use alternatives such as oils, olive oil, coconut oil etc to eliminate bacteria but you still won’t get the soapy-suds effect.
Still, there are alternatives.
For cleaning skin and hair: Opt for solid and oil-based soaps and shampoos rather than liquid. Some products to consider include African black soap and body cleansing oils.
For cleaning products: You can make cleaning products using diluted white vinegar. If you find vinegar unpleasant, try lemon juice. As long as you can ventilate your space while cleaning, there should be no irritation.
So, there you have it. Parabens no. Sulphates, you can be choosy. Stay informed. Don’t just accept the labels you see which claim to be ‘free of everything and its brother’ but know your ingredients and what you can accept to be applied to your skin and hair.
Do you fancy a free book? One that teaches your multiracial or biracial kids to love their curly hair? Mixed.Up.Mama is giving away two copies of Kechi’s Hair Goes Every Which Way, the much-celebrated third book from best-selling author of Daddy Do My Hair.
My daughters love this book and we all had the pleasure of meeting the author Tola Okugwu just this summer. Her book is a repetitive, delightful book that is beautifully illustrated and explores the joys and challenges of having curly hair through Kechi’s relationship with her Daddy.
There’s a lot written about biracial hair care and how to take care of it. But I find there’s nothing more real than seeing what curly biracial hair care routine the average Jo Mum does with her kid’s curly hair.
I have 3 mixed race daughters (mixed Iranian, Nigerian and English) and they all have different types of curls, length, texture and thickness.
So we use a myriad of different products- some that change with the season, some that I use on one girls’ hair and not on the other, and some that are absolute staples in our house.
Here is a look at what we do as part of our daily mixed race biracial hair care routine.
My oldest daughter has the longest, perhaps loosest curls and her hair grows down as opposed to up.
Because her hair is made up of looser curls, I find I don’t need to apply thick gel or creme. I can get away with this Argan oil styling mousse which makes her hair both shiny and slippery to comb my fingers through. I do need to get her hair quite wet to be able to comb through though. And the thicker the hair, the more oil you’ll need to really penetrate all of the hair. My daughter’s curly hair care routine (for reference) takes me about 7-10 minutes to brush through and put into a protective style.
This is my middle daughter. She has the shortest, most afro type biracial hair. Her hair grows in tight curls and gets dry the easiest. I usually wet it (a lot) before applying a generous amount of leave in conditioning cream.
I use a one or the other of these products to allow my fingers to comb through her hair easily. The wetness combined with the moisture from the products allows me to finger comb it easily but her hair is also quite fine so you may need to separate thicker hair into sections to get the same effect.
After this, I apply half a bottle cap amount of argan oil to give it shine and to keep it moisturised all day. **Note: always apply oil to wet hair or it won’t be absorbed into the hair. Her biracial hair care routine seems shorter somehow but still takes about 5-7 minutes.
My youngest daughter has a combination of both types of hair. It grows fast and down but it still has an afro-type texture in the front and in parts of the back.
Her biracial hair care requires a lot more moisturising as it’s also the thickest of all my daughters’ hair and gets the most tangled. I can’t usually finger comb through it after wetting it so I use a hair brush
(pictured above) with lots of Cantu conditioning creme.
Because she’s the youngest and has the thickest hair, I usually spend about 10-15 minutes on her curly hair care routine , combing through (without too much pain) and putting it into a protective style.
Here is the result after combing it through and moisturising it.
I will soon post about my weekly wash day biracial hair care routine as I know this can be a bit trickier. For insight, I generally use the Curly Ellie products as these are very gentle on the hair.
Raising Race Conscious Children: Talking about Racism
My oldest daughter, aged 7, recently learned about Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. But not from me. In school, with her teacher and amongst her classmates who are majority white.
For her, I knew this was her first introduction to the concept of racism. Not only that, but injustice, discrimination and hatred based on skin colour- not in a playground but rather, played out in the adult world causing pain, violence and in some cases, death.
Some heavy lessons in there I’m sure. And though I’m glad she learned about some of the bravest and most heroic names of our time, I’m also sad that she’s had to take this in at such an early age.
My fear? That her belief and naivety in a world where everyone is treated equal was shattered. In her world, bullying doesn’t and shouldn’t happen to grown ups. Ashamedly, I hadn’t actually thought that raising race conscious children was possible at her age.
It’s worse than that. It’s not just bullying, it’s actually denying people the same things for reasons that she’s been taught thus far, don’t matter. Things that make no difference and shouldn’t feature in how you judge a person’s character.
Do Children Actually Understand Racism?
It’s good that her teacher is talking to children about racism and as part of this, she performed an experiment (you may have heard of it). Half the class were let out for playtime early, that same group were given chocolate treats, iPads and new markers while the other group were told to get on with what they had or were given old markers and broken toys.
The kids without were outraged and the kids given everything understood it was unfair. The experiment showed that kids do get injustice. But did they truly understand the power context behind racism? Racism is not simply denying group x, it’s about actually creating and maintaining a system of power to maintain it.
It raised the question, could I have had a chat with my daughter earlier so that her first introduction to the subject would be with us, her parents? And was I naive to think she wasn’t already seeing signs of how privilege and prejudice work and who benefits? If I want to be raising race conscious children, should I have been trying to talk to them about racism a lot earlier?
The answer is yes. Our children are never too young to have these discussions if we want to be raising race conscious children. Because they are noticing difference no matter how much you want to sugar coat it. And if it’s you who first broaches a discussion, your child will most likely feel comfortable later on to discuss the more complex aspects of race that inevitably need exploring.
So if you want to have an open door about topics such as race and racism, here’s a guide to get you started,
Raising Race Conscious Children: Kids are never too young to begin talking about race
If you think your children don’t see colour and that racial differences are taught and not noticed by children, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Children as young as two or three start asking about differences, such as disabilities, gender, skin colour and physical characteristics like hair and body shape. Surely you’ve been out with your children and they’ve loudly and rather unininhibitedly asked about the woman with the limp, the man dressed up as a woman or even as mundane (as in my daughter’s case) as the man with “hair all over his face!”
These moments are opportunities. And that’s just it. Opportunities to introduce difference, to explore how we’re all made in different shapes, genders and sizes. Use other differences and topics to start talking to children about racism. Start a discussion reminding them how some of us may have parts of us that work differently or look slightly different but what’s important is how we act and behave towards others.
If you don’t live in a diverse area, use books, magazines, tv shows and ads to introduce diverse characters. Be intentional about seeking out diversity- not the books that talk about difference as its main subject but diverse characters doing everyday things. So kids can see that these differences aren’t that important.
Point out all the similarities, like the fact they both like playing football or wearing pink. The differences are there but they’re not more important than what brings people together.
Raising Race Conscious Children: The Early years
Somewhere around 4 or 5 years old, children begin to make conscious decisions about who they play with based on things as arbitrary as ‘he wears glasses’ or ‘she funny hair’.
These are based on what we call unconscious bias which they would have already begun to have absorb. They’re based on their idea of what is ‘normal’ in the world around them and unconscious characteristics that they assign to certain things.
So, brown skin can be perceived as ‘dirty’ or a child with brown skin born to a white mother (as was the case with my daughter’s friend at this age) was not possible.
It’s important in these discussions not to scold or shush a child who questions but rather, ask them why they might think this and gently explain why that is not the case. Talking to children about racism is never going to be comfortable. And though I was initially alarmed by the child who told me I couldn’t be my daughter’s Mum because I didn’t have the same skin colour, I realised it was just not in her consciousness that families could look so different.
We talked about how each child is a mixture of both their parents and that DD1’s Dad was black and I’m white so our children came out a light brown colour. With that, she was off. She got it. Made sense in her world: colour mixing. We can be raising race conscious children positively. It doesn’t always have to be the negative aspects of race.
Don’t feel alarmed when children voice such assertions about the world but again, try to look at them as opportunities to ask them why they think this. And explore whether there is more you can be doing to show them why their assertion was not true.
I spoke to the teacher about possibly looking at how families look different and that this could be an opportunity to explore more than just race but single parent families, same sex parents or adoption.
Raising Race Conscious Children: The School Years
Like a lot of things at this age, the fairytales about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy have become just that- tales. Children have started becoming more discerning about the world around them and questioning why things are the way they are.
Part of this shift includes absorbing the not-so-subtle messages of power and privilege surrounding them. You could choose to ignore it or you could use their questions to spur in depth discussions about privilege.
To start a discussion, try talking to them about some of the subtle messages we get in our everyday lives. Are there particular people who never seem to be the superhero or princess in your books or movies? Who always seems to ‘save the day’? And who is often the one who needs to be ‘saved?’ Who is considered ‘pretty’?
My middle daughter recently expressed a dislike towards a doll we had that happened to have darker skin. The instant she told me she didn’t like her anymore, I knew why.
For all the work and positive images we try to surround her with, we know we’re up against it with all of the ads, images and messages she gets in her school and around. For her, it amounted to one kid in her class that was consistently bothering her and who happened to have darker skin. She had reconciled it in her head that perhaps that was why he was unkind- because of the colour of his skin.
When we talked about it however, she realised that people behave in all sorts of ways, and it doesn’t have to do with their skin colour. Luckily she has enough positive black role models around her that we could reinforce this message. The door is now open for further discussion because I know this is likely only the beginning of what she’ll take in. She will become more race conscious and that is a good thing. My hope is that she can express it positively.
Sometimes these discussions can stir a lot of empathy and emotion so it’s important not to leave your children with that sunken feeling of helplessness. Talk about the heroes of our time who have worked to influence change and what kinds of things they can do if they see someone being treated unfairly. Talking to children about racism doesn’t have to be a depressing discussion, try to let it end in hope.
Our children don’t have the luxury or privilege to ignore race. So what other choice is there?
What Happens Next?
If we don’t talk to our children about race and racism, they will go elsewhere to get answers.
In the end, I’m glad my daughter’s teacher introduced the subject because it has spurred ongoing discussions that have branched into gender and class. I don’t always have it spot on and I’m certain these discussions will get more difficult over the years but our children don’t have the luxury or privilege to ignore race. So what other choice is there?
For more from Mixed.Up.Mama about talking to children about race and privilege, read on…
One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time, Kechi’s Hair Goes Every Which Way is the perfect book to introduce your child to loving their curly, thick, and wonderful hair.
But even better, I got to meet the author, Tola Okugwu who shared her story and what inspired her to start writing about afro hair.
Known even more for her blog about natural hair, when Tola had her first daughter, she noticed (like many of us) the lack of books to inspire her daughter to love her curls.
A book lover and journalist by nature, Tola decided she would write about it. But she didn’t just want to write any book. Every morning she went to work and her partner/ husband was the one doing her daughter’s hair. In her household this was normal. But where were the books that showed the beautiful relationship Dads and daughters can have doing hair??
Soon after, Tola wrote her first book Daddy Do My Hair and after trying unsuccessfully to find a publisher, she soon started her own publishing house and self published Daddy Do My Hair, along with Hope’s Braids and now, Kechi’s Hair Goes Every Which Way.
I have to say though her latest is my favourite. It’s a fun book that still explores the relationship between Daddy and daughter poking fun at the way afro hair can’t be ‘contained. Curly hair’s ability to go “this way, that way and every which way” is a celebratory repetitive rhyme throughout that makes every child want to turn the page eager to see what happens next.
You can see from the videos below, Tola Okugwu is inspired by her daughters and truly believes in what she is doing. Her chat with the children in the audience encouraged them all to examine their own hair and see which way their hair curls, and if it does, does it go every which way?
Illustrated with lovely pictures throughout, Kechi’s Hair is one to look out for. And I’ve even got a few signed copies to give away to a few lucky readers! I will give details this week about how you can enter to get your free copies!