Category Archives: Mixed Race Identity

Raising a Multicultural Kid in a Mixed Race Family

That first day when I realised my kid was global both in heritage and in mindset was when she was three. My Mum and I were talking at the kitchen table, and the subject of China came up in conversation. My firstborn piped up, “Mama, did we fly over China to get to Canada?”

She’s referring to our move from Nigeria to Canada. And, no, we didn’t fly over China. But to hear the question come from a 3 year old suggested she knew that it was both a country far away and that other places in the world existed outside of her familiar environment. We hadn’t spoken about China before but her exposure, we knew, already included an array of foreign countries.

My daughter began her awareness going to a genuinely international school in Lagos, Nigeria. Friends of hers hailed from all over- South Africa, Netherlands, India, Greece, America, England, Israel, Lebanon and of course, Nigeria. It was and still is normal for her friends to speak two, if not more languages and having parents of different colours/ races was no big deal.

We’re now living in London, England. And as she becomes more aware, she’s also talking more about accents, vocabulary, geography and social norms. Having lived in 3 different continents in her 6 short years, my dd1’s own accent and vocab shifts according to whom she’s talking to. Like any child with access to an ipad, her favourite shows include BBC’s Ben and Holly alongside American cartoons Paw Patrol and Lego Friends. She’s savvy enough to realise the characters speak differently and that “Hi guys” is not common all over the world.

For her, asking Mama where the garbage is and saying, “Odaro” (goodnight in Yoruba) to grandparents via facetime is normal. For her, assuming “Nepa took light” (an affectionate way of referring to the frequent power outages in Lagos) when the phone cuts midway through phone calls with grandparents and cousins that are two shades darker than her, is normal. And showing off her collection of shopkins to cousins three shades lighter, blonde and blue eyed, in Canada where the 15 inch snow glistens off their window is also just as normal.

She doesn’t yet know that friends won’t know what she’s talking about when the day comes she proudly refers to her “Bababozorg” (farsi for her maternal grandfather). Just as it came as a surprise to her recently when her friend asked her why she was referring to the ‘bathroom’. What’s that?, her friend asked.

Games every other day include role play as a waitress carrying a pizza. Not in her hand though. “On my head”, she insists, “like they do in Nigeria”. Dressing up as a princess includes a jewel-like ‘bindhi’ in the middle of her forehead “because it’s pretty”. And books at night spin riveting tales of African villagers, Middle Eastern parables and American kids playing on the ‘teeter totter’ and doing ‘somersaults’.

We didn’t set out to give our daughters such varied exposure. Sure we both love travelling but we thought learning about the world came later, when children are interested in learning about their own history and culture.

But without our intervention, it’s just happened. Our daughter’s everyday exposure and experience is littered with variety. Whether we tried or not, just her being is a mixture of colour, race, history, culture and language. As mixed race kids, our children were bound to be multicultural and perhaps there’s no getting around it these days.

So in that respect the term ‘third culture kid’ is perhaps outdated. Kids can’t help but be soaking up four, five even ten different cultures blended into their little beings. So when their experiences span continents, their loved ones hail from different corners of the globe and their conversations are packed with language, intonation and dialects bridging nations. Well, folks, it gives new meaning to the word ‘globalisation’.

For more from Mixed.Up.Mama about raising mixed race kids, read about Preparing your Children for Racist Bullying

Talking Identity with Mixed Heritage Kids

This week my daughter’s teacher announced the children would be talking about identity and where they and their families are from. She encouraged parents to talk to our children beforehand so the children can positively contribute.

As the parent of a mixed child, I was excited that my daughter would be having this conversation in school. Her background is, at best, interesting and layered but at worst, it’s complicated and confusing. So, as a person of mixed parentage myself, I have to admit my heart did skip a beat.

I remember being a teenager and cringing from those conversations about where I was from. Do you mean where do I live now? Where are my parents from? What culture do I identify with most? What languages do I speak (or, in my case, not speak well enough). When it came to my Iranian side, I often felt confronted about laying claim to a culture I knew so little about. And coming to England as a young adult, I couldn’t have felt more like an outsider if I tried. What basis did I have for identifying with any of these cultures?

When it comes to my daughter, I wonder what she might say in such a conversation. First of all, would she remember all the places/races and cultures that make up who she is? Does she identify with all of her heritage? Of course, these questions of a 5 year old were bound to fail. But I couldn’t help feeling conscious that I may not be doing enough to educate her. Or worse, that she may end up as confused or as pressured as I felt during these conversations.

When hubby originates from Nigeria, and I hail from Canada/ England and Iran, the story can be complicated. Particularly for a 5 year old who now lives in the UK but spent a good part of her short 5 years in Nigeria and Canada.

Her looks, race and accent will further put pressure on her to identify as either Black, Black British, African- British or just Naija. If her skin is darker, she may be questioned if she tries to identify as hyphenated or mixed race as people will argue her intentions. “Why don’t you just admit you’re black”, I can see her mates saying.

By now, she can reel off the list of countries, and can even tell people a few words from Yoruba and Farsi. But whether she truly identifies with any of these (or all), I guess only time will tell.

I do plan to show her a map of the world and to help her identify where each of these countries are located. But what I’ve realised is that any depth of association to these countries lies in her relationships.

As long as Grandma and Grandpa, cousins, Aunts and Uncles are in her life, she will hopefully always feel connection to where she’s ‘from’. And yet, her everyday experience and friends will connect her more than anything to the UK. And I’m okay with that. Being mixed, the ultimate positive is that she has options.

One reader commented that by the time our little ones grow up, their world will be a blended mix of all different backgrounds and cultures. So perhaps her experience will be different than mine. All I can do is prepare her as best I can.


 

A Mixed Race Mama Morning: I Want a Mama Who Looks Like Me…

We were running late. After 2.5 weeks off, it was back to school last week and back to getting 3 kids out the door- on time.

On day 1, I got overwhelmed, frustrated that I couldn’t find one of DD1’s take-home reading books. Costing a small fortune to replace, I shouted at her that she should take better care of them.

We got out the door but she refused to talk to me. I tried the usual cajoling and apologised for shouting but she refused to smile. Guessing she was overwhelmed by the roller coaster of emotion she was probably feeling over seeing her friends and teacher after so much time off, I left her.

We’d spent a lot of time together over the holiday including having my Mum over from Canada. I stopped though, weary of being late but feeling guilty because I knew I should have kept my cool. Leaning down I looked her in the eye and asked her what was wrong.

Then she said it. “I wish I had a Mama that looked like me”.

This year has been huge in my daughter’s life as she’s become more and more aware of both her own colour and that of people around her. We only talk about race and colour in a positive way, acknowledging the differences but recognising that people are all the same inside.

My heart dropped- sensitive to the hurt I might have caused her but devastated as well that she would think skin colour would mend her broken heart.

I tried hard not to be heartbroken but I knew that I was completely unprepared for this this morning. Gradually, we each took a turn to say what makes us mother and daughter. Not the colour of our skin. The fact that she has my mouth and my eyes and that she’s good at certain things and not so good at others. But our love for each other. And how that will never change… Even when I’m shouting.

We arrived on time.  And she’d forgotten about it when I raised it again after school. Flippantly, she said, “we already talked about this Mum”.

What made her feel this then… on that particular day, I’ll never know.  Perhaps she had been feeling it all this time. The feeling that perhaps we don’t match or she doesn’t fit in… or that someone who looks like her might not shout?! All at the age of 5.

I imagine her older, walking beside me and feeling the same thing but perhaps more equipped to be able to dismiss this feeling of matching skin colour as unimportant because well… it just is.

Read more from Mixed.Up.Mama “Brown Skin and Blonde Girls Only”…

A Mixed Race Family’s Love of London

Why do you Love London?

Someone asked me today, why do you love living in London? I admit it has taken us years to get where we are, to feel settled in a way where both of us can admit this feels like ‘home’- for awhile at least.

Our journey around the world to get here has been interesting, though restless. Starting out in Wales where my husband and I met, we felt out of place, alone and often resentful at having to drive to London so often to visit friends and family. South West England was better but it too had different issues that niggled at us. Its segregated feel, drawn along false economic lines made us feel uncomfortable as a mixed family, knowing our loyalties lay on both sides but our economics pushed us to one more than another.

Our journey to Edmonton, Canada (where I grew up) and then eventually Lagos, Nigeria (where hubby grew up) were both attempts for us to feel grounded and settled. And though both were satisfying in many different ways, the pull was always back to London.

So what is it with this place that keeps us coming back? And what has finally made us feel like this has more of what we’ve been looking for? As a mixed family, I’ve always been told it’s important to find somewhere neutral for both partners- a place that isn’t home for either of you and that you can both forge an identity starting from scratch.

Starting out…

And that’s exactly what we’re doing. Starting out in London has been an entirely new beginning, from finding schools for our daughters, to researching areas to live, tradespeople for jobs and transport to get places, all the knowledge we’d built up as a couple over time was wiped for us to start again.

We don’t complain though. For me, it’s been exhausting with three kids but strangely enjoyable. From the smog of Lagos to the emptiness of Edmonton, London has offered us more than we could even imagine.

But the most important thing I love is its diversity. Not just from a race point of view but from every different angle, you see people doing their own thing.

Not only that but Londoners are even trying to be different so they can stand out from the crowd. Sure, you get that everywhere but perhaps not on the scale that you do in a big city such as London.

I love that the guy who helped me pull my pram onto the bus the other day was black transvestite male. I love that my daughter asked out loud whether he was a girl or boy and he answered her with a smile.

I love that my eldest daughters’ class has at least six kids from mixed black/white families, that there are over 15 different languages spoken in the class and that my daughter actually wants to speak a different language so she can be like her friends.

I love that our friends consist of families of all different colours and mixes, even with seemingly monoracial families, the mixes span cultures and religions and this is normal.

I love that I can point out beautiful, smart, curly-haired women everyday to my daughters on our way to school.

I love that my daughters’ friends include kids of all different abilities and this is also normal..

I love that the tube was filled with blue and purple haired girls the other day inspiring my daughter to imagine her own self with purple hair.

I love that the bus journey into the city is littered with shops selling all sorts of wear such as elaborate costumes, beautiful wooden instruments and ornate, kitsch furniture that looks as if it belongs in a palace.

I love that my daughter thinks every ornate gate in London is Buckingham Palace.

I love that police officers ride horses and wear funny hats.

I love that the Science Museum is free, workshops are led by young diverse students and that we’ve been three times in three months and each time we’ve had a completely different experience- all positive.

I love that my daughters have seen a West End show already once in their life.

I love that hubby and my date night was at a restaurant that is filled floor to ceiling with beautiful Victorian paintings-and it wasn’t pretentious.

I love that Chinese New Year wasn’t just celebrated at my daughter’s nursery, they actually paid a visit to Chinatown to get the real experience.

There is more I could list but I think you get the picture. It’s not perfect I know but I’m enjoying it for now as I show my Mum around this beautiful city.

I just wanted to appreciate out loud that the last three years have been up and down but we are here in this place, at this time for a reason and as I contemplate ‘home’, I realize it is here.

Read more from Mixed.Up.Mama about why walking to school is important…

‘What are you on about??’: Focus on Intercultural Relationships

“Clear!”, he shouted as I clutched the wheel heading into more oncoming traffic. “What are you saying?! What does that mean?”, I shouted back. In desperation, the two of us just looked at each other, dumbfounded that the other seemed to be talking a different language.

“Pull over!”, my-then-boyfriend-now-husband said in exasperation as he realised I had no idea what he was on about.

Dutifully, I pulled over. Why didn’t he just say that? I remember thinking.

That was 10 years ago, our first realisation that although both of us spoke the same first language, lived in the same country and had many things in common, our upbringings were hugely different. And despite all of our commonalities, our differences were a much bigger challenge than we’d thought. “Clear”, I soon discovered, was a Nigerianism meaning pull over or pull to the side.

My husband and I originate from four parts of the globe as far apart from each other as you can get. My father is from Iran, my mother from England and I grew up in Canada. My husband was born and raised in Nigeria, with exposure to British colonial and cultural norms.

In any relationship, the challenges of ‘getting serious’, considering where is ‘home’, family, finances, gender roles, religion and raising children are all big questions. Throw cultural differences into the heap and you can almost feel as if you’re speaking different languages.

For us I think those big questions were obvious and we did tend to talk about them a lot before we said the big ‘I do’. But it was the little things that we didn’t consider and that we’re still discovering about each other. Things that research on this subject just doesn’t seem to explore.

It’s how we both think, the inherent ‘street wise’ instinct hubby has just from living in a country where ‘hustling’ is the norm. I lived the stereotypical suburban life in small town Alberta where locking our door during the day was unheard of. As a result, my husband is much more observant of people and things and subtleties than I am. Whether that’s just our personalities, I hasten to guess. But after travelling to Lagos and being chastised for handing over my passport to a customs officer in uniform and not keeping my eye on what he was doing with it, I realised I have much to learn about being streetwise.

I am also much more verbal than my husband. Again, this could just be down to personality because I know I am definitely more into chatting than he is.  But again, after spending some time in Nigeria, I realised people are expected to learn by observing rather than by explanation or asking questions. In my early twenties, I lived in Ghana and was so curious about everything I was experiencing. So I asked. It was my friend who was showing me the ropes who finally explained, ‘stop talking and just watch’. I often think back to that moment when my hubby and I are arguing over something I don’t understand.

Raising children in the way we were both brought up can become another battleground. Questioning what one partner might take for granted as normal becomes an accepted part of your everyday. Simply because ‘that’s how I was brought up’ and ‘how can you question it?’ just doesn’t cut it.

Take our debate about piercing our daughter’s ears when our eldest was born. I knew it was a cultural tradition and pretty much every Nigerian girl has their ears pierced when they’re born- including all my nieces. But cultural tradition wasn’t enough for me. He wasn’t able to give an answer as to why it was important and in the end, he conceded it might be better to wait. We then faced the often unpleasant comments from other Nigerians questioning ‘why aren’t her ears pierced’ and ‘how can we tell if she’s a girl or not?’ I wasn’t too bothered about being asked.

More than 10 years later, our lives have taken us to Nigeria and back, to Edmonton, Canada for long extended stays and now back to London, England. It’s been good for us to spend time in each other’s ‘homes’- learning more about each other than we ever could have just through communication. But England offers us something neither of these countries can. A neutral ground for us as a couple where we’re both just as lost as the other trying to decipher things like ‘what is the real pronunciation of ‘neither’?

We’re making choices as we go and sometimes the simplest of tasks or events can lead to debate. It’s often exhausting and I have to admit I do sometimes envy marriages between people who’ve grown up together in the same town and who can relate on so many levels.

But as time goes on, I think my husband and I are both beginning to grow having been confronted with the question ‘why?’. Consciously unravelling and exploring exactly who we are and why we believe in certain things can be uncomfortable. But isn’t all growth?  And with more consciousness comes understanding, empathy and compromise. Characteristics that hopefully our children will learn to value.

For more about intercultural relationships, read 10 Things to Consider Before Having Kids in an Interracial Relationship

“Brown skin and blonde girls only”, Said My Daughter

It was the moment I dreaded. Today my daughter came home recounting her day with the casual tone she adopts when talking about homework.

At the mention of skin colour, my head turned. But instead of the usual defensive lioness I’ve become so used to at the mention of anyone excluding her for being brown, I had to do a double take.

“What??? Why would you?… Who??….”, my voice tailed off. Realising she’d included blonde girls, I calculated that most of her friends were actually probably included- even with this strange entry requirement.

All except one. “Were all your friends allowed to join then?”, I asked carefully. “Yes”, she said. “Except N…”

My heart dropped. Just as I feared. One of her friends who didn’t play with her that often but who was often on the periphery of her little group was unfortunate to have brown hair.

My daughter was obviously oblivious to her error. In fact, she looked at me curiously to see why I might be so concerned.

What do you do and how do you say it? My automatic anti-racist, discrimination-hating, scary-Mum instinct was about to be unleashed where I lecture my daughter about everything that’s wrong with excluding someone because of their skin colour.

And yet I knew that if I scared my daughter with my reaction, what would be the impact on any future conversations about race?

Would she want to bring up any more moments where race and skin colour come up and would she feel comfortable to know that she can ask anything- even if it is offensive?

Because keeping that conversational door open is one of the most important things to me. That she knows that she can ask anything of us- her parents- even if she suspects it’s not a comfortable subject for many.

We talk about race and heritage and colour because it’s there. Not because we want to make a big deal of it but because it’s there. And we don’t have a choice.

Fortunately, the people who make up my daughter’s entire world are all different colours so I didn’t have to travel far to get her to understand.

“You do know that your rules mean that I couldn’t join your secret club”.

Armed with this new revelation, she seemed to pause and agreed quickly to change the rules so that blonde, brown and black hair, white skin and brown skin could be included.

In Shakil Choudhury’s recent ground-breaking book on diversity, he spells it out for us that our human brain is predisposed to be empathetic to those who are most like us. But as her immediate circle is made up of multiple skin colours and features, I knew that her concept of ‘us’ was unlikely to be limited.

So I didn’t harp on about the colour aspect. The incident that happened today could have happened to any kid, of any colour. For my daughter, it could well have been glasses, no glasses, brown hair, blonde hair or black hair, as long as her chosen friends were included.

In those next few moments, I chose to talk about exclusion as it happens to us all, not about colour specifically.

“Why would you want to exclude N***?”, I asked her.

“Is she mean?”

“No.”

“So, why?”

She didn’t really have an answer. Perhaps because it was easy to exclude N***.  And because her best friends were all blonde-haired or brown-skinned.

I continued. Today, you’re in control of the club but tomorrow, it may be those very same kids who exclude you because of your curly hair or your nose or your shirt or… your skin colour.

“How would you feel if…”

Pausing, she said she understood. And she felt bad, I could tell. She’s not a mean kid and I know she’s been known to stand up to bullies and other kids who turn on others. But what happened today, she was reminded of who she is and what she stands for.

So proud was she of her ‘secret’ club and the fact that she’d come up with rules to make it even more exclusive (probably inspired by the recent episode of Peppa Pig), she’d forgotten how it felt to be left out.

Tomorrow she’ll go in and apologise to her friend. She’s done with secret clubs for now, she says. And she’s got a renewed incentive to be kinder and to ensure everyone gets included in her circle.  Because when encouraged to imagine themselves in the others’ shoes, children don’t need much encouragement to change their behaviour.

I hope that my daughter got the lesson. I certainly did not think I’d be having this conversation with her, especially at 5 years old. But, then again, I’m glad it happened and I can understand better when young children do make judgements and decisions based on skin colour.

Later, it may become more sinister and I’m ready for those conversations. But it’s a reminder that in this racialised world, none of us are perfect and we’re learning along the way. Talking about race is not taboo, nor should we scare our children or run away from such conversations. Even when when they surprise us with the most unimaginable.

Preparing your Children for Racist Bullying

Reading posts from a few Mama bloggers this week, the subject of racist bullying seemed to come up a lot. A black teenager who retaliated when she was called the ‘n’ word and the school/ police’s unequal response. A Mum whose mixed race daughter was asked (twice in one week) if she was adopted and “is that your real mom” because she has dark skin.

Real racism or blatant bullying hasn’t happened to my kids… yet. But I’ve witnessed hints of kids becoming ‘aware’ of difference.

At 4 years old, I could see the children already noticing skin colour and how it relates to them and their friends.

But racist bullying isn’t anything new, surely?

Children noticing difference and singling out other kids for looking or acting a certain way is nothing new. I remember being picked on and even doing the picking- for all sorts of things: glasses, red hair, short, fat, hairy, long nose, short nose, names… the list goes on. But what I don’t remember and what I’ve never had to experience is racist comments about skin colour.

Though I was born into a mixed family, my father a milk chocolate colour, I am by far the lightest in my family- easily able to pass as white. I could float between my identities at will, embracing more of my Iranian background as I grew older but wanting nothing to do with anything foreign in my pre-teen years. True, my name often gave me away but I was able to shorten it to a westernised version that allowed me to pass.

So I’m new to this territory. I remember when my daughter was barely 1 year old and my husband and I took her to a local park in a very white middle class area. A child came up to her and stuck his tongue out, then tried to tell her she couldn’t come to the part of the climbing frame where he was.

Perhaps we were sensitive as new parents but I remember feeling rage at the other child for excluding her or being mean to her. She was oblivious of course, as most babies would be. But looking around the park with so many white children and their blue-eyed- blonde- haired parents in groups, it played into the feeling we already had of feeling isolated and sensitive to a world that might judge our beautiful child on the basis of her skin.

Like any mother I desperately want to protect my children. I don’t want to be over sensitive but…

Why then does racist bullying hurt so much more than just plain bullying?

My guess is it’s because we know it won’t end when the children grow up and realize glasses can be cool, being short is pretty common and having a different name isn’t something to make fun of someone for.

Most people grow out of bullying. But racism is something that will and can continue for a lifetime. It may take a different form but the hurt caused whether you’re in the playground or grown up and working can be just as painful.

So to have it start at such an early age is heartbreaking. Because if you’ve given them the best start, you know they’re confident, even proud of who they are, soon, very soon, they’ll understand not everyone thinks that way.

I do realize that nothing could happen as many mixed friends can recount not having encountered any negative experience because of their skin color. If so, my daughters may just escape the large chip many of (we and many generations before us) us have been forced to carry and have a pretty good shot at happiness.

Be Ready…

But if comments do happen, I hope I’m ready for it. Ready to maintain my cool and hold down the rage that I can imagine I’ll feel at even the slightest hint of racist bullying. I hope I can talk to my daughter about how and why it happened, how it made her feel and how some people may see things that way. What I hope more than anything though is that if it does happen, my daughters will be secure enough in who they are to be able to dismiss such comments as they would any other.

Is there any way a parent can prepare for when their child gets bullied? Perhaps not. I can’t do anything about the way the world sees her, but I hope I can be a positive influence in the way she sees herself.

Seven Reasons Why I Love My Mixed Race Family

Why I Love My Mixed Race Family

When I started this blog, I was surprised at how much there is to learn and write about the mixed race experience. I’m excited but also encouraged that more and more people are waking up to the idea that mixed does not mean half-caste, or confused or some or all of nothing. Although there are the struggles that mixed race people feel when out in the world battling to ‘fit in’ and identify themselves in the carefully chosen boxes that exist, there’s so much more that our mixed race kids will experience and can explore because of their multiple heritages. Here are a few of my favourites:

Exotic and Amazing Holidays (with the excuse of going to visit family)

Like any family, after we had kids it became that much more important for us that we have our families (parents, brothers, sisters, cousins) close by. We want our children to not only know their extended families but also to know where they are from, where their parents grew up, their family histories. The fact that our families live on different continents makes for some amazing holidays and a cultural experience that we may not have anywhere else- the food, the celebrations, dare I say it- the fuss made over us- all make it better than any other holiday abroad.

The Ability to Blend In

With exposure to so many different cultural norms, our kids can easily blend in anywhere. I think they get, on a gut level, that different families, countries and cultures have different sets of greetings, languages, food and celebrations. They get it because they’ve been exposed to it from such a young age. They know that when they see their Nigerian grandparents they should kneel to greet, when they see their Bababozorg (on their Iranian side), the adults greet with three kisses on the cheek and their English Grandma will give them a hug. They’ll know about respect for elders, removing shoes, different types of food and ways of behaving. For them, it’s normal to look for the signs and follow their parent’s lead. This should get them far in life when they’re visiting new countries. They’ll expect that different cultures will do things differently and, who knows, with their myriad of cultures, they may even be familiar with some cultural practices that span different countries.

The best of both worlds

This is perhaps one of the best things I love about our mixed family. As we’ve travelled more and lived and experienced the benefits of so many different cultures, countries, climates, and histories, I’ve realised that when people ask the question, where do you prefer to live the most? I’m stuck. I love the mountains and outdoors of Canada, the beauty and history of England, the richness and intensity of Nigeria, and the proud culture of Iran. My girls can proudly lay claim to all of these and call each one of them home.

Open minds= Tolerance

With so much exposure to difference and sometimes conflicting ways of getting to the same end, it’s no wonder that people say that being mixed lends itself to careers in diplomacy, politics and foreign relations. Being mixed brings with it an inherent sense of tolerance and an open mind to ‘others’ because of who they are. Even where cultures and countries are at war, children born of an interracial relationship can be the healing and tolerance families and countries need.

Multiple festivals/ holidays and celebrations

With multiple excuses to celebrate and feast, this is by far the greatest advantage of a mixed race family. From an entirely greedy and fun-loving perspective, we get twice the number of festivals and celebrations as anyone else! For my family, we go from Nowruz (Persian New Year) to Easter in one week! If you’re Chinese, you get to celebrate Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year so close together you might as well permanently eat chocolate! With so many festivals and celebrations bringing together family, friends, food and often music, your kids will get to experience the richness and diversity of multiple cultures. And that’s never a bad thing.

An Inherent Globalised World View

My family’s everyday is splattered with jokes and comments that are indicative of a family that comes from multiple cultures. When there’s a power outage in Canada, my daughter is asking, “Did Nepa take light?” (Nigerian’s way of describing the frequent electricity failures that plague the country). When winter comes in England, my daughters want to know if they can go shovel the snow like we do in Canada. And when we have rice, the girls want to know if they can have the biggest piece of tahdig (Iranian crunchy bit at the bottom). People we meet and their behaviour they see are always accompanied by questions about where they’re from- near Nigeria? Close to Canada? Or “look Mum, they’re speaking farsi!”

Unique (Standing out)

Whether you believe in all the hype about mixed race kids being especially cute is irrelevant because one thing that you can’t argue is the look is interesting. Pictures of brown skinned kids with blonde curls is interesting because it breaks the mold of what we’re used to seeing. Blue eyed black girls or Asian boys with a mixture of black and Asian features stand out. Apart from the look, I met some Asian mixed kids speaking fluent farsi with their Persian father coming home from school. It made me do a double take but it made me proud as well that mixed families come in all shapes and cultures and from everywhere. That it’s not just races that blend but cultures, languages, heritages and histories. What a world we will live in in 20 years time if this continues!

As featured in the Huffington Post….

ARE MULTIRACIAL FAMILIES THE NEW NORMAL?

The other day I found myself on a 45 minute bus ride with my 3 kids and 4 of their friends. We were all sat at the back.

Their conversations were fleeting, from the lyrics of the wheels on the bus to more serious subjects like what they might order at McDonalds.

At one point, one of the girls turned to the other and they were comparing skin colours- three 5 year olds arguing about who was lighter, hoping, each in turn that they were the darker one.

It was all so innocent but lovely. Lovely that they hadn’t been touched by any of our pollutant societal thoughts about skin colour bias. Lovely that they referred to skin colour as they might any other body feature- like they would the hair on their arms or whose hands might be bigger. And lovely that they were all insisting they were darker so they could match.

Within minutes, a woman on the bus turned to me, as I wiped their mouths, told them off and cuddled the littlest on my lap. “They must keep you busy”, she said.

I smiled. Grateful to hear that in 2016 a family of multiple different skin tones and races can exist in someone’s eyes and be normal.

And although I have somewhat frequent encounters with people who ask whether my children are my own because of our different skin tones,  this experience has given me hope.

As I pondered the woman on the bus’ comment, I thought about correcting her. “Only three of them are mine”, I was going to say. But I stayed quiet, content in the knowledge, that the new ‘normal’ is us.

A Mixed Race Daughter’s Journey From Straight Envy to Curly Pride

Just over a year ago I posted about my oldest daughter’s sorrow coming home from school and crying over not having straight hair like her friends.

Of course I was heartbroken and I knew that I had my work cut out for me.  As her mum, I was/ am her biggest role model and although looks shouldn’t matter, the fact that we (a multiracial family and therefore more pronounced than most mother-and-daughter combos) look so different, it can be painful.

On top of my skin being a whole shade lighter,  my hair is dead straight. And with media, magazines and friends sporting this same look, sometimes the curls can just feel too much.

If only she knew, I kept saying to myself… to others. She is the object of so many admirers when we go out.  Her hair can attract comments from strangers everywhere and yet she doesn’t want unique hair. She wants straight hair.

My daughter’s journey doesn’t end there. I made it my mission not just to subtly show her curly haired role models but I point them out everywhere we go. Beautiful white, black, brown skinned women with short, long and all types of textured curly hair. Her books, music artists and the shows she watches all sport curls. I talk to her about being unique, about having the confidence to be different, to be proud of how God made her. And to be more than just her curls. To be unique in every way because it’s better to be a leader than a follower.

And then…

Today she told me in no uncertain terms she doesn’t want straight hair.

Otherwise she’d be like everyone else. She said she likes her curls and can’t wait to be able to grow them and twist them and try out new hairstyles. She said she likes herself the way she is.

I smiled and knew she is beginning her journey to understanding and loving herself. Curly hair and all.

There is no prouder moment for a mum than when your daughter can look in the mirror and say she loves who she is.  My daughter is ultra sensitive and, I’d like to think, mature for her age. So perhaps it was an early internal switch that just happened at the age of 5. And perhaps she was already on this journey without any intervention. But for any girl, all girls, it’s so important for them to know, love and accept who they are.