Category Archives: Mixed Race Identity

12 All-Time Favourite Kids’ Movies with Black Characters

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!

Drumroll please…

THE ALL TIME BEST KIDS MOVIES WITH BLACK CHARACTERS

Annie (2014)

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!

Home (2015)

Movies with black characters

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)

Movies with black charactersOne 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

Movies with black characters

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)

Movies with black charactersYet 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)

Movies with black charactersI’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)

Movies with black characters

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.

Moana (2016)

Movies with black charactersCan 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)

Movies with black characters

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)

Movies with black characters

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)

Movies with black charactersThe 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)

Movies with black charactersOf 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)Movies with black characters

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.

For more from Mixed.Up.Mama

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A Step by Step Guide to Talking to Children About Racism

Talking to Children 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 talking to children about racism 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? Should I have been talking to my children about racism a lot earlier?

The answer is yes. Our children are never too young to have these discussions. 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 discussions on race and racism,  here’s a guide to get you started,

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.

Talking to children about Racism: 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.

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.

Talking to Children about Racism: 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.

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… 

10 Things to Consider Before Having Children in an Interracial Relationship10 Things Every Parent Should Do When Raising Mixed Race Kids

Raising Mixed Kids in a Colourism WorldInterracial Relationship

Meet the Author: Kechi’s Hair Goes Every Which Way

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.

Daddy Do My Hair
Author Tola Okugwu reading from “Daddy Do My Hair”

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!

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How To Teach Girls to Love Their Curly Hair

How to Teach Girls to Love Their Curly Hair

Like all Mums to biracial girls, I want my girls to love their curly hair. Not just to accept it but to love it, own it, be confident about it. That starts with me, their Mum the first person who will touch and style their hair and show them how to care for it.

But how do I, their Mum, actually teach girls to love their curly hair when I have straight hair??

I started with language. Words such as ‘difficult’ and ‘time-consuming’, ‘thick’ and ‘course‘ no matter how innocent, all have an impact on how our daughters perceive their hair- and their own self. Because hair is representative of who they are as biracial or black women.

I wanted to know, from someone who’s been there, what it really means to teach girls to love their curly hair.

So I spoke with Shannon Fitzsimmons best known as Instagrammer and Natural Hair Enthusiast UKCurlyGirl, recently about her experience.teach your girls to love curly hair

Shannon works with women from all walks of life who are making life-changing, sometimes complete philosophical changes from relaxed hair to embracing the wild curls that they were born with.

In many cases, these women have grown up ashamed of their curls, taught that straight hair is better- easier even. Wearing their hair natural was never a possibility.

Shannon’s work has attracted a huge following with almost 20k Instagram followers and a further 4k+ on Facebook.

Already with a book ‘Get My Curls Back!’ under her belt and a line of curly hair products, Osocurly, she’s a well-established name in the industry.

She makes a healthy living out of teaching girls to love their curly hair. So with all this experience, I wanted to know what drew Shannon to this work and what we can do as Mums to biracial girls from a young age.

Shannon’s story began as a child growing up mixed to a Nigerian Dad and a Scottish Mum in London. Her school was mostly white and her Dad was largely absent from her upbringing.

She remembers the questions, ‘what are you?’ from her friends highlighting her difference, and she struggled to like her thick coarse hair. She wanted straight hair, like the other girls in her class. And athough her Mum was always positive about her curls, she knew her hair brought with it extra ‘complications’.

In High School, she experimented with colour and wanted desperately to relax her hair, wanting her curls to reflect the Beyonces and Christina Milians with more wavy curl patterns.

Whilst her Mum discouraged her, eventually Shannon did relax her hair, using the excuse that she was going off to Uni and it would be ‘difficult’ to find the right hair products outside of London.

Again, the word ‘difficult’ featured in her journey.

In 2014, her hair had become so damaged it hardly had any curl pattern at all. Upkeep was expensive and her hair was thinning.

She started the transition back to her curly all-natural hair. Though she’d never really bothered to learn how to take care of curly hair, she decided to cut off all the damaged bits and start again.

The change was significant. She felt more confidant, therefore and she noticed how her journey seemed to inspire many of her friends who saw not only the change in her hair but also in her. She was finally teaching herself self-love.

teach girls to love curly hairQuite early on, Shannon started posting about her progress. And whilst it started off as a hobby, it soon turned into a career. Shannon realised that her own experience was leading her to teach other women to love their curly hair. So her book, “Get My Curls Back” was a chance to show the world how we could do it too.

Her experience has propelled her to build a community of women who love their curly hair. Working with women who are often at the end of their hair journey in terms of already being grown up and through the most difficult stage of teenagedom, I wanted to know what advice Shannon could give us Mums of mixed kids to teach our daughters to love their curly hair from a young age.

For Mums raising mixed girls, she had this to say about how to teach girls to love their curly hair:

  • Use all natural products in your children’s hair (no chemicals, no sulphites, no parabens).
  • Look at the back of each product for an ingredient list and if the first 3-5 ingredients don’t contain water, it’s probably not moisturising enough.
  • Show your daughters bloggers or you tube videos with similar hair types. Girls like them who are confidant and happy with their hair. Girls who have a hair routine and they have healthy curly moisturised hair because of it.
  • Make the experience of braiding and twisting a positive experience- a special occasion that they can look forward to every week.
  • Get dolls that feature their hair type. Curly, afro dolls are widely available now. Even curly styling heads so they can practice doing their own hair.
  • Mums, you should practice was well. Get onto youtube and watch videos on how to plait and cornrow. There’s really no excuse anymore.
  • By about 11 years old- sometimes later depending on the child- your child may be ready to start doing their own hair. Let them experiment and watch video tutorials  then let them go for it! It’s empowering and important in their own hair and identity journey.
  • Never let your daughters think their hair is ‘difficult’, thick or ‘complicated’. That means showing them women who are happy and confidant and who go through the same styling process as them.

What Next?

I don’t want my daughters to get to adulthood and decide it’s easier to straighten it. I don’t want them to think their hair is ‘difficult’ or ‘wild’ or ’embarassing’. Because it’s so easy to get caught up in that talk when it comes to embarking on what can often feel like a huge learning curve.

teach girls to love curly hair
Women showcasing their curly hair journey at one of UKcurlygirl’s curly events.

Coming from a woman who’s lived it and who teaches fully grown women to repair the damage a lifetime of shame and fear has ingrown, this is stuff we can listen to.

Shannon offers curly haired women 1 to 1’s- a consultation with Shannon offering personalised hair advice and product recommendations. She also offers regular brunches throughout the UK for her followers to discuss hair, transitioning tips, hair struggles and routines.

If you’d like to get in touch with Shannon or want to know more about how to teach girls to love their curly hair, follow her on Instagram @ukcurlygirl or visit her website at Ukcurlygirl.com


curly hair cheatsheet
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Why #royalwedding2018 Was So Important for our Black or Mixed Race Children

Tale of a Mixed Race Royal Wedding

There has been a lot written about the royal wedding since it aired on over 30 million television sets across the globe. Most of it is positive- even dramatically praiseworthy. Meghan’s dress, her poise, Harry’s nervousness, Prince Charles walking Meghan down the aisle and of course, who could forget Rev Curry’s poignant yet dramatic address. The day was filled with elegance and style but perfectly choreographed to pay homage to both sets of cultures uniting as one.

I watched William and Kate’s wedding with interest seven years ago, having never watched the amazing performance the Royal machine puts on during one of these affairs.

And yet, this one stood out, not just because it incorporated the same pomp and performance that is behind all of the Royal Family events. But because of who it involved.

These six images below captivated my little ones’ faces.

For the same cliche reasons that many black Americans and Brits have been going on about. Let it not be overstated. This was history in the making.

And representation matters. Meghan shook up an establishment that is centuries’ old where black faces are/were rarely seen. (“They were coming out of every stockroom the BBC could find!”- one of my family members joked.)

And to have so many front and centre- to see a ‘princess’ (and I say this knowing that she will not officially get the title) who is biracial and PROUD! marrying into such an old, white and stodgy establishment. Well, what an absolute mind blower.

I cried and laughed for the same reasons  that most others did watching. But I also cried for my children- because IF this is how the Royal Family wish to go forward, they have made a statement of intention that is both progressive and welcome.

Our children will grow up knowing and seeing a woman part of the royal family who is a feminist, an ambassador for growing up mixed race, proud of her black roots and most of all, willing and able to push against even the most stubborn of barriers.

It was a day that will go down in the history books and one that I’m certain my three daughters won’t forget. When they looked at Meghan and commented, “she’s mixed like ME!”, I knew it was a moment to remember….

Next step is for Meghan to wear her curly hair natural!

If you’re wondering whether multiracial families are the new ‘normal’, read on…

 

Raising Multicultural Kids in a Mixed Race Family

Raising Multicultural Kids 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.

We didn’t set out to be raising multicultural kids in our mixed race family but as our family is made up of Nigerian, Iranian, English and Canadian heritage, it just sort of happened.

This birth advantage grew  after being accepted 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.

Even When You Stop Travelling, Raising Multicultural Kids Can Still Be Easy

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. We have realised that raising multicultural kids sort of comes with the territory when parents hail from different parts of the globe.

And my daughter’s accent, having lived in 3 different continents in her 6 short years, 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’.

So Does Raising Multicultural Kids Take Effort?

Yes and no. We didn’t set out to give our daughters such varied exposure. 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 growing up in a mixed race family. And that is the key, exposing your children to diversity as part of each and every experience- intentional or not.

Whether we tried to, just her being is a mixture of colour, race, history, culture and language. As mixed race kids, we were bound to be raising multicultural kids 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. Raising multicultural kids becomes unintentional and 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

How to Talk to Mixed Heritage Kids about Racism10 Things Every Parent Should Do When Raising Mixed Race Kids10 Things to Consider Before Having Children in an Interracial RelationshipRaising Mixed Kids in a Colourism World

How to Ensure Your Mixed Heritage Kids Feel Good About Who They Are

How to Reinforce a Positive 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 wondered when does identity start to become a struggle for our mixed heritage kids?

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). As mixed heritage kids, 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? As mixed heritage kids, 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 and biracial, 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 hers and other mixed heritage kids’ experience will be different than mine. All I can do is prepare her as best I can.


Raising Mixed Race Kids: “I Want a Mama Who Looks Like Me…”

Raising Mixed Race Kids: The Moment They Wake Up to Their Own Identity

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.

Where do you go next when your children realise they’re different?

I tried hard not to be heartbroken but I knew that I was completely unprepared for this this morning. I sighed with despair that she should have to feel this way, that this should be important and the meaning we attach to skin colour.

Slowly, 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 most importantly, 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 tender 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.

For more from Mixed.Up.Mama, click below.

Raising Mixed Kids in a Colourism WorldHow to Talk to Mixed Heritage Kids about Racism10 Things Every Parent Should Do When Raising Mixed Race Kids10 things to consider interracial relationship pinterest

 

A Multiracial Family ‘s Love of London

A Multiracial Family ‘s Love of 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 and our multiracial family 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 multiracial 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 multiracial 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.

The Diversity of 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 ten 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 I was with my 3 biracial daughters and 2 of their friends who are black and it was assumed they were all mine by a passerby.

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 I can find festivals, traditions and days out featuring not just one but all of their multiracial heritage (Iranian, Nigerian and Canadian).

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 3 times 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.

If you’re in a multiracial family, consider this…

There is more I could list but I think you get the picture. For a multiracial family, it’s not perfect but it’s as close as you can get I think if you’re looking for diversity and representation.

I just want 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 reinforcing a positive identity in your mixed or biracial kids and why you need to start talking to your kids about race and racism.

10 things to consider interracial relationship pinterest10 Things Every Parent Should Do When Raising Mixed Race Kids7 Reasons Why I love My Mixed Race FamilyTalking to children about Racism

‘What are you on about??’: How to Survive in an Intercultural Relationship

What is an Intercultural Relationship Anyway?

“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. Sound familiar?

“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.

What are the Challenges of being in an Intercultural Relationship?

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.

What’s the best advice for couples in an Intercultural Relationship?

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?  In any intercultural relationship, with more consciousness comes understanding, empathy and compromise. Characteristics that hopefully our children will learn to value.

For more about the challenges of being in an intercultural relationship, read 10 Things to Consider Before Having Kids in an Interracial Relationship or Where is Home in an Intercultural Relationship?

10 Things to Consider Before Having Children in an Interracial RelationshipHow to Talk to Mixed Heritage Kids about Racismbiracial childrenTHE Questions Asked of Mixed Race Parents