Category Archives: Mixed Race Identity

Representation Matters!: Making an Impact on our Mixed Kids

How many times have you heard this one from your darling daughters before? “Mummy, I want long hair… like the princesses”.

Or, how about this? “Mum, I can’t be Superman without a mask. My skin is too brown”.

For Mums of brown skinned beauties, the words coming out of our children’s mouths seem to take on a familiar repetitive theme.

Perhaps we all take it for granted that little girls will all want long straight hair. And perhaps it’s not as big an issue as we’re making it out to be. Something they’ll grow out of.

I think this is a flawed way of thinking. White kids don’t go around thinking or wanting black skin. They don’t fantasize from 2 years old of having curly afro hair.

They don’t need to. Advertisements, magazines, books, models all show a one-dimensional version of beauty that mostly embraces the white-skinned, straight hair version of beauty. Our children can’t be expected to be immune.

Whether it’s conscious or sub-conscious. Our children absorb everything they see in the world. I remember the day my daughter said to me ‘superheroes are for boys’. And that ‘princesses have blonde hair’. It’s because they had only been exposed to the single story.

With time, the story narrows even more. Black men are dangerous. Teenagers are scary. Rich people are white. CEOs are men. Scientists are old.

I am raising 3 mixed race daughters (half Nigerian, and half Iranian/English). And from an early age, my daughters became aware that their skin colour was different to mine. That their hair is curly and thick while mine is thin and straight. And that much of the television shows, ads and books that they adore feature white, blonde, blue eyed princesses, mermaids and fairies.

When my oldest, at 4 years old, came to me and said she wanted “vanilla skin like you Mummy”, I knew we had our work cut out for us.  Self-assurance and acceptance of who you are does not just happen haphazardly. And while I thought she would have a healthy sense of who she was just by virtue of the fact that her family is so diverse, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Our children are bombarded with images and advertisements, role models and authority figures who are more often than not, white. I realised that if we were going to give our daughters a fighting chance of remaining positive about who they are, we needed to be intentional about it.

Thus began our journey to #readtheonepercent- searching out the one percent of books that feature a black or mixed race protagonist as its main character. Being intentional about buying black or brown skin dolls, choosing television shows and movies that feature brown skinned characters.

It’s not easy, I mean, at times, it’s a battle. I went into London’s largest department store and found not a single black doll in their display. When queried, the salesperson suggested it was because the demand is high and so they go quickly off the shelf. ??? That didn’t add up to my basic understanding of supply and demand economics but it reinforced one thing for me. This is a lifetime of effort.

The premise that #representationmatters was highlighted a few years ago during the Oscar’s debate when a number of talented black actors and actresses were bypassed for the prestigious award despite stellar performances that year.

It’s been highlighted by black singers, artists, scientists and celebrities who understand that their success is being watched not just by the general public but by countless children around the world who see themselves reflected in their image.

The impact of Barack Obama’s presidency cannot be overestimated in terms of its effect on black boys and girls in America. Serena Williams’ understands her achievements are being watched closely by little black girls around the world who aspire to play tennis but can’t see a single black face on the court.

These images and faces are impactful. And each sighting is another cog on the wheel of positive reinforcement for your little ones.

I’ve got 3 daughters so an obvious gap in their obsessions was the lack of brown princesses and superheroes. It’s been harder to find but authors, publishers and toy companies are starting to wake up to the reality that children’s toys, books and activities need to reflect the world around them.

I’ve harnessed that momentum and launched a line of t-shirts for mixed race girls and boys so they can see themselves reflected in what they wear. My girls were delighted to see images of curly haired princesses, superheroes and ‘curl friends’ imprinted onto their favourite colour t-shirts. (https://mixedracefamily.com/shop).

For us, it’s about being intentional and searching out every opportunity to make representation matter. It means going further afield for that dance class, ordering abroad sometimes if a book isn’t available over here or, sadly, ordering online if local stores do not stock diverse doll collections.

Set your mind to be intentional and see your child’s eyes light up when they see images of themselves reflected in everything they

do.

 

Black or Multiracial?: Raising Biracial kids

Black or Multiracial?: Raising Biracial Kids

The other day I came across a post from a fellow multiracial mama about how she refuses to call her biracial kids black but instead intentionally refers to them as multiracial or mixed.

It generated an interesting discussion about why, why not, and whether that is truly the message we should be giving our biracial children.

Biracial kids

What is their true identity? And, what, if any, is the message we as parents should be giving our children about their identity?

biracial kids
My oldest mixed race daughter

My own experience as mixed race Iranian/British growing up in Canada was that my parents just didn’t talk about identity. It left me confused, in denial and ashamed at times when teasing at school pointed out the differences in me.

My parents’ preference was not to talk about identity or the many cultures that made up who we are. Instead, they assumed that we (my brother and sister and I) would assimilate into Canadian culture if they just didn’t acknowledge our differences.

Unfortunately, there were enough reminders of what made us unique and different for us to remain confused. Food, family, language and culture around us were daily reminders even if we didn’t always look the part. Though my light skin and features allowed me to pass into the majority white culture, I knew my experience gave me away.

It was only at University when I was old enough to embrace my multiple identities that I began to meet other mixed race and biracial people and understood the benefit to acknowledging and discussing what being mixed race means in today’s world.

Because of that, I have always made it a priority to talk to my biracial kids about the multiple cultures and identities that make up who they are. When faced with the potential backlash that perhaps we talk about race and identity too much, I know that to ignore it and hope that it doesn’t become an issue is absolutely the wrong message we need to be giving our children.

So what message do we give our biracial children when their identity permeates the boundaries between black, brown, multiracial, mixed race, biracial, multicultural and all things in between. And does it mean they’re not just ‘black’?
Biracial kids
My DD2 wearing traditional Nigerian head wrap

Can they be both?

For me, being biracial can mean many different things at different times. Being black and white are not necessarily mutually exclusive though many mixed race celebrities in the US are conflicted.

While Taye Diggs refused to call his mixed son Black, Thandie Newton and Halle Berry only refer to themselves as Black women. And most famously of all, we didn’t often hear the former President Barack Obama referred to as mixed but instead the first black President of the United States.

So do I refer to my daughters as mixed, biracial or black and does it vary with each one depending on how many outward African features they’ve inherited as black girls?

I’ve come to see my biracial daughters’ identities as evolving. Evolving with age, and with their own experiences. And, like me, I know that at different times, they will identify accordingly.

When I was immersed in Iranian festivals and food and culture, I felt wholly and truly Iranian. Other times, I knew I could only partially lay claim to this identity and mixed Iranian and English felt a more appropriate term for how I felt. Still, there will be times, for example when I moved to England from Canada, when I feel my Canadian upbringing comes out strongly.

Identity is More than just a feeling… it’s an experience

My daughters will likely want to identify with the political solidarity that comes with black identity. They will, at times, feel very strongly about who they are as black women when they are faced with the injustices of discrimination and racism.biracial kids

They may, on the other hand, also be aware of their white privilege. And know that their experiences as part of a multicultural, multiracial family lent them different and perhaps more privileged experiences than that of other Nigerians.

How they are perceived by others will also influence how they identify themselves. But it is not our job as parents to teach our biracial children that they are only mixed and not just black or just white.

Instead, we should encourage them to be confident about who they are, to stand up to others whose perception doesn’t marry with their own experience and to embrace all the parts that make up their identity. Acknowledging all the while that this will change and identities will shift as they explore what that means for themselves.


10 Fun Free Ways to Celebrate your Multiracial Familybiracial children

Celebrating the Holidays in a Multicultural Family

I love Christmas (if you haven’t guessed that already) and just as much as I love the lights, the tinsel, Santa and all the decorations, I also love the intensity of it all.

But I recognise this can be challenging and sometimes painful for families where, seeing each other once or twice a year is not always easy. Throw in a couple that have multiple heritages, traditions and backgrounds and it’s grounds for some pretty intense conflicts- if it’s not managed well.

More often than not couples from similar backgrounds can master the main events together easily. Not so in mixed-culture couples. Holidays steeped in tradition- often religious- and mountains of relatives in close quarters, can result in intense emotion from all sides and high expectations of what and how things should go down.

While my partner of Nigerian descent and I of Iranian/Canadian descent have been lucky to find acceptance from both sides of our families, it doesn’t mean we’ve not had our fair share of conflict around festivals and traditions.

Children bring out a new angle to building on and passing on tradition in a multicultural family. And what can follow can be intense feeling about what and how you should celebrate.

After 15 years of being together and 3 children later, my partner and I are gradually learning to let things go, reduce expectation and build our own unique family traditions outside of what we grew up with.

Celebrating the Holidays in a Multicultural Family
Celebrating the Holidays in a Multicultural Family

Like a lot of multicultural families, we spend most of our travel budget on visiting family. The yearly trips to visit my family in Canada and my husband’s family either in various parts of England or even Nigeria (if we can stretch it) are steeped in expectation and an idealised version of ‘homecoming’. 

The pressure to create the kind of atmosphere you remember fondly  can be stressful, especially if it’s at odds with how your partner may feel about it.  I feel that I could or should do more for my girls or they will miss out on an important part of my cultural heritage. What kind of pressure is that?!!

Take last year for example. The intensity of my excitement to be coming ‘home’ for Christmas in Canada was endearing but nerve-wracking. The pressure to ‘do’ everything, see the lights, make a snowman, visit Santa and decorate the tree with the right Christmas album playing in the background (yes, I’m sure everyone has a favourite that was continually played while growing up) can lead to overload fast.

My partner, on the other hand, is much more relaxed when it comes to Christmas. Growing up in Nigeria where the weather is warmer and perhaps schedules looser, has different ideas and both our versions of how to ‘enjoy’ the holidays as been at odds.

The Holidays can also split a multicultural family down the middle…

For multicultural families that have had to endure prejudice from one side or both because of their union, the holidays can be even more painful. The pressure and desire to spend it with your loved ones, hoping against hope that they will have gotten over their racist ideas and accepted your relationship for the sake of the kids or just because ‘it’s 2018!’- is heart breaking when it doesn’t happen.

Social media has made many of these stories real to me, particularly after big political events such as Brexit and the US election when I read about many mixed couples planning to spend Christmas or Thanksgiving with family they knew had voted to leave or for ideas symbolised by the Trump campaign which represented deep rooted prejudices. Their fear and sadness that their partner would never be accepted, despite the love between them, was harrowing to read.

For lone parents in a multicultural family, the struggle is even greater…

Not at all surprising, all those times throughout the year where families feel separated, abandoned, rejected or deep in conflict become even more intense in December. In instances of lone-parent families where the non-resident parent doesn’t play a big role in their child’s life, it’s left to the resident parent to fill their child in on a culture they may know nothing about.

For many, the fight isn’t worth fighting because as a lone parent, it’s probably easier to just do it your way. And yet, the void children may feel as a result of the other parent’s absence makes it even more vital that they know about all aspects of their racial and cultural heritage. Even more so, so that they are comfortable with who they are, recognizing that they belong to two or more cultural and racial heritages.

Release expectation…

All parents do things with their kids based on what they have known and learned throughout their lives. Their own parents gave them some of it, but a lot came from the culture in which they were immersed. 

Looking back, I realise that what made the holidays so special wasn’t the Christmas album, the gifts or the right coloured lights. It was having our entire family round for a big meal celebrating our unique traditions, beliefs and cultures- in whatever form that took. It was spending time together and making memories that strengthened our bond as a family.

Releasing expectation about reliving your childhood can be what’s needed at this time of year. Your heritage cannot be exactly relived because it’s relevance becomes diluted when you have two cultures to merge in a multicultural family.

Perhaps that’s what will make our Christmases in a multicultural family more interesting and more memorable. Our Christmas turkey now sits alongside a giant bowl of jollof rice and plantain. And snow lined walks in the afternoon will be replaced with games. Either way, I’m hoping that that’s the part my children will look back on and remember- our unique heritages that blend together to make Christmas so special.



 

Inspiration for Diverse Halloween Costumes for Your Mixed Kids

Halloween is next week and while I’m thinking of the usual ideas like zombies, witches and ghosts, for the first time, I’d like my daughters to consider that representation matters.

I’d like them to see themselves represented, not just in the shows they watch, the books they read and the movies they go to but ALSO in the costumes they choose. Why not? They’re still young enough to want to dress up- even when it’s not halloween.

They seem to have a million and one princess dresses but I’ve been trying to be intentional about finding them non-princessy type dressing up outfits. Since then, I’ve added a fire fighter, police officer, pilot and construction worker to our dressing up box.

So this year, for Halloween, I’m not just thinking about gender but about real life (or fictional) characters who are black or non-white and in whom my kids might see themselves reflected. Even if they’re joke characters, it’s important that there are diverse  characters that look like them. Few as there might be, I’m determined that they see them.

Try some of these out and tell me about more so I can add them below!

Diverse Halloween Costumes Ideas

Moana

Our favourite Disney princess, if you’re daughter is obsessed with dressing up as her favourite Disney character, why not play feature Moana this family movie night and see how keen she is to wear Tafiti’s heart.

Black Panther

Sort of a no-brainer, Black Panther was THE black superhero we’ve all been waiting for. Look no further for a great superhero for your black son or daughter. Great costume, great movie.

Frida Kahlo

For your art-inspired little ‘uns, Frida Kahlo’s style lends itself perfectly for Halloween costume inspiration. Her story is intriguing as well. She will, no doubt, become your daughter’s new hero.

Princess Tiana

Again, a no-brainer for your Disney inspired princesses. Princess Tiana is a great black character and inspiration for frilly, sparkly obsessed little princesses.

Shuri Black Panther

Wow. I love this costume. Not just for the character in the movie, but for how cool it looks too. More superhero inspiration for kids wanting to shun the usual gender-specific costumes but instead come out fighting.

Cleopatra

Looking for something different? Go historical. One of the most intriguing women of our history, Cleopatra is a perfect fit. Teach your daughters and sons about her and Anthony, her empire and her eventual fall. Great history lesson along with a very cool costume.

Rhianna from Home

Diverse Halloween costumes No need to buy anything here. Simply don your child in an orange coat and jeans and see how cute they’ll look impersonating the cutest character from Home.

Maui

We all love Maui from the wonderful Moana movie. He’s a great character and has inspired many little boys.

Mr T

We had to go 80’s! Always a winner for any little boy. He’s funny, tough, has his own style and will make you take a walk down memory lane. 

Doc McStuffins

Good ol’ Doc McStuffins will never disappoint. She’s an aspiring doctor, black and a girl. You don’t get better role models than that. Let your daughters dress up and bring along a stuffy  to complete the outfit.

Michael Jackson

And finally….’ it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white’, Michael Jackson appeals to ALL children- even years after his death. He’s still the king of pop so get your kids to dance along to some of his best hits and they’ll be killing it on the dance floor.

Good luck and have fun with it!!

 

 

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Racially Ambiguous: “You don’t look mixed”

“You don’t look Iranian, you look white. I’m just surprised.”

Racially AmbiguousHow 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.

Racially ambiguous
My Mixed Race Family

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.

Racially ambiguous

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?


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