Category Archives: Mixed Race Identity

‘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.

A Guide to Understanding Each Other in an Interracial Relationship

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

The Downward Cycle of Playground Politics into Outright Racism

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

“Mummy, I made a secret club today! Brown skin and blonde girls only”.

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…”

Racism and Kids: Exclusion in the Playground

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 they surprise us with the most unimaginable.

Click below for more from Mixed.Up.Mama

Talking to children about RacismRaising Mixed Kids in a Colourism WorldHow to Talk to Mixed Heritage Kids about Racism10 Things to Consider Before Having Children in an Interracial Relationship

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 race 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.

How to Prepare your Kids for Racist Bullying
10 Things to Consider Before Having Mixed Kids
racist bullying
Are They All Yours? The Questions Asked of Parents of Mixed Race Kids

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:

1st Benefit of Being in a Mixed Race Family: 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.

2nd Advantage of Being in a Mixed Race Family: 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-as part of their mixed race family- 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.

3rd amazing reason why being in a mixed race family is THE BEST: The best of both worlds

This is perhaps one of the best things I love about our mixed race 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.

Raising Kids in a Mixed Race Family brings with it: 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.

Perhaps the best part of being in a mixed race family? 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.

Sixth Benefit of being in a Mixed Race Family: An Inherent Globalised World View

My family’s everyday is splattered with jokes and comments that are indicative of a family coming 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!”

And finally, last but not least: A mixed race family is unique (we stand out but that’s a good thing!)

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 are interesting because they break 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….

Why I Love My Mixed Race Family
10 Things Every Parent Should Do When Raising Mixed Heritage Kids

10 Things to Consider Before Having Mixed Kids

ARE MULTIRACIAL FAMILIES THE NEW NORMAL?

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.