Mixed.Up.Mama is a blog primarily a resource for parents based in the UK. But since there is so much material on this subject in the US, I will often post resources from there.
This is from a blogger called Hyphen America based in the States who posted about the growing Asian representation in American kids programming. Please do read her full blog post.
This particular show she highlighted caught my attention specifically because I think we lack East Asian representation here in the UK, particularly for tweens and teens out of the toddler phase.
“Make It Pop! made its debut on Nickelodeon back in April. It’s a completely over-the-top saga heavily inspired by K-pop music and K-dramas about three girls in a boarding school who become best friends and decide to start a band. Basically, all the right elements to instantly reel in my daughter. More than that, the show is centered on three Asian American (mixed) girls (played by Megan Lee, Louriza Tronco, and Erika Tham), and somehow manages to not rely on overdone stereotypes. While some tired tropes do occasionally pop up on the show — for example, Corki is a whiz kid whose dad is a billionaire businessman in Beijing and tiger parents her via FaceTime throughout the season — Sun Hi, Jodee, and Corki are still fully-formed characters, and I never once got the feeling that the tiger dad character was being played as a shtick. In fact, as the characters in Make It Pop! broke barriers as three normal American teenage girls, tiger dad was one thing that felt really familiar.”
I’ve not had a chance to see it myself as my kids are much younger but if you do have access to Nickledeon, check it out and let me know what you think!
Colorism in the black community happens all the time but how does it affect mixed race and biracial families and kids? It has a devastating effect among siblings and can affect families even more…
Butterscotch, chocolate, vanilla, hot fudge and caramel. No, not the local ice cream shop menu, these are the five sweet sensations my four year old uses to describe her family’s skin tones. It’s cute because she’s sort of matter of fact about it.
Just as ice cream comes in different flavours, so do we.
Fortunately for my daughter, she started to become aware of skin colour in a country where the majority were dark-skinned black. We were living in Nigeria when she had just turned two, she went to an international school where many children were from mixed cultural backgrounds and it was normal to have parents from two, sometimes 3 or 4 different racial backgrounds. So she had a very healthy sense of diversity.
Unfortunately, however, I soon discovered a new ‘ism’ that is not far from racism in its harmful effect. And it’s what awaits her as she does become more conscious.
Colorism in the Black Community
‘Colorism’ is the term widely used to describe what happens within non-white racial groups when lighter skinned people are favoured, considered more beautiful and often more successful because of it. It is just as pervasive, if not less subtle, as discrimination is in the northern hemisphere. And just as painful to witness.
Our experience in Nigeria on the whole, was positive but it did have its setbacks. My daughter was noticed by Nigerians everywhere, not because she was smart or funny but because she had ‘beautiful long curls’. After my second daughter was born however, we experienced something slightly different. My middle daughter has auburn hair and lighter skin. For a mixed child, my older daughter is relatively dark. When the comparisons started, right in front of both of them, I started to become conscious that even within the black community, there will be questions.
To be honest, I’d never even thought about different shades of brown until I had my first child. It was soon after her birth here in England that the comments came. Nothing negative but certainly people noticed and commented that she is darker skinned, a recessive gene inherited perhaps from my biracial background being half Persian.
A year later, we travelled to Nigeria on holiday and I was waiting in the airport with my daughter. A woman approached and asked if she was mine. I answered yes. With a look of disapproval, she sneered that my husband must be ‘very dark’. I didn’t understand what had just happened but soon realised I was meant to take that as an insult. For me, it was perhaps just a fact. ‘Thank you’, I said naively. That was my first experience of colorism in the black community.
Colorism still exists… no matter how far we’ve come
Skin colour politics still dominate many developing countries left over as it were, from colonial or even slavery days in America where lighter skinned folk were favoured by colonials and often educated and bestowed more prestigious jobs. While darker skinned people were given the back breaking work. The legacy of their colonial pasts still persists in places like India, Latin America and Africa where you might see lighter skinned celebrities and news readers. Even soul-destroying skin bleach products are still in rampant demand. While more labour intensive jobs remain mostly filled by darker people.
In the West, it’s definitely more subtle and only persists, as far as I can tell, in the positively spun comments made about mixed race babies being the most ‘beautiful’ and ‘so cute’. Understandably, there is a still a lot of anger about colorism within the black community that the concept of beauty is still very much dominated by light skinned black folk with loose curls. Colorism in the black community still very much exists today.
I can say that my daughter is singled out here but more so because of her curly black hair which ‘drops’ while my middle daughter’s hair is a much thicker texture and grows more like an afro style might.
All of my three have different skin shades and I love the way my darling daughter describes us in delicious flavours. But I’m also very aware that she is beginning to notice skin shades in greater depth. She notices that many of her role models are ‘vanilla’- her mother, her teachers, her swimming instructor, Elsa and Anna… Sure, she has a few black mentors but her life is dominated by folks who don’t look like her.
My sister’s children, who are mixed South Asian, Iranian and a quarter white are both very light skinned. Her oldest is even able to pass as white. This, in itself, brings with it other issues where people assume a darker skinned mum might be the nanny and not her parent.
How do we encourage our children to love the skin they’re in?
Living in London is probably one of the most diverse places we can go to expose our children to people of all different ethnicities, skin tones and racial backgrounds. Although white people are the majority, with effort, our kids will have many people to which they can associate positive attributes to darker skin: their dad and extended family being major players in that.
When my kids ask the inevitable question about why they don’t have lighter skin, I want to have an open discussion about colorism and why that’s important to them. We’re conditioned from a very young age to see skin colour. And that’s okay. But the social meanings and how we educate our children is up to us.
Attacked this week was Hollywood actor Taye Diggs over his mixed race son, Walker (6) whom he shares with his former wife Idina Menzel. Menzel is caucasian and so it follows their son is biracial. But Diggs had the audacity to say he is mixed.
To Americans, this is equivalent to Diggs denying his own black identity, refuting his history and ignoring the one-drop rule which has defined American race politics and identity. The likes of Tiger Woods and Lewis Hamilton are often slammed for their refusal to identify solely as Black. Instead, they purport they are indeed mixed.
Tiger who is one-quarter Chinese, one-quarter Thai, one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American, and one-eighth Dutch jokingly refers to his ethnic make-up as “Cablinasian” (a syllabic abbreviation he coined from Caucasian, Black, (American) Indian, and Asian).
Obama, however, perhaps for simplicity’s sake when running for American president knew that identifying as one-half anything would hurt his political ambitions. He opted early on to adopt an entirely Black identity. And without any of his white relatives alive to contest, he’s been largely accepted.
Although the one-drop rule was invented by white segregationists who were keen to keep their racial blood lines ‘pure’, African Americans themselves are fierce critics of the multi-racial category. To this day, only 7 percent of Americans identify as multi-racial (when many believe the numbers are much higher).
American sitcoms, dramas and day time soap operas still exhibit same-race couples. And when there is an exception, it’s usually a show looking to make major ripples (like the sitcom Ellen in the early 2000’s when they featured a same-sex kiss). British tv, on the other hand, features inter racial dating as naturally as any other couple. It’s refreshing to see.
To me, the one-drop rule seems outdated and completely against an individual’s right to define his/herself. I get the argument that yes, he will be seen throughout his life as Black and his experience probably largely defined by living as a Black man in a racist world. But, we have to start somewhere don’t we? Walker will be influenced by both his parents and that will complete his identity. He shouldn’t be forced to choose just because the world does it for him. Let me know what you think by commenting below.
Be sure to read Diggs’ latest book ‘Mixed Me’ which is about a biracial family. I’ll be ordering it soon for my little ones and I’ll be sure to include a review. Well done Taye for stepping up, speaking out and writing about it.
“Mummy, I hate my sticky-out bum!” Those words were uttered by my oldest daughter followed by floods of tears on her way home from school. “Why can’t I have a ‘flat’ bum Mama?”, she asked through sobs.
I can’t tell you how much pain I felt in that moment. My daughter is four years old.
I mean, I knew it was coming. I have three daughters. Indeed, body image and consciousness sort of go with the territory. But I expected it later, much later- when we’ve put in the groundwork. When she knows that yes, she may be curvy and more shapely than the stick thin models she sees in magazines and online, AND she is beautiful.
In that moment, I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. You see, to a 4 year old, most 4 year old girls, their most important role model is their mother. It’s why my little one tries to play house and mama to her babies and tell off her sister, and plays kitchen and… the list goes on. Her mama who has ‘vanilla’ skin, a ‘flat’ bum (much to my dismay), and straight hair. In other words, I look nothing like her.
I thought about the millions of pounds men and women spend on bronzing their skin, on adding volume and curls to their hair and, more recently, to inserting bum implants to achieve the curvaceous figures sported by the likes of Beyonce, J-Lo and Shakira.
But I couldn’t really say all that. Talk about too much information.
I just had to hold her. And validate her. And tell her over and over how beautiful she is. All in the middle of the street as I promised to buy her a new P.E. kit that wouldn’t accentuate her derriere.
A friend of mine pointed out angrily, why do we even engage? Should it matter? Because when we do, we’re just reinforcing the point to our daughters that looks matter. Why are we talking about their beauty and how they look at such a young age. Her boys never look in the mirror and strike a pose or ask, ‘how do I look Mama?’ So why do mine?
I stopped engaging in the nature vs. nurture debate a long time ago, beaten as it were by nature. I was a tomboy and wanted my first born, whatever the gender to follow in my footsteps and love sports- most of all, football. As God would have it, I have the most girly girl daughter you could have. From a very young age, she was choosing pink, asking for princess dress up outfits, posing in her tiara and insisting on wearing high heels. Whether or not she was pre-destined to be like that I can’t answer but I can say that I did fight it tooth and nail.
My Suzy Q will never have a flat bum. I don’t think she’ll take after her Dad and have a stick thin figure either. But she needs to know that she is beautiful. She absolutely has to. I will never forgive the magazine and advertising industry for letting my daughter doubt her sense of self so early on in her little life. (I have to admit, I unashamedly resorted to showing her pictures of Beyonce and Shakira in poses from behind).
But I know now, I have my work cut out. I can never slack. Exposing her to as many amazing strong black female role models that look like her is important. Not just because she’s a girl but because she’s black and mixed and deserves much more than the world has shown her at 4.
At at time when parents are spending more time than ever with their children, if you were ever in doubt, here’s the reason why we need to be there for our daughters at every moment, no matter how old they are.
If you’re looking for resources or books that reinforce a healthy body image for your sons or daughters, check out these books: