Raising a biracial child: Where it all started…
My daughter was about two years old when she leaned forward to poke her head through the seats of our rental car one day to tell me that “Mummy is white” and “Daddy is brown”. “That’s right, I replied, slightly caught unaware that at that age, she would be pointing out our differences. “What colour are you?”.
The question seemed to stumble her, but only for an instant, before she replied “light brown!”
The rest of the journey was spent telling me what other colours people in her family were, “Grandma is white and other Grandma is brown”. “Cousin A is white and cousin S is brown”
I marvelled at her simplistic, yet factual understanding, her acceptance so basic in its depiction of, pardon the pun, a black and white world.
And though nothing she said was untrue, it almost felt foreign, almost cringe-worthy to point out our colour differences. Especially when the accepted rhetoric is always that we should all be ‘colour-blind’.
Seeing her embrace hers and others’ looks and identity so enthusiastically and without any negative (or positive for that matter), stereotypes meant I learned to see race through her eyes.
I accepted her version of ‘white Grandma’ and ‘Brown Grandma’. Of Daddy who is like dark chocolate and me who is like vanilla. Her favourite of all, calling herself caramel.
It soon became normal in our house that shades of brown were an accepted description of most people we knew. And it was only when the outside world invaded our wonderful bubble, that I was reminded the rest of the world doesn’t think like us.
Raising a biracial child: When things changed…
From about 4 years old, my daughter’s simplistic and innocent understanding of the world became permeated by the polluted understanding of adults. Adults who gushed over her ‘lighter shade’ skin colour, children who questioned why she should have a mother who wasn’t the same colour as her and books whose images suggested she could never be a princess.
It continued from there as she grew up, she began to understand that there weren’t many like her in places that we went or in the books that she read. Tiny moments in her classroom gave her a glimpse of knowing she wasn’t like all of her friends but neither was she like her cousins either, all of whom were either fully Nigerian or mostly white.
As her understanding became pitched in its desire for lighter skin, blonde straight hair and princess looks, I knew there were subtleties that we were missing.
As a mixed white/ Asian Mum, I’d grown up with an understanding of race but in the face of always being able to pass as white, I’d hardly felt like an outsider. I didn’t know what it was like to constantly pick up a book and see faces in there that didn’t look like me, or to peer into magazines or at television shows and wonder why my hair didn’t flow over my shoulders like Rapunzels. Sure, I always longed for blonde hair but this was bigger.
Books became political. Mediums for her to see herself, imagine herself as the character. Not as mixed but doing everyday things, climbing trees, going to school, and playing sports- these became her refuge to know that she wasn’t the only one. That there are others.
Raising a biracial child: Influencing her understanding…
Five years old and her interest piqued into social media. I’d already started my blog so my Instagram feed was filled with women teaching and talking about curly hair. #curlykweens #curlz #embraceyourcurls #melaninrocks #naturalhairstyle.
These were lifelines to a world that I could never introduce to my child. I am not the curvaceous, beautiful brown-skinned woman who rocks her afro curls and challenges the western world’s old-fashioned standards of beauty. Here were the everyday Beyonces and Jennifer Lopez’, Alicia Keys doing their thing and doing it with style and grace and beauty that I can only begin to hope for for my daughter.
As my daughter grows, her view of the world is becoming more complex. She is noticing body image, style, social norms and cultural queues. While at a concert featuring a young black r & b singer the other night, a mixed black British woman who lived in her body, who moved and swayed in a way that showed she was, in all ways comfortable with who she is, I wondered if my daughter will ever grow to embrace that about herself. And if she doesn’t get it from me, who will she get it from?
What I wish for my daughters…
The other day, I suddenly had this vision of my daughter as a grown mixed race black woman standing in an office, commanding a team of white men. That image stuck with me because I want her to know absolutely who she is, not just as the daughter of white/ black/ Asian parents but as a Black woman who can (and should) be able to tap into a confidence and self-assurance that perhaps only another black woman can give her.
I envy the kids who go to those All-American black colleges. For many, they’re perhaps seen as discriminatory, as havens for teaching an us-and-them culture. But, for so many other young black kids who’ve grown up in predominantly white culture, I can imagine the breath of fresh air that a child might take when exposed to such a world. Of course, my imagination has idealised this experience but it’s where I think of my daughter discovering a whole part of herself that she never knew or realised she was part of.
How I’m preparing them…
I’m doing my best. I teach my daughter maths, and English and sports. And I will certainly talk to her about sex and men and friendships. I do what I can to teach her about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the Beyonces of the world. But who will show her what it means to be a black woman, I wonder. How to hold her head high in the face of subtle racism, to stand up for her brethren when she knows something is unjust, to dance and to strut her curves and afro hair in a way that shows she knows who she is and where she came from.
She will always be half me. Half Iranian, half English and just a normal girl growing up in a mixed family. But my hope is that she learns and embraces more of her Nigerian/ black side. That she understands where she came from and who she can be.
I will lay the groundwork and the rest is up to destiny.