Tag Archives: diversity

Talking 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 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). 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? 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, 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 her experience will be different than mine. All I can do is prepare her as best I can.


 

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:

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.

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 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.

The best of both worlds

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

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.

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.

An Inherent Globalised World View

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

Unique (Standing out)

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 is interesting because it breaks 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….

Diversity in the Classroom: Why We Need to Go Deeper

It’s become popular and, indeed, a must in most primary schools and nurseries worldwide to have some sort of diversity woven into the curriculum. From black dolls to books featuring kids in wheelchairs, you shouldn’t have to look too far to find diversity in the classroom.

My daughter has now entered primary school in inner city London- a much more ‘diverse’ school in terms of its student population. And yet, sometimes I feel their nod to diversity is just a box-ticking exercise. When it came to a superhero theme in her first year, visiting ‘heroes’ from the community including a local policeman, a vicar and a doctor were all white and male. Really? I thought. When asked about it, my daughter said “I’m not a superhero, that’s for boys”.

When it comes to teaching, perhaps the odd nod in the direction of diversity in the classroom is sufficient but if we’re talking about understanding and making a difference… we need more. Because we are a multicultural family living in a diverse society, valuing and understanding difference is not only part of our being. It is essential.

But just because we as a family wear our diversity on our sleeve, why shouldn’t other families understand it in the same way? Children should know that difference is not bad… it is interesting and it is worth learning about…

This piece was first published on Multicultural Kid Blogs website. Read the full post here….

Is Interracial Marriage Unfair for our Children?

Is interracial marriage unfair for the children?

Appearing on the radio last week to talk about mixed race issues, I realised the most topical question people wanted to discuss is actually the intersection of culture in an interracial relationship. (And just to clarify, being mixed race and multicultural do not necessarily go hand in hand).

In my case, they do. My husband is from Nigeria. I am half-English, half Iranian and I grew up in Canada. So cultural differences play a big part. As does race.

Jenny, the host of BBC’s Women’s Hour host last week asked a number of questions about how my husband and I work out cultural clashes and how our multiple backgrounds may cause confusion in our children.

A minority of internet trolls caught onto this and criticised our choice to ‘interbreed’ as they put it and put our children unhelpfully into a perpetual state of confusion.

It made me think. Is this true? While I didn’t want to give any troll the value of my consideration, I did wonder:

Are we doing a disservice to our children by marrying outside of our culture or race? 

Indeed, there were definitely times growing up where I was confused being half Persian and half English. The question, “where are you from?” often caught me off guard. And other times where, appearing at an Iranian gathering, I longed to speak the language better, to ‘look’ more Persian and to legitimately say, yes I am Iranian. But I always felt unsure or not ‘legit’ enough- whatever that meant.

On the other hand, laying claim to solely my Canadian identity also felt an uneasy relationship, as if I was ignoring the parts of me that were Iranian and mixed and which I knew made me ‘different’ somehow.

How is it Different Today than When We Were Growing Up?

Today being mixed represents a plethora of experiences. When Tiger Woods spoke out in the late 90’s calling himself “Cablinasian”, the world took notice. Referring to his “mix of half Asian (Chinese and Thai), one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American and one-eighth Dutch, he’d adopted the term as a way of honouring his mother Kultida (of Thai, Chinese and Dutch ancestry) as well as respecting all aspects of his cultural and racial heritage.”

Since then, dozens of celebrities have spoken out about their experiences being mixed including actress Meghan Markle, recently featured in ElleUk talking about her identity as a biracial woman and currently dating Prince Harry. Although her mixed race background has, even in this day and age, caused ripples in the aristocratic ‘white’ circles that define the British class system, it’s not made enough headlines to deter Prince Harry from his new romance.

Today, being mixed race or multicultural represents so much more than it did back in my day. Back in the 80’s, people didn’t talk about being mixed. You were either black or white, Canadian or ‘other’. Today, while being mixed can also still be confusing, it also means one person’s own experience can embody the essence of globalisation- diversity, diplomacy, multiculturalism, immigration, tolerance and equity.

My husband and I teach our children about all of their experiences, backgrounds and histories. We celebrate a multitude of festivals- including ones that are not our own- and practice traditions that draw from the best of our childhoods. It means our children are confident about who they are and where they come from. When they perform a traditional greeting for their grandparents just before tucking into Iranian rice and stew, I know we’ve done ok. They are not ‘confused’ but instead proud that they can call many different countries ‘home’.

We’ve Come a Long Way from the Old School Way of Thinking

So, ‘interbreeding’- as my friends the internet trolls accused my husband and I- yes, admittedly may not be as easy as marrying the next Dick who grew up next door. But today it represents so much more. We’ve come a long way from the old school thinking that one must marry within their race. Experience and exposure has done a lot to help that along. Sure, there are challenges but I’m happy in the knowledge that my children are not confused, but ‘enriched’.

Have we done them a disservice? No, rather I would think they will grow up confident and openminded.  And perhaps by the time they do, this question will not even be worth considering.



WHEN IT’S YOUR KID ASKING THE EMBARRASSING QUESTIONS: TEACHING DIVERSITY IN ALL ITS FORMS

The other day, I watched my daughter walk over to another mum and ask her why she was a different skin colour to her daughter.

Perhaps that isn’t such a big deal to other parents but to me, I am often on the receiving end of such questions and resent it every time. So how could my own daughter of mixed race parents be so unforgiving?

I live in this smug world where I assumed that because I talk to my daughter about diversity and about mixed families, because she lives this reality everyday, because of who she is and her understanding that families come in all different shapes, colours and sizes, she would know, instinctively that mothers and daughters can have different skin colour and still be family.

While all of this is true, what I failed to realise is that her understanding is limited. She knows what makes up a mixed family, sure. But I don’t go out of my way to discuss other forms of diversity. Families with two dads, two mums, one mum or adoptive families. To her, a child of mixed parentage has lighter brown skin, not black like her Dad’s. Her logic was correct. Because her understanding was limited.

To see my little girl ask the embarrassing race question. “Is she your daughter?”, to the mum who’d recently adopted interracially made me shrink into my seat.

It made me realise that even we, as mixed race parents, have work to do in educating our children about diversity. It’s not because we live in a brown/black world that our kids will instinctively understand and respect difference in all its forms. We can’t be surprised when our children grow up and are asking questions about gay marriage if we’ve failed to show them that this is another form of ‘normal’. Or if our kid shies away from their autistic schoolmate because they don’t understand disability.

Standing for tolerance and openness for one group and ignoring or preaching against another destroys the very principle we’re trying to teach. Interracial adoption is not too far a stretch for us but what about different religions, transgender, disability or same sex marriage?

How many of us can say we have actively searched for books featuring different faiths, disability or trans folk? I can admit I haven’t. I focused on what is ‘relevant’ for my child. But if I follow my own advice, discussions about adoption and children with two dads should be had at home, cuddled up to a good book so that surprise and critique don’t feature when we’re out.

Like anything, it takes more effort because it’s not our immediate reality. But just as much as I encourage my white friends to talk to their kids about race and difference, so should I practice what I preach and talk to my kids about diversity in all its forms.

If you’ve been inspired and want to find more books featuring diversity, visit the Letterbox Library. They feature a wide variety of books spanning important topics such as gender equality, fostering and adoption, LGBT, mental health and refugees. Importantly, Letterbox Library is a not-for-profit cooperative that features only inclusive and diverse books.