There has been a lot written about the royal wedding since it aired on over 30 million television sets across the globe. Most of it is positive- even dramatically praiseworthy. Meghan’s dress, her poise, Harry’s nervousness, Prince Charles walking Meghan down the aisle and of course, who could forget Rev Curry’s poignant yet dramatic address. The day was filled with elegance and style but perfectly choreographed to pay homage to both sets of cultures uniting as one.
I watched William and Kate’s wedding with interest seven years ago, having never watched the amazing performance the Royal machine puts on during one of these affairs.
And yet, this one stood out, not just because it incorporated the same pomp and performance that is behind all of the Royal Family events. But because of who it involved.
These six images below captivated my little ones’ faces.
WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM – MAY 19: Meghan Markle leaves St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle after her wedding with Prince Harry on May 19, 2018 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Brian Lawless – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
For the same cliche reasons that many black Americans and Brits have been going on about. Let it not be overstated. This was history in the making.
And representation matters. Meghan shook up an establishment that is centuries’ old where black faces are/were rarely seen. (“They were coming out of every stockroom the BBC could find!”- one of my family members joked.)
And to have so many front and centre- to see a ‘princess’ (and I say this knowing that she will not officially get the title) who is biracial and PROUD! marrying into such an old, white and stodgy establishment. Well, what an absolute mind blower.
I cried and laughed for the same reasons that most others did watching. But I also cried for my children- because IF this is how the Royal Family wish to go forward, they have made a statement of intention that is both progressive and welcome.
Our children will grow up knowing and seeing a woman part of the royal family who is a feminist, an ambassador for growing up mixed race, proud of her black roots and most of all, willing and able to push against even the most stubborn of barriers.
It was a day that will go down in the history books and one that I’m certain my three daughters won’t forget. When they looked at Meghan and commented, “she’s mixed like ME!”, I knew it was a moment to remember….
Next step is for Meghan to wear her curly hair natural!
Raising Mixed Race Kids: The Moment They Wake Up to Their Own Identity
We were running late. After 2.5 weeks off, it was back to school last week and back to getting 3 kids out the door- on time.
On day 1, I got overwhelmed, frustrated that I couldn’t find one of DD1’s take-home reading books. Costing a small fortune to replace, I shouted at her that she should take better care of them.
We got out the door but she refused to talk to me. I tried the usual cajoling and apologised for shouting but she refused to smile. Guessing she was overwhelmed by the roller coaster of emotion she was probably feeling over seeing her friends and teacher after so much time off, I left her.
We’d spent a lot of time together over the holiday including having my Mum over from Canada. I stopped though, weary of being late but feeling guilty because I knew I should have kept my cool. Leaning down I looked her in the eye and asked her what was wrong.
Then she said it. “I wish I had a Mama that looked like me”.
This year has been huge in my daughter’s life as she’s become more and more aware of both her own colour and that of people around her. We only talk about race and colour in a positive way, acknowledging the differences but recognising that people are all the same inside.
My heart dropped- sensitive to the hurt I might have caused her but devastated as well that she would think skin colour would mend her broken heart.
Where do you go next when your children realise they’re different?
I tried hard not to be heartbroken but I knew that I was completely unprepared for this this morning. I sighed with despair that she should have to feel this way, that this should be important and the meaning we attach to skin colour.
Slowly, we each took a turn to say what makes us mother and daughter. Not the colour of our skin. The fact that she has my mouth and my eyes and that she’s good at certain things and not so good at others. But most importantly, our love for each other. And how that will never change… Even when I’m shouting.
We arrived on time. And she’d forgotten about it when I raised it again after school. Flippantly, she said, “we already talked about this Mum”.
What made her feel this then… on that particular day, I’ll never know. Perhaps she had been feeling it all this time. The feeling that perhaps we don’t match or she doesn’t fit in… or that someone who looks like her might not shout?! All at the tender age of 5.
I imagine her older, walking beside me and feeling the same thing but perhaps more equipped to be able to dismiss this feeling of matching skin colour as unimportant because well… it just is.
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…”
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?”
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.
10 Things EVERY Parents Should Do When Raising Biracial or Mixed Race Kids
Take two parents, two entirely different cultures, traditions and perspectives and you get a family with some pretty tough discussions, strong opinions and choices ahead. We can’t do it all and we certainly won’t do it perfectly when it comes to our mixed race kids but there are some things we as parents need to prioritise when raising mixed kids of dual or multiple cultures.
Speak your language
If one of you speaks another language or originates from another country where English isn’t the first language, that means your mixed son or daughter could and should be bilingual. Even if you don’t speak it well, passing down any culture often goes hand in hand with language. Your mixed race kids may resent having to attend language school every Saturday now but they’ll thank you for it later on when they’re able to converse with friends and family from your native country.
2. Talk about your history
History can tell a thousand stories and telling your own history as well as that of your homeland will do wonders in opening up all sorts of discussions with your children. For us as a mixed race kids growing up with a Persian father, I learned fast that the Iranian Revolution marked a major historical upheaval and explains a lot about modern day Iran, its people, its diaspora and its politics. Pre-Revolutionary Iran and the ancient civilisations and dynasties also shed light on who and why Iranians are such a proud people. I don’t know if I would understand my Dad’s culture and origins if I didn’t have this perspective.
3. Emphasise both Cultures
Make sure you talk about both parent’s cultures to your children. So easy is it for parents to get caught in the trap of emphasising only the culture that is ‘exotic’ or foreign that the partner who hails from the country in which you reside or one that is more common, gets forgotten. Make sure both of your mixed race kids’ cultures and traditions are valued and explained and talk about it with each other to ensure you’re both on the same page.
4. Talk about race and racism
Even if you’ve never fell victim to racism, this is a must must discussion parents need to have with their children. Your children will have different experiences from you and they may have darker or lighter skin but either way they need to be able to talk about it and understand it even if you’re uncomfortable talking about it. (Read on for more about how to talk to your kids about racism)
5. Pass on your traditions
Traditions are so important in passing down one’s culture. You don’t need to do everything your parents did but highlighting the important ones, in discussion with your partner, will help your children again to understand where you come from and the parts of their culture which are important. In our family, we have chosen to continue the traditional Nigerian greeting but have chosen not to pierce our newborn daughters’ ears. We have made these choices consciously and with intention about what we wish our mixed race kids to take from Nigerian culture.
6. Mark your cultural festivals
With so many cultures to choose from, we’re never at a loss to have a reason to celebrate. From Canadian Halloween, to Nigerian Independence Day to Nowrooz (Iranian New Year) Festival, we seem to have it all covered. Each one gets as much attention as the next and we even try to ensure we can attend a community gathering to make it is as authentic as it was for us growing up with the real thing.
7. Demonstrate the importance of traditional greetings
Greetings are so important in today’s globalised world where countries, people and cultures emphasise different things in their greetings. In Nigeria, greeting an elder is a very formal affair involving a bow or a curtsy along with lowered eyes to show respect. In Persian culture, men and women typically kiss each other on the cheek three times to show affection and respect. It’s important that our mixed race kids understand how and why we greet each other in each setting so they can navigate their way around each cultural setting when they’re older.
8. Visit your home country with your children
Even if you’ve never been and you’re a third culture kid yourself, at least you had the benefit of being raised by parents who grew up there. Your children will need to see the real thing before they can understand your culture (and you) completely. The people, the cultural norms, complexities and weirdisms that make it up. Don’t let it become just a vacation spot either. Let your mixed race kids spend their summers there to know just how you grew up and how you actually lived.
9. Foster close relationships with your children’s Grandparents
Grandparents are so important to imbibing your culture in your kids. They carry with them all of the above- history, traditions, language. Developing that relationship and ensuring your mixed race kids get to know their grandparents will have a huge impact on them in years to come.
10. Give your children the freedom to adapt culture to who they are as third culture kids
Your mixed race kids are not you and their experience is going to be different from yours as children of an intercultural family. When they’re old enough, allow them to explore their culture for themselves and decide which parts they can identify with and which parts they don’t. This may change again when they have families of their own but it’s important that you let them be who they are and not decide for them even when they’re old enough to decide for themselves.
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 marriage. (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 in our interracial marriage 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 on interracial marriage 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.
“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: