Tag Archives: mixed heritage

A real honour

I am a big believer that everyone we come into contact with, we do so for a purpose. As the saying goes – some for a reason, some for a season. A few years back, I organised a community event. A woman from a local church came along and asked me if she could write up an article about the event in her church newsletter. I was very flattered and of course said yes. A year or so later, I met her again when she came to the local library to attend my mixed race exhibition. So I was really astounded when I received a phone call from her, asking me to speak at a Black History Month event.

There were numerous speakers lined up to share their knowledge and experiences at the event. I was so overwhelmed to have been asked to share my experiences of being part of a mixed race family. The lady in question has a niece who is mixed race whom she had asked to speak about her experiences growing up as a mixed race woman.

I was asked to speak for ten minutes and after sitting down and thinking about what I wanted to say I soon realised that I would need to heavily edit all that was buzzing around in my mind if I wanted to stay within my ten minute time frame.

Unfortunately, the day of the event clashed with a birthday party that my daughter had on the other side of town. And you know children and parties, you just cannot drag them away half way through a party… It meant that I turned up half way through the event. My daughter and I crept into the back and scanned the packed room looking to see if we could find a spare seat. Just as we edged our way to a seat, I heard the MC announce my name! I quickly had to put my bags down and asked my daughter to wait for me. She wasn’t having any of it though, and wanted to come up on stage with me. So up we rushed to the front together.

My daughter quietly stood listening to me as I started by discussing the mixed race exhibition that I held and what had prompted me to do this. I mentioned the kinds of reactions that I had received from other people, both good and bad. I also spoke about some of the situations that being part of a mixed race family had bought to my attention. Some of which I have discussed in this post, such as misrepresentation in dolls, books, greetings cards and of course – hair care! At this point, my daughter chipped in with ‘And I don’t like people touching my hair!’ The crowd erupted with laughter and I couldn’t have been more proud.

Proud that she had the confidence to speak in front of a huge crowd of adults. Proud that she could is a girl that will stand up for herself if she doesn’t like something or feel comfortable with something. Proud that she knows that she has the right to exert her own opinion.

We finished the talk soon afterwards and went to join the rest of our table. What we didn’t realise is that just before we had come on stage, the lady’s niece had been talking about her experiences of growing up mixed race. One thing that she had particularly commented on was that as a child she hated people touching her hair  and especially without asking first.

It was a fabulous evening and we were inundated with people coming up to tell us  about their experiences of being part of a mixed race family and how much they enjoyed being part of a multicultural city. And of course the majority of the praise was reserved for my daughter who definitely stole the show as well as everyone’s hearts. It was a wonderful atmosphere, with people from all backgrounds celebrating the diversity in our little pocket of Birmingham; I knew then that this small minded comment from an ignorant person which had prompted the exhibition, had only made us stronger and more cohesive.

 

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Awareness

I wondered how long it would take before my daughter realised that there are so many differences in the way that we look. When I say ‘we’ I mean not only us as a human race but also the differences between the two of us. Well, its started to happen, or at least, she has started to vocalise it.

A few months back, I noticed that she would talk about people who looked similar to her. Particularly other children that had hair of a similar texture to her. She commented that a friend’s child had ‘beautiful hair, just like me’ and also told me that she loved her friend at dancing because she’s got ‘hair like me’. I could see that she had started to notice these subtle differences in hair colour and texture but was really encouraged that she was speaking so positively about her features.

Then slightly more alarmingly, she told me that she had hair like another boy at nursery. True, they both have afros….that’s not the alarming bit. Then she said that the boy in question had ‘too much hair, like me’. Now,  I have never, ever told her that she has too much hair and neither has anyone else in my ear shot. As readers of the blog will be aware, I am extremely careful to instill in my daughter a positive relationship with her hair. I can only assume that it came from nursery – I am hoping a child rather than staff member. I guess it is naive to think that your child will never receive any negative comments about their appearance but its our job as parents to counteract those comments and give our children the confidence to ensure that they have a robust enough ego to let these comments bounce off them.

The next indication that my daughter realised that she differs in appearance to myself and other family members wasn’t said to me but my Mum. My Mum was getting dressed with my daughter watching when she told her ‘Grandma, you’re yellow like Mummy, I’m black’. I think my Mum was quite taken aback but I know she fully understands importance of my daughter loving her skin and so she told her what a beautiful colour her skin is. The conversation then moved on, as two year olds do….

Over the next few weeks, there were several occasions where she would mention different friends of hers and their skin colour in relation to hers. It was like she’d just realised that skin comes in different shades and tones and she wanted to relate to it constantly.

All of these comments were made in a very matter of fact fashion (as only a two year old can!), with no hint of unease or discontent. Just today when I collected her from nursery she asked me why I had straight her like her friend at nursery. She was perfectly satisfied to hear that some people have straight hair and some have curly hair but either way it’s still beautiful.

I had initially been comforted by the fact that she has a number of friends with similar hair texture and skin tone to which she can relate. It did lead me to wonder whether she would have been quite so blasé about it had she not found others to identify with. However, at this stage, I really do suspect that she’s too young for this level of scrutiny and as kids do, would just accept the status quo even had she found no one else with similar hair and skin.

At present it’s gone no further than a general awareness but I’m sure that further questioning and possibly discontent will follow…

‘Brown Camps’ – are they really necessary?

Link to the radio 4 programme

It was quite fitting that a few hours after posting my first blog entry, I read about a recently aired radio 4 article dealing the very subject of my blog. The programme entitled ‘The Brown Camp’ visited a summer camp in Devon that is aimed at mixed-race families. For me, it was really interesting and actually very poignant that there is a ‘market’ if you can call it that, specifically for lone parents of mixed race children like myself. It was comforting to know that there are others out there who have obviously felt that crushing responsibility of educating a child about a culture and race that is not your own.

Before listening to the programme, I will admit to feeling sceptical about the idea. I couldn’t help but feel that going to a camp is a slightly extreme reaction. For me, being a single mother to a mixed race child is something that informs my daily lifestyle and decisions. The food that we eat, the topics I talk about to my daughter, the people we associate with, the events that we attend. I certainly don’t think that being aware of and understanding a child’s mixed race identity is something that you can do once a year in the summer holidays, go back to your ‘normal’ life and forget all about it for another year. To me, undertaking lone parenthood of a mixed race child means integrating those issues into as many aspects of your life as possible.

However, upon listening to the programme and those interviewed, I found that I may have been a little too quick to judge. I realised that I may have missed the point of these camps. What I heard, overwhelmingly, was that the children attending felt a real sense of belonging through socialising with similar children that they could identify with and potentially form lasting friendships with. Surely there is nothing more important than that; that children who may otherwise feel different and isolated can feel normal, can have fun and feel confident and self-assured in their identity. For the parents too, many spoke of their own relief at meeting other parents in a similar situation. After all, I reflected, isn’t that what I am attempting to do in writing this blog. To connect with others in a similar situation. For many of the children and parents who were interviewed for the programme, that sense of belonging was often very absent in their normal lives as many lived in rural communities without the diverse populations of larger cities.

One thing that the programme lacked was information about the content of the camps. My initial scepticism about the camp being an annual ‘dip’ into mixed race identity may be misplaced, as I would imagine the camps are an opportunity to awaken parents’ consciousness about these issues so that they can incorporate them into their everyday parenting. But these issues and the long term impact of these camps was sadly missing from the article.

Whilst I am very interested in the idea of the camps I am pretty certainly you wouldn’t catch me there. Firstly because I don’t ‘do’ camping; I am much too used to my comfy bed and mod cons to sleep under canvas in a muddy field. Aside from my practical, city-girl gripes however, a camp of this nature isn’t something that I feel my daughter and I need. And I know that we are fortunate in that respect.

Living in Birmingham, I know that my daughter will be surrounded by children of a hugely diverse range of ethnicities, including many mixed race children. Already we have a number of mixed race children in our social circle through our family and friends and even those that we have met recently through local stay and play sessions. So although it doesn’t take away any of the responsibilities that I have, I can at least appreciate that living in such a cultural melting pot, my daughter will not feel that there is no one that looks like her in her nursery, her school, at church or at a family party – unlike some of the stories discussed in the programme.  I do feel very grateful that I do live in such a wonderfully diverse city.

Despite what I think about its appropriateness to my situation, I think  it is wonderful that there are people doing something positive to address this situation. If these camps contribute to the next generation of mixed race individuals to feel secure, confident and valued, then long may they continue.