Tag Archives: mixed race families

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…

Dolls

The Christmas cards are now officially in the shops, and so too are the Christmas biscuits. It is time for me to start thinking about Christmas presents. I know some people do it all the January before but I can’t think that far ahead. Seen as my daughter’s birthday is very close to Christmas, I do have to be quite prepared!

Lately, my daughter has taken a real interest in baby dolls when we go to stay and plays at our local children’s centre. She loves to pick them up and wheel them around in prams. Whenever we are out and about, she will shout ‘baby!’ as soon as she sees a baby in the street or in a shop.

So, when it came to choosing gifts, it was a no-brainer that I should get her a doll. Our local children’s centre has a number of both plastic and fabric dolls in a range of skin tones. My daughter just picks up whichever is nearest, so I know that for her, she wouldn’t care if the baby had purple skin. But I do care. I want her to see, play with, love and nurture dolls that look like her; for me it is something very simple but such an integral part of her self esteem.

I am happy to report that finding an appropriate doll for a mixed race daughter was a fairly pain free experience! I didn’t expect to walk through the door of a toy shop and be greeted by rows of baby dolls in every shade of skin tone imaginable. But I was very pleasantly surprised to see that stores as mainstream as Tesco and Argos have Black dolls. There are also a huge amount of smaller independent retailer that specialise in ethnic dolls, even down to making different hair textures and appropriate clothing. In Birmingham, there is a great company called Ana Isarts that create soft dolls in a range of skin shades, hair and clothing – each doll is hand made and customised to you or your child’s requirements.

That said, there are obviously numerous high street toy stores that do not appear to acknowledge that children may want dolls in any shade other than Caucasian. The toy industry has a long, long way to go. When it comes to finding action figures, books, characters on children’s clothing, it is nowhere near representative of the country we live in.

I do know though, that one little girl will be very happy with her doll and one Mummy will be very happy with her purchase because as every parent knows, when they are happy… you are happy!

Turning a negative into a positive picture

A few weeks ago, I was browsing through my Twitter feed when I clicked onto a video link. After watching the video, I started scrolling through and reading the comments underneath. I’m not entirely sure why I decided to do that, as most of the time, reading comments is a sure fire way to raise my blood pressure. Something about the anonymity of the internet really does bring out the worst in people.

However, this particular instance, I was totally unprepared for what I would read and just how much it would upset me. Underneath the music video, the comments had turned into a discussion about inter-racial relationships. Against my better judgement, I read on, only to find some very cruel comments about inter-racial relationships and mixed race children in Erdington, the very area of Birmingham that I live. I was so shocked and upset that people could be so cruel. The comments were very hurtful and offensive; immediately I felt outraged and an overwhelming sense of protection around my innocent baby daughter.

I have always been of the belief that getting upset and angry solves nothing. Much easier said than done, I know. But in this instance, I knew that the ignorant and cruel people that had made these vile comments would have given the matter no further thought, so for me it was futile wasting my energy on being upset. Instead I wanted to channel that into something positive. As the great Lauryn Hill said, ‘turn a negative into a positive picture’.

Which is really quite an apt quote. As I have decided to channel my energies and passion into organising a photography exhibition to celebrate mixed race families in the area. One of the things that I really value about the area of Erdington is that there is a real melting pot of different cultures. There is a large population of mixed race families and although this was something that was focused on by those cruel comments as a negative, for me this is something that I see as positive for my daughter.

I got in touch with a friend of mine that is a very keen and accomplished photographer. As a mother to three mixed race children herself, I knew that this was something she felt passionately about. Sure enough, she was thrilled to be involved and so we have set a date to hold a photography session, welcoming local mixed race families to take part. The photographs will then form part of an exhibition that will also include statistics about the mixed race population in the UK as well as celebrating famous mixed race Britons and their achievements. I also wanted to include some information about support available from organisations for mixed race families as well as books available from the library that might be particularly appropriate for mixed race families.

Setting a venue to hold the exhibition was a little more tricky. I initially approached the local town centre partnership. Although enthusiastic about the idea, after speaking to the council and the police, they advised that they thought that the exhibition may be too controversial and that they could not guarantee my safety. Was it really that controversial to celebrate families of mixed race?! Undeterred, I decided to approach the local library. I spoke to a wonderful lady who was really receptive about my plans. She was full of enthusiasm and offered to hold an exhibition there throughout the month of March, as well as suggesting local papers I could contact and proposing ways to encourage families to get involved.

If there is anyone that lives in Erdington and would like to be involved or to discuss the exhibition further with me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via email at jade@sisterukhana.com – I would really love to hear from you or have you on board! Look forward to hearing from you!