Tag Archives: mixed race

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…

A beautiful introduction to differences in families

As a child, I loved reading and so I am really happy that my daughter seems to be taking a real interest in books and reading. As readers of this blog may know, I am always looking for books and toys that represent my daughter and our family.
Whilst looking for a book for my nephew, I stumbled across a gorgeous book called The Family Book by Todd Parr. It’s bright and colourful and very simply talks about the differences and similarities in all our families. A snippet of the pages include ‘some families have two moms or two dads’, ‘some families have one parent instead of two’, ‘all families like to celebrate special days together’. There are pages that address issues such as adoption, different skin colours and long distance family. It ends quite simply yet beautifully with ‘there are lots of different ways to be a family. Your family is special no matter what kind it is’.
I am looking forward to reading this with my daughter. It is a gorgeous introduction to exploring the differences in families, as I am sure this is something she will start to have a greater awareness of in the not too distant future.
This is just a short post, but with the festive period approaching, this would make such a lovely stocking filler and I wanted to share it with you.

Hair success!

I have made a couple of posts dedicated to the issue of hair and felt like an update was well overdue.
I am pleased to say that at the moment, I feel like I have cracked it! I have been sticking to washing my daughter’s hair only when it needs it (usually every 2 to 3 weeks is the longest we go without her stuffing play dough, custard or jam into her hair) and combing, or trying to comb, daily; then adding coconut oil.
I have been quietly happy with her hair myself for a while now. I can’t say she shares my enthusiasm for the daily routine, as I still have to do a lot of walking behind her hunched over whilst trying to comb, whilst she tries desperately to get on with playing with her toys or sometimes has full blown screaming fits. I have found Peppa Pig works well to hold her attention, but as soon as I hit a snag, that’s it, she’s off!
In the last month, however, I have had a couple of comments from people about how good her hair looks. Last week, I was at a stay and play session and was talking to the nanny of one of my daughter’s friends. She commented on how good her hair looked and asked what products I used; she told me ‘whatever you are doing, keep doing, as it looks great’. The little girl that she is nanny to is mixed race, so I know that she understood that you can’t just treat it as European hair! Later that day, my friend who has two mixed race children also asked me what I had done with her hair, as it looks so healthy. It was a real affirmation that all that hard work had paid off and we were finally getting somewhere!
On the matter of hair, I caught the Chris Rock film ‘Good Hair’ on iPlayer last week. I wouldn’t recommend it for getting any tips on managing hair, but it is certainly a very interesting documentary as it explores the relationships between Black women and hair, the politics of natural hair, straightening, use of human hair and weaves. For anyone with a mixed race child with Black heritage, it is worth a look. For me it reiterated the need to ensure that our daughters love and embrace their natural hair and are not swayed by the fashion and cosmetic industry’s standards of ‘beauty’.

Let’s celebrate!

Births, marriages, birthdays, new houses, exams… They are all important landmarks in our lives. A time when we come together to share, celebrate, commiserate… And send greetings cards! Whilst I love email, you really can’t beat an old fashioned letter or card and I always save my special cards. I know it seems silly (blame my Grandma for my hoarding nature), but although I do it very seldom, I do love looking back at old cards and reminiscing.
I have struggled for some time now with finding greetings cards that represent our multicultural circle of family and friends. The celebrations that I most struggle with are births, weddings and birthdays. Since having my daughter, there are even more events not covered by traditional card shops, as I haven’t been able to find a Mother’s Day card that represents our family.
Good luck, new home and adult birthday cards are typically quite easy – they usually feature generic pictures of a four leaf clover, a new house or shoes / handbag / cocktail glass / pint glass. When shopping for a card for a new born baby, I am usually left browsing rows of cute pink faced cherubs. I always found myself plucking for the generic teddy bear or picture of a crib. For birthdays, I am faced with rows of blonde haired princesses and white boys flying a kite or a riding a skateboard, and so end up picking a jungle or a character card. Call me pedantic, but I always had issue with the fact that shops didn’t cater for the melting pot community we live in and I refused to buy the pink faced pictures for a child that looked nothing like that.
Things have come some way over the years. Some of the larger mainstream stores such as Clinton Cards now feature an ‘ethnic’ range, so it is possible to buy something from the high street. But they are by far the minority. Supermarkets, which usually have a wide range of reasonably priced cards, have a very long way to go. Most other high street stores such as Next, Marks & Spencers and the popular discount card outlet Card Factory, do not feature any cards representing multicultural Britain, although do have a good range of generic cards.
Like most shopping dilemnas, when I couldn’t find what I wanted on the high street, I went online. I am pleased to report that there are a number of different online outlets for multicultural cards. Colorblind Cards have a large range of cards for many occasions and have now expanded into gifts. I have also recently discovered Chilli Melon cards who both sell personalised cards where you can add you own photo and text, much like the popular Funky Pigeon or Moonpig.
It’s sad that a lot of the mainstream stores have been so slow to catch on and that the majority of cards need to be purchased online, which does always require a certain amount of planning! However, it is great to see that the world of greetings cards is slowly changing to reflect the changing face of our communities.

Exhibition – alive and kicking!

So, the Mixed Race Families exhibition is now up and I am so thrilled to say that it has attracted a lot of attention – and positive attention at that!

From the moment that I put up the exhibition, people in the library were coming to ask me about what I was exhibiting and commenting on all of the beautiful photographs. One of the library workers came up to shake me by the hand to congratulate me on such a good job.

Since then, I have been in to the library on a number of occasions and the library staff have told me that they have had a lot of interest in the exhibition as many people visiting the library are taking the time to take it in. So much so that I decided to put in a comments box so that people could leave their thoughts about the exhibition.

Last week, I got a really special invitation. I was invited to the National Council of Women Birmingham branch’s annual lunch. I was asked by the President to speak about the exhibition alongside the Lady Mayoress of Birmingham. Well, she didn’t need to ask me twice!! I had a wonderful day, including an amazing three course meal! I am not normally keen on public speaking, its something that doesn’t come naturally to me. Especially following the Lady Mayoress, who spoke so well and so easily, I did wonder if the President would regret asking me! But as soon as I stood up and addressed the ladies in the room, I just started talking from the heart about what I had done and all my nerves evaporated and my passion took over.

After speaking to the room, a number of ladies came to me to tell me that they had mixed race children or grandchildren and that they were really excited about the exhibition.
As well as speaking at the lunch, I have been interviewed on two local radio stations and featured in a local paper. It has been really encouraging to have such positive feedback. The radio presenter actually said that the one comment he would make would be that I should include a wider area and do it again to include the whole of Birmingham. We will see…

The exhibition will continue to run until 5 April – so if you are around the Birmingham area, please do come down to have a look at the Celebrating Mixed Race Families exhibition Erdington library. For those of you unable to come along, I have included a couple of photos.

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Pulling out my hair…..

I think its fair to say that one of the biggest subjects for parents of mixed race children is hair. Practically from the moment that you announce your pregnancy, people are already speculating on how their hair will turn out. It seems to be a constant source of fascination and scrutiny from conception right the way through til…. well, forever, I guess.

knew that there was little point in thinking too deeply about it, as I know from experience of other family members that even siblings can have very different hair types. To be honest, it just wasn’t one of the most pressing matters on my mind whilst pregnant. Even up until recently, I have been really quite laid back about the whole thing.

My daughter’s hair has certainly changed over the 14 months of her life – which to be honest has only heightened the scrutiny of others. When she was born with straight hair, friends and family were flabbergasted – how can she be born with straight hair? do you think it will change? do you think it will be afro hair? do you think it will be curly? oohh it might be like *insert name of famous person with curly hair*. And those are just the comments; some can’t resist a touch!

Over the past few months, she has gradually got more and more hair and as it has grown longer it has grown into adorable spiral curls. As my daughter suffers from eczema, her bath water is very oily due to the products I add to soothe her skin. As such, I have never actually washed her hair – simply wet it with the oily water at the end of her bath. It seems to do the trick as it springs back into gorgeous curls.

However, recently, this hasn’t quite worked. For a start off, the longer sections on the top of her head have started to get knotted up, which attracts fluff and starts to look as if its forming a lock. I was given a baby brush by colleagues when I left work on maternity leave, but using that would just turn it into a huge ball of fluff; what sort of brush or comb do I need? In addition to this, the hair at the back of her hair has started to get really fluffy, especially at the end of the day. I have no idea how to deal with this and have started to feel like I am a bit out of my depth!! 

I know how important hair is to girls and women; for me I know its a huge link to our self esteem, so I want to get this right. I started to look online to see if there were any pearls of wisdom and I asked a couple of friends with mixed race children to see what they have done. The general consensus seems to be that there is no magic answer, that you have to find what works for your child’s hair. So… let the experimenting begin!

What I do know is that I want to keep things as natural as possible – after all, she is still so young. I have started off with trying almond oil. After doing a skin test to check for any reactions, I have been putting this in her hair for the last two days and have stopped putting water through her hair at the end of her bath as I have heard that this dries out the hair. Lets see how it goes…