Growing up mixed race. There are 1.25 million people growing up in mixed race homes in the UK according to the 2011 census. 1.25 MILLION! This is the fastest growing ethnic group in the UK and not surprising given our wonderfully multicultural and modern society.
Given the tumultuous situation at the moment, particularly in the US where the current movement for Black Lives Matter is taking the headlines, racism is a hot topic and something which is rightfully being addressed. Racism is an irrefutable problem that many people suffer and struggle with on a daily basis. Standing up for and standing with people who are victims of racial inequality is a brilliant cause and something worthy of support.
Amongst this conversation, where does our mixed race community fit in? Do mixed race people have the same struggles? Are there any challenges associated with growing up in mixed race homes? How can we promote happy and healthy dialogues with our young about everything going on in the world today? What can we as parents do to fill them with pride and security about their race?
This conversation is a huge one. A conversation too large and too important to cover in one blog post. Instead, I hope to bring to light some of the potential challenges often discussed amongst some mixed race individuals and their families. I will also put forward a few basic ideas of how to help our little ones grow up mixed race – happy, healthy and secure.
- Where does the rise of identity politics leave people of mixed race?
- My Beautifully Mixed Family
- The Challenges Of Bringing Up Children In A Mixed Race Home
- How Can We Promote Happy And Healthy Dialogues With Our Mixed Race Youth?
Where does the rise of identity politics leave people growing up mixed race? BBC
Watching the video below by the BBC, massively opened my eyes to something I already knew, but was struggling to come to terms with as a Mamma to a mixed race little girl. Being mixed race, (particularly where the mix is black and white), can bring up a host of potential challenges for young people growing up in mixed race homes and this can follow them in to adulthood.
“It feels like I’m being forced by people to pick a side […] Mixed race people can often be very much overlooked and misunderstood […] You’re not really anything. Not really seen as black… not really seen as white.”
The words here like picking a “side”, “overlooked”, “misunderstood”, “you’re not really anything” filled me with a sense of sadness and overwhelming dread as I imagined the future experiences of my little girl growing up mixed race.
Questions are constantly raised amongst concerned parents:
- What impact does all of this have on our young?
- Why is it not discussed more openly?
- How can we fix the problem if it does exist?
“Multiracial youth and mixed families often experience unique types of discrimination and microaggressions. Among the multiple types, one is exclusion or isolation in which multiracial people are excluded due to their mixed status.”
At times, feeling displaced and unwanted from both communities, our mixed race children are either not “black” enough or not “white” enough to fit in with either group. In some cases, they are viewed and presented by society as black and thus may experience similar trials and tribulations to the black community.
My beautifully mixed family
I know first-hand that this experience is not exclusive to the depiction from the BBC’s reporter. In fact, many of the conversations had amongst friends and family of mixed race children are about the experiences and concerns they have for their loved ones.
It has certainly been a hot topic in our home. My husband, Alex (half Jamaican and half Maltese) agreed to share a snippet of his experience growing up as a mixed race boy in London. His account opened my eyes to the realities for many (not all) young people growing up in mixed race homes.
“When you’re a child you don’t really see yourself as black, white or something in between. There is no race – at least there wasn’t for me as a young boy. You’re just a boy or a girl. The only thing that draws attention to your race, are the people around you. Your whole outlook and perception of yourself is created by how others see you; how they describe you and the expectations they put on you.
For me, the only side that spoke about my colour was my dad’s side (the black side). There was a clear division from the start, the two sides didn’t mix and I was expected to pick a side – the side they massively encouraged was the black.
As a result of some of the conversations had around me, I never felt quite black enough… I didn’t fit in with cousins who were fully black… didn’t listen to the same music… didn’t dress the same… have the same role models… and as a result always felt different – ‘other’.
If my own family couldn’t accept me as mixed, how would the rest of society? While in Jamaica I was called ‘red man’ because of my light skin, yet in the UK I wasn’t seen as white at all… where did I stand? Not black, not white, yet at the time people didn’t really accept the mix.
Being naturally rebellious, I didn’t pick a side – I was me. Not a colour.”
Why should growing up mixed race be such a problem?
Hearing Alex’s account of growing up seemed to echo the exact same emotions described by the other accounts I’d read and other mixed race people I’d spoken to.
Is this my little girl’s future? Despite our efforts, would she feel overlooked, segregated, dismissed because of the colour of her skin or texture of her hair? Not completely black. Not completely white. Potentially not fully accepted by either community.
Why should growing up in a mixed race home be such a problem? What exactly are the challenges we may face and how can we strive to fix them?
The challenges of bringing up children in a mixed race home
This is not an exhaustive list of potential challenges! Of course, everyone’s experiences are different and in no way am I trying to outline the ‘mixed race experience’ – that simply doesn’t exist and is far too big a topic to cover in one blog post. Rather, a brief outline of a few of the main concerns I’ve heard and discussed with a number of mixed race families.
1) Neither black nor white
Matthew Ryder (the previous Deputy Mayor of London, leading on social integration, social mobility and community engagement) stated: “White” was an exclusive club to which someone like me [a mixed race man] did not belong. I was more likely to hear “half-caste” on the school playground than “nigger”, and occasionally it was other black people, as well as white people, who made me feel like an outsider. But there seemed little doubt that society viewed me as black.”
Feeling lost, excluded and judged seems to be common amongst these mixed race voices and paints a sad picture. “If you’re not white you’re black” – A common phrase uttered amongst ignorant people when referring to race. According to Ryder, in the article above, “there seemed little doubt that society viewed me as black.”
Often mixed race people are described by others as black and thus their white side is negated. Former President Obama, for example, was quickly labelled the first black President – he wasn’t. He’s the first mixed race one! But why is this distinction needed? Why would I consider it a problem? After all, there is nothing wrong with being black.
The issue comes when people are described by others and thus forced in to a racial group they don’t feel they wholly belong to. By doing this, half of themselves is being ignored and they are forced to adhere to the social norms and expectations of one group over another.
2) White privilege
White privilege is described as “people with white skin having advantages in society that other people do not have”. Of course, in many places around the world, white privilege is irrefutable and a topic that is rightly generating a lot of attention. My question though is this: if not had properly, what impact does this discussion have on our young mixed race and black children?
By stating that white people automatically have privilege because of their race, what are our young black and mixed race children actually hearing? They are not privileged? They are disadvantaged? They are deprived because of their race and thus will either be less likely to succeed or have to work twice as hard as their white friends and colleagues?
The answers to the above questions are most likely going to be hugely varying depending on where in the world your little one is growing up; their education; home life; economic stability and feelings of empowerment learnt from home.
If a young black or mixed race person hears the term “white privilege” without a proper discussion about what this means, what are they internalising? If you do not have white privilege, the implications are that you are born disadvantaged… you are lesser… your future is defined by the way you look and this future looks undeniably bleak.
How can we change the narrative around this so that it becomes less a source of shame for the young white community (who in America are being asked to take a knee) and more a source of empowerment for our young black community? Growing up mixed race should never be a source of shame, but rather one of pride and confidence.
3) Self-fulfilling prophecy
First let’s define it – “A self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief or expectation that an individual holds about a future event that manifests because the individual holds it (Good Therapy, 2015) – In most cases, these negative cycles start with deep-seated negative […] beliefs, ideas, or expectations […] Such firmly entrenched negative beliefs are usually the product of upbringing and previous experiences […]”
Any form of self-fulfilling prophecy has the potential to be very damaging. When these are related to negative associations to race this can be even worse. A child who hears others discuss their race as something inferior or lacking in privilege may internalise this negativity and thus a self-fulfilling prophecy form.
Not only could our young black / mixed race children see themselves as inferior, but the white young children feel a sense of guilt for being white, for being born with this privilege that they had no control over.
4) Black and white don’t mix
“55% been the butt of jokes / slurs […] Black children I remember being very hostile to me. Saying I sound white, I look white. I remember feeling very isolated. Very alone […] 1 in 5 feel pressure to identify to one ethnic group”.
Quotes from this video exemplify exactly how some mixed race children feel while growing up. In some families there is a clear divide between the two family groups. For example, family events may not be mixed – a mixed race child might have a birthday party with the white side of the family and then another birthday party with the black side. We might think, fantastic! Kid gets two parties! But what is this teaching them? There is a clear distinction and often a pressure for the little one to be more like one than the other.
How can we promote happy and healthy dialogues with our mixed race youth?
We’ve looked at depictions of a few of the potential challenges faced by young mixed race people. How can we move forward from this to a better and more inclusive future? A future where they can grow up to feel happy in their skin, healthy in their minds and secure within themselves.
1) Celebrate both races / cultures
There is so much positive in both black and white cultures. Embrace them for your child and teach them about the similarities and connections that both have. Make this exploration and celebration the norm for your family – not just during black history month, or when it is a hot topic in the news.
- Take trips to museums to learn about the history
- Learn about different writers and inspirational figures from both races
- Discuss and celebrate different cultural events
- Cook a range of cultural foods
- Listen to cultural music
Ultimately, teach your child about all the positives that their bi-racial status offers them. Growing up mixed race means they are the best of both worlds and have the potential to achieve great things just like everybody else.
2) Create a space for both black and white family members to mix
Not all families will get on – regardless of their race (trust me – I know!) For mixed race children though it is especially important to show that the two sides of the family are ‘one’. Having occasions where the two mix, share and build positive experiences, relationships and memories will demonstrate that there does not need to be a divide.
Regardless of the colour of a person’s skin, family customs or favourite music, the family has one very important thing in common – the little mixed race child.
The family support each other and put no pressure on the child to feel more part of the one group than the other. Instead, the family comes together and celebrates their differences and similarities, thus creating a unified unit of love and support for the child.
Creating this unity within families will model healthy and unified relationships and allow your little one to see that although they are half of each race – the two compliment and complete each other.
3) Surround yourself with positive black and white role models
There are so many positive role models in the public eye. Both white, black and mixed race men and women who are strong, charitable, hard working and fantastic role models. Surround your child with these figures and talk about their impact on the world, society and you. This is also a fantastic opportunity for your child to consider who their role models are… who do they aspire to be like? What are their qualities and what can we learn from them?
As your child gets older, remember to discuss stereotypes and the way that the media may portray different races; illustrate to them that these are often grossly exaggerated or entirely based on an agenda that they do not have to adhere to.
4) Openly discuss BLM and white privilege - the experience won't be the same for everyone
The discussions around BLM and white privilege are happening now. This can be such a confusing time for all children, but especially for our young mixed race ones. Where do they fit in this discussion and what conversations are they hearing?
Children build up a sense of their own identity based on the way others talk to them and about them. So be open about these discussions, talk about the facts and help your little ones feel confident to discuss how they’re feeling. Give your child the space (whether it be through art, their words, drama or even music) to show how the current climate makes them feel about themselves.
By giving your child the platform to share their thoughts and feelings on what they are hearing, they are a lot less likely to internalize any negativity that they may be feeling.
Now is the time to empower our children. Whether black, white or somewhere in between… now is the time they are being shaped in to the young people they will become.
Teach them self-love and acceptance. Teach them to have respect and pride in themselves and others. Most importantly, teach them that regardless of the colour of the skin or texture of their hair, they have the potential to succeed and be brilliant. Whether it be as a hairdresser, an entertainer, a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a Prime Minister, an entrepreneur, or anything else they set their mind to – they can do it!
Growing up happy, healthy and secure is something that all children should experience. Happy in their skin, healthy in their minds and secure within themselves. Encourage your child to embrace all of themselves and watch them grow in to confident, caring, kind and open-minded young adults. No pressure! 😀
Thank you for taking the time to read this post on the challenges of growing up mixed race and do get in touch with any thoughts / suggestions for future topics. Have a look at our previous posts to find out how to save for your little one’s future.