WHY I’M TALKING TO MY TODDLER ABOUT THE COLOUR OF MY SKIN

MOTHERHOOD, MUST READ, THOUGHT-PROVOKING

Hats off to Nicole Emmet for getting this over to me at 39 weeks pregnant when her hormones must be sky high. Especially since writing about trying to navigate the complexities of raising her child (soon to be children!) in a way that both feel educated and empowered when it comes to their ethnicity, comes loaded with many unanswered questions and much personal anguish.

  • I always knew I wouldn’t shy away from conversations about my ethnicity with my son, Luke.

  • When he’s older I want to explain his Indian heritage to him, how his great-grandparents grew up in Goa, which was a Portuguese colony in India and then moved to Africa and how his grandparents grew up in Kenya and then came to the UK.

  • I will tell him that’s why his great-grandparents all had Portuguese names and that our families are Catholic.

  • On his Dad’s side he’s also got grandparents that are from Liverpool of Irish heritage.

  • Currently my sister, a couple of my cousins and I have English partners and did not marry someone Goan.

  • In my parents’ generation there are a few friends of the family that met their wives at church and so there some mixed Goan / Irish  / English families that I knew growing up but it wasn’t the norm.

  • My parents never pressured me to marry anyone Goan, although my mum may have mentioned it might be a good idea after I turned 30 and was still single!

  • They were very happy when I met my husband and could see how much we had in common, the fact that he was English wasn’t any issue.

  • My son looks wise definitely has my eyes and his perfect all year round tanned skin is a big clue that he has a brown parent.

  • As he’s grown my son is now a mix of both parents but when he was born, I did look at him and thought that he didn’t look like either his mum or dad, which didn’t exactly help the bonding process.

  • I didn’t expect to him to mention that mummy’s skin was a different colour from daddy’s skin until he was a bit older, say over three years old.

  • He actually brought it up at 2 years and 10 months.

  • Saying ‘Mummy your skin is like chocolate’ and then proceeded to try and bite my lower leg. Quite memorable!

  • After telling him not to bite, I asked him, ‘Is Daddy’s skin, like milky bar buttons?’

  • This got a cheeky smile and a ‘Yes’, from the boy.

  • Since then he’s commented on my skin colour again, a bit less favourably this time.

  • He saw me getting dressed and told me, ‘Mummy you’re muddy, poor mummy.’

  • So I had to explain to him that I’m not muddy, my skin is brown and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  • He’s actually made the muddy comment a couple of times now.

  • I’ve found this a bit unsettling.

  • Is he already thinking brown skin isn’t as nice or as clean as white skin?

  • Where has he got that idea from?

  • Around the same time he’s also noticed a man’s Afro hair, while we were on the train to London.

  • He acted surprised and said ‘That man’s got big hair.’

  • Cue another brief explanation that hair comes in lots of different colours and styles and not everybody looks the same as each other.

  • He getting to that age where he’s curious about everything and noticing differences.

  • I suppose the questions are just starting.

  • We don’t live in the mostly diverse town but he does see members of his extended family regularly, who are mostly a mixture of white and Indian.  

  • When he called my skin muddy, it did hit a nerve, since my sister and I did experience some racism growing up in Hertfordshire in the 1980’s.

  • Compared to some, nothing that bad happened to us but I still remember not understanding why some girls didn’t want to play with us in the school playground when all the other girls were included.

  • There were also couple of incidents of being called ‘Paki’ when walking down the street. I was around 11 or 12 when this happened, so still a child.

  • When he’s old enough I will tell him about it.

  • Just like my parents have told me what it was like for them and their friends, when they were living in London in the 1970s and skin- head gangs would start fights with them. When the police were called, the Indian lads were presumed to be the ones that were causing trouble.

  • I was shocked when I was told some of their friends used to carry hockey sticks when they went out at night for protection.

  • I’m hope that my son won’t ever experience anything like that but I want him to understand that some people do experience prejudice because of the colour of their skin / religion / sexuality / disability and it’s not right.

  • My husband mentioned that he didn’t think I needed to talk to our son about his skin colour.

  • I disagree, the fact that racism isn’t spoken about means that some people might assume it’s a problem of the past or that things have changed and the world is a different place now.

  • I feel like I need to prepare him, just in case he experiences prejudice in the future.

  • I don’t want him to feel inferior.

  • Racism is still happening all around us, while writing this there’s been another incident where black members of the England football team have had to put up with racist chants from foreign fans, during a Euro 2020 qualifier match against Montenegro.

  • Also an instance on the London Underground, where a young white man, swung from seat to seat making monkey noises, aiming this abuse at a young black man.

  • For any children that witnessed these things or saw them on the news, I wonder what they felt and whether they asked their parents to explain.

  • As a parent it’s one of the hard decisions to make, do we shelter our children from the news or the unkind things we do to each other?

  • Or do we talk about these incidents and make our kids aware that sometimes the world isn’t a very nice place or do we wait until our children ask us about incidents like this?

  • Some things have moved on and there have been recently TV ads, that highlight  what constitutes a hate crime, when name calling or threatening language is motivated by hostility or prejudice and based on the following things*:

    • disability

    • race

    • religion

    • transgender identity

    • sexual orientation

*The Police and Crown Prosecution definition of a hate crime from https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/law-and-courts/discrimination/hate-crime/what-are-hate-incidents-and-hate-crime/

  • One of the most surprising things that happened to me, occurred a day after I gave birth to Luke. I was still recovered in hospital, in London where I was living at the time and a health care assistant came in and started talking to me.

  • She was Indian, actually from India rather than British born Indian. She looked at my baby and then at me and asked me if he was my first.

  • She then looked at Luke again and said, ‘Weren’t your parents upset that you didn’t marry an Indian and have an Indian baby.’

  • I was pretty shocked and didn’t know what to say at first. I did tell her that, no my parents think my husband is lovely and they are very happy to have another grandchild.

  • Once she left her comments made me cry, I was very hormonal and I took her comments to heart.

  • I interpreted them as Luke wasn’t good enough because he was mixed race and not fully Indian.

  • I remember scoping him up and telling him that I loved him and he was my perfect boy.

  • I don’t want my son to ever feel ashamed of who he is or feel embarrassed about being mixed race.

  • We don’t live in London anymore, where diversity is just right outside the door and it’s made me realise how important it is for my son to see a mixture of people from different ethnicities, cultures or those with a different religious background.

  • We do have some friends of different ethnicities and faiths, it’s something that has happened organically and not something I’ve made a deliberate effort at.

  • There’s certainly more diversity on children’s TV (thank you CBeebies), than there was when I was growing up.

  • I’ve made an effort to seek out some children’s books that show more diversity.

  • And to help prepare my son when his little brother arrives in a few weeks’ time,  I bought him a customised book from Writing for Tiny

  • Being able to show my son his own family in the right skin tones in this book is fantastic, nothing like this existed when I was growing up.

  • But I’m no expert and part of me isn’t quite sure on how to bring up children that don’t stereotype based on skin colour.

  • There’s so much influence from the media and unconscious bias (thank you HR training for this one) that we all carry round with us.

  • I want Luke to ask me questions, if he’s curious and I will make an effort to explain.

  • I won’t try to silence him; I want to bring him up to have tolerance and to treat everyone with respect.

  • I hope others will treat him the same way.

 

 

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1 Comment

  • Reply Claire April 18, 2019 at 9:41 am

    This was really lovely and helpful to read, my daughter is mixed race. I am white-welsh and my partner is black-British/Caribbean heritage. She is 11 months old and I also have a son who is 13 and white. I always want to be open and honest with her and about the world, I wish I didn’t have to “prepare” her for anyone being prejudice, but also think that if I didn’t talk to her about any of the things that happen and don’t address them, that would also be a problem. Because sadly it does still happen. I just know she’ll be wonderful and treat everyone the same, and also teach her to be confident and let her know how beautiful she is and how beautiful her skin is too 😁💗

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