My husband is white English; my step-children are half-Korea; our youngest is half-Indian; our close friends are quarter-English, quarter-Dutch and half-Algerian and my husband’s godson is half-British/Nigerian, quarter-German and quarter-English.
Suffice to say, there is no getting away from talking about race.
Even though in an ideal world, I would like to just get on with life and not have my children realise that some people around them will look at them differently owing to their racial difference, the reality of life is different.
Racism exists and always has; so does “colourblindness”. Ideally, we need to eradicate both. Colourblindness assumes everyone has the same experience and is a way of avoiding tough conversations about race. Children notice differences in people’s skin colour, behaviour or cultural differences from very early on in life. They make comments and ask questions that can’t be denied. Giving them the tools to deal with racism in the future is very important.
We need to provide them with enough knowledge, experience and tools to not only cope with racism directed towards them, but also to stand against any form of racism towards others. Here’s how I try to do it…
1. Build Self-Esteem
Make your children feel proud of who they are and how they look. Teach them about their culture, practice it at home by cooking yummy food, celebrating different festivals or whatever that your culture entails. Once they have a strong self esteem and confidence in themselves, they will be able to face life with ease.
2. Avoid Stereotypes
Start early and bring diversity into your reading. This is often easier said than does – the same applies for gender stereotypes – but is important to do.
3. Keep Multicultural Friends
Break out of your cultural ghetto, whatever that is. Hang out with people of different races. Make friends with people from different countries, cultures and ethnicity. Children at an young age notice differences but don’t judge. This is the best time to help them embrace differences and learn about commonalities at the same time
4. Talk About Racism
If the kids are a little bit bigger then talk about racism with them. Tell them about different races, their history, how the society treats them and how there is nothing fair about treating people with prejudice based on their skin colour or ethnicity
5. It’s OK To Say Black
Nothing makes the English more uncomfortable than directly addressing race. You know what? It’s OK to say the words “black”, “white” or “brown”. Just know when to do it…
6. Derogatory Racial Terms
Blackie, whitie, brownie? Rather less so… And you know what, children need educating on racially derogative terms because they may well end up hearing them. Nigger, Paki, Chinkie. Talk about those words, their provenance and abuse.
One day in my child’s school, a kid asked my son if he knew the word, ‘Chinki’. My child was as innocent and as unaware as any kid to be honest. He laughed at the word and came home asking me about it and that opened that particular conversation…
7. Read Books
There are many books out there these days that have mixed race and mixes of races among their characters. Rapunzel with an Indian prince and an Indian Rapunzel is a colourful favourite in our house though yes, Irene still likes a blonde princess…
8. Look For Opportunities
Children don’t need to necessarily be sat down and told that this beautiful and wondrous world is full of ignorant, judgemental people. But look for opportunities and good stories that help explain it. Make race-consciousness a part of life, not a lesson in life!
How do you deal with conversations about race?