Teaching children about identity, prejudice and racism

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A couple of things have prompted me to write this blog. Firstly, last week I was described and recommended as a ‘black’ mummy blogger to a mum who was looking for the same (apparently there are not many in the UK so identify yourselves if you’re out there!) In case you’re thinking this offended me, it didn’t in the slightest but as a ‘mixed race’ woman it did get me thinking about identity, culture and heritage and how we communicate/pass that on to our children. I have been asked numerous times in my life whether I see myself as ‘more black’ or ‘more white’ and I always find the question puzzling as in actual fact I don’t see myself as ‘more’ of one or the other. Now, I don’t mean that I see myself as separate from both rather I see myself as entirely both. From a young age my twin sister and I have called ourselves ‘brown’. Not sure if this is PC or not but it’s what we always felt was most fitting. Growing up we hated ‘coloured’ and ‘half-caste’ both common in the 80’s. A friend who has mixed race children used to point out to her children, ‘You are not ‘half’ anything – you are fully black and fully white.’ I quite liked this description owning all of your heritage and not just portions of it. Furthermore, I remember from very young age thinking for myself how wonderful it was that just by existing I represented two races coming together who had such a stark history of ignorance, hate and prejudice – I actually announced this to my teacher when I was around 10 years old! (Can you imagine what an annoying kid I was?) Please don’t stop reading if you’re not an ‘ethnic’ – sorry I’m not good at being P.C – because I think we can apply this to any racial background, not just colour. Whether your background is Welsh, Scottish, Irish or much further afield, our heritage is part of who we are and we should celebrate it and proudly embrace it but I strongly believe it shouldn’t and does not define us.

The thing is race and or ‘difference’ to children, if left to their own devices, really isn’t an issue. It wasn’t when I was little and it isn’t now. It only becomes an issue when children imitate adult’s poor attitudes, representations and prejudices. In short; it is learned behaviour. It’s not that very young children are unaware of ‘difference’ or don’t notice it, they simply accept it, get on with it and even celebrate it! I remember in the summer when BearCub noticed a birthmark Munchkin has on her foot when they were playing. After enquiring what it was, Bearcub actually cried because he wanted one too and we had to draw one on his foot to pretend. I wondered how different that conversation would be had the birthmark been on a child’s face and had they been thirteen!

So how can we encourage our children to keep the wonderful, curious, open-mindedness they have towards other looks, ways of doing things and experiences that they have now while they are pre-schoolers? I believe the answer is to expose them to as many different cultures, types of people and experiences as possible. We are spoilt for this in London as society is so vibrantly varied in terms of different cultures and races. However, I grew up in a school where there were only 4 black people in our year and my sister and I were the only mixed race pupils. Going back to the same school now every class has at least a couple of mixed race students! Mixed-race people are the fastest growing ethnic minority group (defined according to the National Statistics classification) in the UK and, with all mixed categories counted as one sole group, are predicted to be the largest minority group by 2020. I guess one day maybe we’ll all be brown! Last week at my local library they held a ‘Roots of the Caribbean’ day to celebrate Black History Month (This month in case you didn’t know!). It was a great event with Steel drums, traditional soul food and a wonderful carnival vibe.

My little boy doesn’t look like he has any black in him at all (his dad is white) but I think it is important for him to understand and explore his roots, not only so he is able to dance in time at the school discos, but so he can appreciate the wonderful diversity of language, culture, colour and life in general. My son has never asked why Grandad is black and Nanny is white or even why mummy is brown (or gold as he likes to say) because it doesn’t even occur to him. Sometimes by being overly P.C we can create issue where there is none. Wouldn’t it be great if adults took the lead from how young children so readily interact with those different to themselves?



24 thoughts on “Teaching children about identity, prejudice and racism

    Curly Mum said:
    October 26, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Fab post! We say ‘brown’ as well. I don’t care if it’s PC or not, my children ARE brown in colour and that’s how they like to describe themselves. I think we’ve become a bit over-PC. Nobody would worry if I said my girls had brown eyes, so I’m not worried about saying they have brown skin either. 🙂

    I’ve not really thought about it much over my life, but I suppose I do consider myself mixed race. My mum is white British and my father is brown (one white parent, one black african). I suppose I am ‘more white’, both physically, and that I was raised just with the white side of culture. My father unfortunately never knew his father and so wasn’t really brought up with that side of his heritage.

    My children, physically, are more black but we’ve always said that daddy’s dark brown colour and mummy’s light brown colour mixed together to make their beautiful gold brown.
    We parent them in more of the British way, I guess because we live in Britain and I’m the main carer so I use my own experiences to guide me. Also their father was raised in Britain so culturally, if not by blood, he is mixed too.

    We eat food from all over the place and love learning about other cultures and languages. We are lucky that we live in a really multi-cultural area so people are from all over the world, all different colours speaking loads of languages. I don’t think my girls have ever felt like a minority because of this. My daughter saw her friend from school when we were in town today and happily informed me ‘She doesn’t speak my language but we can smile at each other and play.’ It would be fab if all the world could be so accepting of people as young children are.

    They’ve never asked me why mummy and daddy are different colours, or why nanna and grandad are different colours. Actually, I think on a regular basis they are exposed to more mixed race couples than same-race as their other grandmother (Nigerian) is with a Welsh man also. My eldest (5) has informed me that she wants to marry a pale man with red hair.

      morethanamummy responded:
      October 26, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      Ha ha! Your children sound hilarous (I love that your daughter has designed her husband already) and very kind too – love the comment about smiling at the girl who doesn’t speak her language! My Dad (from St Lucia in the West Indies) wasn’t actively involved in my upbringing so we were surrounded by our ‘white’ family more but she really encouraged us to look into, explore and discover our heritage. We took this on more ourselves in our teens when we went through a phase of wanting to identify withg our ‘black’ side more. My mum just encouraged and celebrated it. As for appearance we always say ‘Mixed race kids are like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get!’ Again I’m not very PC am I?!! 🙂

    wordsfallfrommyeyes said:
    October 26, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Wow. I would have been offended by the ‘black blogger’ offhand comment. Being white, I’m never referred to as a ‘white’ this or that. I can’t imagine what it’s like.

    As for asking if you feel more black or white: BIZARRE!!!

    I reckon you did great announcing that to your teacher at 10. I hadn’t seen it that way, myself, but that’s just a wonderful expression of the circumstances.

    Damn good post.

      morethanamummy responded:
      October 26, 2011 at 3:22 pm

      I hadn’t thought of it that way…I guess you wouldn’t have a ‘white’ mummy blogger section. Hmmm! I feel another blog post coming on Lol!

    Bonny and Blithe (@blitheringbonny) said:
    October 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    “Sometimes by being overly P.C we can create issue where there is none. Wouldn’t it be great if adults took the lead from how young children so readily interact with those different to themselves?”

    Absolutely agree, we are too concerned about saying the right thing. As parents we should lead by example and treat others as we would want to be treated. Another great post thank you more than a mum!

      morethanamummy responded:
      October 26, 2011 at 3:23 pm

      We can learn a lot from the little people sometimes! 🙂

    mishmashmum said:
    October 26, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    My children are mixed race. I remember when my eldest was little having this big discussion with my OH about whether our son was black or mixed race. My OH pointed out that a lot of mixed race people see themselves as black i.e. Barack Obama and he would be more happy if my son took more from his ‘black’ side. I argued that surely mixed race people have a right to define themselves as mixed. It doesn’t mean our son will reject either sides, as is the stereotype, but embrace BOTH. Our two sons are quite light anyway (check out my blog), more olive then brown, so defining themselves as mixed race seems more plausible. Saying this, being mixed race is not the only definition of who they are, it is just a part that makes up their whole. I did want to write more, but this could turn into an essay! Great post!

      morethanamummy responded:
      October 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm

      Hi mishmashmum. I’m totally with you on this one. In the States they used to have the ‘one drop rule’ which I find highly offensive. i.e if you have any black in you anywhere you are defined as black. My problem with this is why should we be difined by our race at all. Secondly by choosing a ‘side’ we are saying one is better, stronger or preferable to the other. If we have both in us why not embrace both? If we have 3 cultures in us why not embrace all three? Also, many of us have a pic n mix bag of all sorts in us so I think ‘mixed’ race fits perfectly. I was told today apparently you have to say ‘dual-heritage’ these days!!! If you write your ‘essay’ on your blog do let us know! will check yours out now 🙂

        mishmashmum said:
        October 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm

        The ‘one drop rule’ is highly offensive and it gives being ‘white’ this almost untouchable status, if you get what I mean! Saying that, I wouldn’t go around telling people how to define themselves! If after all the talks about identity we have with our sons they decide to see themselves as black or as white or as mixed, then that is their choice! In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to define ourselves in racial terms (race in itself is a social construct), but I do understand how important race or ethnicity can be if you come from a minority group. As for dual-heritage… I did debate that term, to get away from the whole ‘race’ thing, but it didn’t really fit my sons as their father has a Dominican mum and a dad from Guyana and I’m a bit Irish, bit Welsh, bit German and probably a bit everything if you go back far enough! I have heard of ‘multiple heritage’ as well, but again that can apply culturally as well as racially. I’m now confusing myself! Gonna have a lie-down now!

        PS You have reminded me of a post a did a while ago before I started my blog about my son calling himself ‘orange’… so I may dig that out and post it on my blog!

        morethanamummy responded:
        October 28, 2011 at 6:28 pm

        Please do dig it out and let us know on Twitter as I’d love to read it!

        Curly Mum said:
        October 26, 2011 at 9:19 pm

        By that rule, surely the vast majority of people are black? I was watching a programme on the BBC that said the vast majority of people are mixed somewhere in their not-too-distant ancestry. Such a shame that people used to view race as they did, and we’re only just recovering.

    Sarah said:
    October 27, 2011 at 8:55 am

    My ex-husband is mixed race and I remember his white mother worrying about the prejudice our son would face which I found bizarre seeing as he was but months old. I told her we’d cross that bridge when we came to it, but she was all for bringing him up to worry about it!

    As it is, the only racist remarks he’s ever received have been from a nasty group of Arab kids who were in his Catholic private school… He put an end to it by flooring the leader. In fact he looks more Mediterranean than anything else, while our youngest son is white with blond hair.

      morethanamummy responded:
      October 28, 2011 at 6:27 pm

      That’s exactly what I mean, some adults make it an issue for childen when the kids are mainly cool with it.

    FionaCambouropoulos (@coombemill) said:
    October 27, 2011 at 11:20 am

    A beautifully thought out post, well done. I loved the fully black and fully white and not half anything comment. Spot on!

    tashy2 said:
    October 27, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Love this blog! As a mixed race girlie, I am always surprised at how fascinated people who fit into this bracket (and those who don’t) are by choosing the right ‘label’. I am happiest with saying what you see – for me that’s ‘brown’, ‘white’ or ‘black’, but perhaps that’s because I don’t see what colour I am (or any one else for that matter) as a basis for your identity – it’s simply what colour you are. Don’t get me wrong, culture is very important to me, but when you live somewhere like London you realise that people of an array of colours often share the ‘same’ culture, so colour is not a basis on which you can recognise a cultural difference. I think every child should know about their roots and family history and celebrate the culture they are from but for me that’s not really about colour. Let them enjoy & feel a sense of belonging wherever they are right now with a healthy colour-blind outlook.

    Curly Mum said:
    October 27, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    So coincidentally my OH and 5-year-old daughter were talking about how mummy is pale and daddy is brown (because she informed OH that he was wearing all black clothes and had black hair and skin) and OH asked what she was. She replied “I’m both!” 😀

      morethanamummy responded:
      October 28, 2011 at 6:20 pm

      Yay! What a cool girly! She’s got it already 🙂

    Tinuke said:
    October 30, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Love this post! My daughter calls herself orange or gold ‘like her nana and uncle’ as she is lighter than me and her daddy. She is black but I’m of mixed black heritage (how’s that for PC!) so our family are all the colours of the rainbow which is quite cool.
    I agree it is parents that make children pick up prejudice they are automatically accepting of all races.
    Nice to find your blog! Xx

    Stories About Orange Children | said:
    November 2, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    […] this post a little while ago, before this blog and have decided to dig it out after this fantastic post on the […]

    Can Toddlers be bullies? « More Than A Mum Blog said:
    November 16, 2011 at 9:39 am

    […] from our previous post on prejudice and children, you’ll know that I don’t believe very young children can be racist or prejudice.  Difference […]

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