Yesterday I felt so sad when a friend who lives in the USA said her son was told that he has not been given a birthday party invitation because he is “dark skin”. It broke my heart because I knew how she was feeling and I understand how her son must have felt. My children who are 9 and 11 years old have been through similarly situations both in UK and overseas.
I remember the day my daughter announced that she wanted me to straighten her hair because she is tired of being called “fuzzy” by one of her classmate and she would like to have a ‘bouncy’ pony tail like the rest of her friends. I become very teary when I think of the day my daughter was found in the toilet crying because she was told she has colour like “poo”…as a result she spent her entire lunch break hiding in the toilet!
I was born in Seychelles and my husband is part Scottish and part Irish so our children are mixed-race. My husband and I never thought about the challenges of being a multiracial family until our trip to Australia three years ago when our children were called names because of the colour of their skin both by children and adults. My son one day came home from school and told me that a friend from school asked him why his daddy married a black woman and that black women are supposed to be servants not wives. I must admit although we felt sorry for the boy we thought it was quite funny and it made my husband and I laughed but when a grown up man came up to my husband and asked him if “these two coloured kids” were his, that was no laughing matter. My son was upset and asked “why is he calling me coloured Daddy?”
As parents we need to talk to our children about race. Some parents naively believe that if they talk about issues of race with their children, they will cause them to notice race in a way that they did not before. When our children are young, they mirror our behaviour and belief. Our children need to know that people come in different shades but we are the same on the inside and that there are words that are not appropriate to use to describe other people’s race.
I sympathise with the teenager who once called me a ‘N’ and that nine year old boy who told my daughter that she has skin colour like “poo” or the 6 year old boy who called my son a “freaky black boy” and the boy who excluded my friend’s son from his party because he has a different colour of skin. They clearly haven’t had an education. Saying they are just children is not good enough because they are children hurting others by their mean words.
As a family, we are proud to be multi-heritage. We have family and friends with different racial background and we will not have it any other way. My children are growing up loving who they are. My daughter is about to start high school here in UK. After passing her entrance exams and visiting schools we chose two schools. Both were girls’ school renowned for their academic excellence but one school(A) has a 90% white British girls and the other school(B) has an evenly distributed population of different racial background. When it came to choosing the school I must admit my husband and I preferred the school with multiracial atmosphere (only because she wouldn’t stand out and ‘fit’ in) but my daughter’s comment made us realise that we are raising a girl who knows who she is and proud to be… “I can see me in school A. I will blend in perfectly and get on with it but why blend in when I can stand out? I read a quote by Dr Seuss in one of my magazine and he said “Why fit in when you were born to stand out? I choose school B.”
I will never kid myself in believing that my children will stop getting picked on for being different and so other parents should also stop kidding themselves that their children do not see when other children look different to them because they do and they can be quite nasty about it!
Racial and cultural diversity is an excellent topic to teach your children. You don’t have to teach your children tolerance, here’s the beautiful thing about our children: Most are born with a natural sense of justice and fairness and will tolerate each other. Unless they are taught to be hurtful and cruel, children know that it’s wrong to attack others either physically or with words. All we have to do is nurture this natural love of people. A child who is taught to devalue others based upon differences will face a tough and lonely road ahead. As parents we need to think about and look at our attitude. If you are uneasy or uncomfortable around people of different backgrounds, your child will pick up on it and most importantly consider the way you talk about people in front of your child.