Motherhood and Race
I was born in India, and I have lived in the UK for almost 20 years, first coming here as a single parent to study for my Masters and a PhD. I have an older daughter, who was born in India bur has grown up in the UK. And, I have toddler twins who are mixed-heritage and do not have such dark skin as mine or their older sister. I didn’t talk about race with my older daughter, not explicitly at least. I told her stories of women who could do it all, and who took on the world no matter what their race or cultural heritage. No barrier is big enough. This is the message that I gave her in words and in actions. But I did not talk to her about race, and how our race affects our own identity, and how others perceive us. Neither did I talk to her about the challenges that might come with being of a certain ‘colour’ or ‘race’. I wanted to believe — and told her — that race did not matter. I did not talk to her about it even as we lived in predominantly white towns, as she went to school where she was the only brown person, and even when we were racially profiled one day.
It was a normal summer afternoon, she was only ten years old, and we had been shopping and giggling together. A day that memories are made of. As the police stopped us and asked to see my proof of identity in a shopping mall surrounded by white faces, I saw the confused look on her face. I had told her stories of slavery and oppression, but we always talk about these things as they are things of the past. We want to believe that we live in a post-racial world where the colour of our skin does not matter. And, in doing so, I realised that I did not offer her the opportunity to be completely comfortable in her own skin. I said so in words, that we need to be, and that she was beautiful, but how could she believe me when all she saw around her was an idealised notion of beauty that was white, blonde and skinny, not curvy and golden brown like she was. I told her that we needed to be kind to ourselves, but she wasn’t as she didn’t acknowledge or realise her self-worth in a world that constantly judged her for being and looking different. We have talked about it more and more over the last few years, and I feel proud of how she is using her experience to enable others who have felt marginalised.
Today, as I bring up my twins, it has become increasingly important for me to talk about race and diversity with them. We live in a multi-cultural world. But they are getting all sorts of information from everywhere around them. if left uninformed, they fill in the blanks with what they hear from teachers, peers, the media, and society, and sometimes those outside messages can be prejudicial. My twins are Indian and Scottish and so they bring with them a unique challenge and their own privilege in being ‘white-passing’. Here, for them I am not the norm. Their eldest sister is different from all the people they see around them, so I have to start talking about race, and their Indian heritage before they start thinking that we are not the norm, or being embarrassed of their Indian heritage in some way. My husband is white and we come from completely different worlds and background, and had very different childhood experiences. So, we both have to also confront the unconscious biases that we bring with us unknowingly to our parenting because of our upbringing and our childhood. Also, by dismissing and ignoring their Indian heritage they will not acknowledge the sacrifices of their ancestors and the imperial past. A sense of identity can only come from a strong sense of rootedness in the history and in their heritage. They have to see their whole self when they see themselves in the mirror.
Kids are learning and hearing about race, even if we don’t talk to them about it. So, they might end up coming to a lot of harmful, problematic and factually inaccurate conclusions. Racism is real and consequences of racial inequality are real. The American association of Pediatrics has shown that racism, racial discrimination or even seeing racial discrimination can have a huge mental and physical impact on a child’s health. The stress and anxiety leads to release of stress hormone cortisol which can lead to chronic health conditions. So, it is important to talk to children and empower them in knowing how to deal with an unfairness associated with their skin colour.
Ultimately it is about teaching our children to value and respect differences in others, no matter of gender, race, physical or mental ability. People are different and we teach them to engage on an individual personal level and look beyond the difference So, while we are teaching them about their own identities and how to combat prejudice when they are the targets, we’re also helping them develop respect, acceptance, and appreciation for others from backgrounds that contrast with their own.
This is what kind motherhood means to me.