The other day my husband of 7 years asked me 'do you identify as black?' His question was in response to an moment me and my girls had experienced earlier that day. I'd felt defensive and self-conscious while walking through the English countryside and being asked (multiple times) whether we 'belonged' there or... "are you lost????" definitely made me feel 'other'. I knew it was too subtle to call it racism but it definitely felt uncomfortable and something I knew I wouldn't have experienced if I was on my own.
The topic of racial fluidity has been raised several times in the last couple of years. Recently, Paris Jackson called herself black through her relationship with her tenuously 'biological' Dad Michael. And of course the controversial Rachel Dolezal, who has called for black identity to be 'fluid' and non-binary in the same way gender is. With more questions being raised about how identity is formed and racial constructs that lie behind it, the question whether it is possible to identify as black through one's relationships has intrigued me.
I am part of a multiracial family, the majority of whom are black, or who will be viewed as black by society. Apart from my daughters and my husband, I am the only white face you see in my family. So, not to feel any sense of identity by virtue of osmosis or relationship would be impossible. Or, at least for me.
I have heard of other spouses who have non-white partners who become sensitive to the subtle racism that their partners feel on a daily basis. The wake-up to white bias is shocking and infuriating when it comes to the ones you love.
The first time it happened was upon entering a jewellery shop early on in our relationship. Soon enough I noticed a security guard as well as the shop floor assistant following hubby closely while he perused the rings. I, on the other hand, was not even noticed. Or, shall I say, after a few minutes, they did offer to help me but completely ignored hubby-to-be apart from the stares. I felt defensive and angered as though it were happening to me.
The experience rocked my understanding of our world. Yes I knew racism existed. I wasn't that naive but when you experience it and you become the object of it through your partnership (that was later on), you start to identify with it.
Since then, my children and I have felt the oh-so-subtle effects of middle class racism. The stares, the indignant looks that you may not belong in 'this' park- nothing major but enough to waken me up to the some of the realities of being non-white.
So yes, I guess in some ways I do identify as black. I still have white privilege and I'm not naive as to think I know exactly what it is to walk in the shoes of a black person. But by virtue of my relationship. Because my family is black. Because I am part of a black family. And because my identity is multi- layered, my identity as a mother of mixed race kids and as the wife of a Nigerian man is intertwined.Read more
Appearing on the radio last week to talk about mixed race issues, I realised the most topical question people wanted to discuss is actually the intersection of culture in an interracial relationship. (And just to clarify, being mixed race and multicultural do not necessarily go hand in hand).
In my case, they do. My husband is from Nigeria. I am half-English, half Iranian and I grew up in Canada. So cultural differences play a big part. As does race.
Jenny, the host of BBC's Women's Hour host last week asked a number of questions about how my husband and I work out cultural clashes and how our multiple backgrounds may cause confusion in our children.
A minority of internet trolls caught onto this and criticised our choice to 'interbreed' as they put it and put our children unhelpfully into a perpetual state of confusion.
It made me think. Is this true? While I didn't want to give any troll the value of my consideration, I did wonder:
Are we doing a disservice to our children by marrying outside of our culture or race?
Indeed, there were definitely times growing up where I was confused being half Persian and half English. The question, "where are you from?" often caught me off guard. And other times where, appearing at an Iranian gathering, I longed to speak the language better, to 'look' more Persian and to legitimately say, yes I am Iranian. But I always felt unsure or not 'legit' enough- whatever that meant.
On the other hand, laying claim to solely my Canadian identity also felt an uneasy relationship, as if I was ignoring the parts of me that were Iranian and mixed and which I knew made me 'different' somehow.
How is it Different Today than When We Were Growing Up?
Today being mixed represents a plethora of experiences. When Tiger Woods spoke out in the late 90's calling himself "Cablinasian", the world took notice. Referring to his "mix of half Asian (Chinese and Thai), one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American and one-eighth Dutch, he’d adopted the term as a way of honouring his mother Kultida (of Thai, Chinese and Dutch ancestry) as well as respecting all aspects of his cultural and racial heritage."
Since then, dozens of celebrities have spoken out about their experiences being mixed including actress Meghan Markle, recently featured in ElleUk talking about her identity as a biracial woman and currently dating Prince Harry. Although her mixed race background has, even in this day and age, caused ripples in the aristocratic 'white' circles that define the British class system, it's not made enough headlines to deter Prince Harry from his new romance.
Today, being mixed race or multicultural represents so much more than it did back in my day. Back in the 80's, people didn't talk about being mixed. You were either black or white, Canadian or 'other'. Today, while being mixed can also still be confusing, it also means one person's own experience can embody the essence of globalisation- diversity, diplomacy, multiculturalism, immigration, tolerance and equity.
My husband and I teach our children about all of their experiences, backgrounds and histories. We celebrate a multitude of festivals- including ones that are not our own- and practice traditions that draw from the best of our childhoods. It means our children are confident about who they are and where they come from. When they perform a traditional greeting for their grandparents just before tucking into Iranian rice and stew, I know we've done ok. They are not 'confused' but instead proud that they can call many different countries 'home'.
We've Come a Long Way from the Old School Way of Thinking
So, 'interbreeding'- as my friends the internet trolls accused my husband and I- yes, admittedly may not be as easy as marrying the next Dick who grew up next door. But today it represents so much more. We've come a long way from the old school thinking that one must marry within their race. Experience and exposure has done a lot to help that along. Sure, there are challenges but I'm happy in the knowledge that my children are not confused, but 'enriched'.
Have we done them a disservice? No, rather I would think they will grow up confident and openminded. And perhaps by the time they do, this question will not even be worth considering.Read more
Tried a new hair product recently and I think I’ve fallen in love. This isn’t a plug, don’t worry. But knowing where CurlyEllie came from and that the woman behind this brand is a mum of curly kids too, does help.
As many of you know, I’ve got three girls- each with uniquely textured and different-length hair. It’s difficult finding a product that works for all of them without being full of chemicals.
In the past I’ve used everything from Mixed Chicks to Deva Curl, Curly Q, Argan oil, Coconut oil and even my mother in law’s homemade mixture of shea butter and olive oil. It’s not to say that these products don’t work but I’ve always been on the lookout for a brand that I can trust and that EACH of the products works for my daughters’ hair- not just one.
CurlyEllie products came on my radar through my brother-in-law who knew the founder in Uni. I got in touch and found out a little bit more.
First off, all of the products are SULFATE FREE, PARABEN FREE, NO SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCES, NO MINERAL OILS and 100% Natural Fragrance.
For me, it’s important that the products I put into my daughters’ hair are 100% natural. I can see the build-up that results when I use other products and I admit, sometimes products that do contain alchohol or some enzymes can be effective but... not in the long run.
This is about teaching my daughters as well as showing them to value their hair and what they put in it. With so many kids suffering from exzema and allergies, it made me think a little more about what we put in and on their bodies.
Retailing at around £13 per bottle, they may cost more than just buying off the shelf at your local chemist. I have 3 girls, I’ll be honest, I know the costs add up but to me it’s important enough. If you already recognise the importance of buying curl-specific hair products, this is not much of a step further.
CurlyEllie originiated from a Mum. The familiar scenario of “seeing my 2 year old daughter (CurlyEllie herself) wincing as I pulled the comb through her forest of curls each night.”
She says, “Her curls were so beautiful but so difficult and upsetting (for us both!) to manage. I turned to friends, family and social media to find the answer. I would routinely stop other parents of curly haired children and ask for advice on hair care. The only consistent theme in the responses I got was that nobody was that happy with the products they were using. This led me to develop the CurlyEllie Hair Collection.”
The products themselves are easy to use, and come in the form of detangler, shampoo, conditioner and leave-in conditioner. I would have liked some sort of moisturizer to define the curls as well so I added a little oil to keep it moisturized throughout the day. But the shampoo, conditioner and detangler have become an essential part of our morning and evening routine.
I use the leave-in at night after I wash it and it softens the curls- making a huge difference to how they feel in the morning. The picture below shows my daughter's hair after I applied the leave-in and I could run my fingers through her hair easily.
Using a hair product whose only ingredients are plant products such as quinoa, broccoli seed oil and sweet almond oil is fabulous. It means I don’t have to worry about their hair drying out or being damaged by the mess that goes into most hair products nowadays.
I love where it comes from. I love the ethos behind it and I love the products themselves. Definitely a convert for CurlyEllie.Read more
Just over a year ago I posted about my oldest daughter's sorrow coming home from school and crying over not having straight hair like her friends.
Of course I was heartbroken and I knew that I had my work cut out for me. As her mum, I was/ am her biggest role model and although looks shouldn't matter, the fact that we (a multiracial family and therefore more pronounced than most mother-and-daughter combos) look so different, it can be painful.
On top of my skin being a whole shade lighter, my hair is dead straight. And with media, magazines and friends sporting this same look, sometimes the curls can just feel too much.
If only she knew, I kept saying to myself... to others. She is the object of so many admirers when we go out. Her hair can attract comments from strangers everywhere and yet she doesn't want unique hair. She wants straight hair.
My daughter's journey doesn't end there. I made it my mission not just to subtly show her curly haired role models but I point them out everywhere we go. Beautiful white, black, brown skinned women with short, long and all types of textured curly hair. Her books, music artists and the shows she watches all sport curls. I talk to her about being unique, about having the confidence to be different, to be proud of how God made her. And to be more than just her curls. To be unique in every way because it's better to be a leader than a follower.
Today she told me in no uncertain terms she doesn't want straight hair.
Otherwise she'd be like everyone else. She said she likes her curls and can't wait to be able to grow them and twist them and try out new hairstyles. She said she likes herself the way she is.
I smiled and knew she is beginning her journey to understanding and loving herself. Curly hair and all.
There is no prouder moment for a mum than when your daughter can look in the mirror and say she loves who she is. My daughter is ultra sensitive and, I'd like to think, mature for her age. So perhaps it was an early internal switch that just happened at the age of 5. And perhaps she was already on this journey without any intervention. But for any girl, all girls, it's so important for them to know, love and accept who they are.Read more
I swore I’d never be that Mum. The white mum whose kids' curly mixed race hair looks like the Mum has no clue and her only attempt at ‘doing’ her daughter’s hair is to brush it-- down.
Three daughters later and with all three sporting completely uniquely textured hair, I quickly learned that wash, brush-and-go would not work with my girls’ curly hair. A mountain of research, plenty of questions to friends and family and a motto to ‘learn as we go’ is the only way we’ve gotten this far. Now, with a 3 step routine every morning with each daughter, it’s gotten slightly easier but no less complicated.
So, I feel your pain. Not the pain at having curly hair. Truly, I love their curls. I love how it looks, how it feels and I love that each one is unique in how her hair falls- a lesson I am constantly reinforcing. Curls are amazing.
But what I don’t love is how little I know about how to do it. I have straight hair and before having kids, I'd never heard of co-washing, could never imagine sleeping on satin pillowcases and putting 'oil' in my already oily hair was the last thing from my mind. So I've done my homework and then some. But if you love your kids, you’ll only want the best and time is nothing when it comes to doing it right. We've now gotten it down to a 20-30 minute routine, depending on how cooperative my girls are and the hairstyle they choose. (I definitely hate braids).
So here I am offering some helpful tips-- not as an expert but as a person who has scourged the internet for the best websites that can help all of us parents that start out with no clue.
- Figure out their hair texture. I figured out early on there is a whole school of thought about curly girl hair type which, once identified, can open up all sorts of doors in terms of products recommendations and what would likely work on your child's hair. So, to identify your child's hair type, check out these sites:
2. Follow naturally curly hair blogs. There are so many out there! With so many helpful articles, blogs, styles and tips for toddlers, girls', boys', long, short and all kinds of curly hair. Here are the best I've come across:
- For products, hairstyles and style ideas, visit: Naturally curly
- For morning routine tips and knowledge from other parents who can sympathise, visit: Curly Nikki
- This Mama of biracial kids features curly girl hairstyles of the week and regular hair tips. Visit: Weather Anchor Mama
3. Get tips! I've gotten so many helpful tips from blogs and articles I've read online about hair care. From co-washing to leave-in conditioner, to wetting my daughter's hair every morning to activate the curls, start with these and you'll feel like an expert in no time. The best part is that they're not written for hair experts but cover the basics and give real, non-judgemental advice.
- From detangling, hair regimens, and top styling tips for doing toddler hair, the UK based (hurrah!) British Curlies has it all. Not one to miss!
- One of our mixed race mother bloggers from over the pond, De Su Mama often features curly hair tips from a mum's point of view.
- Perhaps the biggest website out there for naturally curly hair, you can't miss this site if you want insight and tips, visit Naturally Curly Kids Hair: The Basics
- For more home grown tips for mixed race curly hair, the London Mums magazine features a top 5 tips for curly mixed race hair.
- With more from a real Mum about her daughter's morning hair routine and reviews on which products have worked for her. Visit Baby Making Machine.
4. Use YouTube for hair tutorials! If you're more visual and crave that hands-on lesson, try these Youtube channels. (And of course there's a load more links on the right side for you to browse:
- How to Cornrow Naturally Curly Children’s Hair
- Mixed Hair: Moisturising and Detangling
- Curly Kids Night Routine
- How to Maintain Curly Hair for Kids: Wash Routine
- 7 Curly Hairstyles for Kids
5. Try different products. Although we all wish it was just about the amount of research you do that equals success, it is actually about trying, trying and trying more... And, then, just because it works on one child’s hair, it may be different for your other child. Because it will depend on the season, the weather, the thickness, length and curl size of each hair type- not just their hair texture. For reviews and recommendations for different curly girl hair products, go to:
6. Ask around. Nothing beats a recommendation from a friend or someone you know. Every time you see another child with curly hair and you like what you see, ask the Mum what their hair regime is. Mums love talking about curly hair as do curly haired girls themselves I'm learning! Particularly if the child has hair similar to your ds or dd, make sure you ask them what products they use, what kinds of hair styles they do and what hair dresser they go to (it’s not every black hair dresser that can do mixed curly hair and the same goes for upmarket European hair salons- they may be expensive but curly hair has its own rhythm and texture).
7. Finally, and most importantly: Embrace the curls!
“I embrace my kids’ curls through praise and curly hair education. It is important to me that they love their hair, so I constantly tell them how beautiful and amazing it is. I never speak negatively about their curls or allow myself to show any frustration when I’m doing their hair. I make it a point to teach them about the products I’m using and why I am using them, as well letting them help me add their conditioner and styling products in anticipation of them one day managing their curls by themselves.” - See more at: https://www.ouidad.com/blog/curly-genes#sthash.isxITl2R.dpuf
Oh, and good luck! Join the Mixed.Up.Mama parent community today!