Yesterday as I was going to my local DuaneReede to pick up milk I saw the new publication of Elle’s magazine titled “WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD”. Nowadays I don’t buy magazines other than my vogue subscription because I don’t have the time to read it, I just read them online. But this one was exceptional, because earlier on in the day myself and my 8 years old daughter had been talking about racism and institutional racism because of a movie we saw. She believed people were just people and we shouldn’t be judged by the color of our skin.
When my husband and I started planning our family, one thing we both agreed on was that we didn’t want our kids to grow up like we did. It wasn’t just about giving them the opportunities we didn’t have or protecting them from being emotionally scared, no. We didn’t want them to grow up thinking this world is divided into black and white. And the ‘in-betweeners’. We didn’t want them to see themselves as the political definition of being black. Don’t get me wrong they know their identity. If you ask them where they are from (before moving from the UK) they would tell you they are Nigerians. Nowadays they take that question quite literally and say British because we just moved from England to America but if you explain it to them they will say Nigerian.
The way we went about raising our kids to be color blind to themselves and others but yet having and being proud of their identities was to not use racial language with them and among ourselves the adults. Language is so powerful. Children do what you do more than what you say. They watch you, your passion and your message. In our household everyone is equal and welcomed. If we had episodes of experiencing racism, instead of internalizing it and thinking it was us (with the problem), we say it as it is. That person was a bully who is mean to others simply because of their differences. That difference is often not limited to the color of their skin. It could be their disability or social status, hair color or who they choose to love. It’s not you, it’s them and their personal beliefs stemming from ignorance.
Whenever the news channels were talking about racism (not in a forward thinking way but rather adding fuel to the underlying situation, so as to have news worthy content) we change the station. We protected them from advertisements like ‘Save the Children’ but showed them the importance of benevolence and giving to the poor. We also taught them that poverty knows no color or gender. They see white people begging and see us giving arms to them. That poverty is not limited to Africa.
Whenever we needed to physically describe people, we said it as it were. Blonde skin person (we had to be creative and I’m not saying it was our best efforts but it was better than saying “white people”), brown person or we would say Indian or Chinese or Jewish or my favorite one was when they say the person has a little bit of both, meaning dual heritage person or mixed race individual. You cannot not describe a person, we got that. But your language carries the true meaning of your purpose. Are you saying the black kid in the class or are you saying “the black kid in the class”?. If you meant the former then you could say their is a new child in our class he has black coily hair and dark skin, he is tall with short hair and he likes football. You are giving the person a physical description of the child not race of child connoting how different he is to you.
One more important thing was we never made a distinction about anything based on race. Prejudice. Not all Asian kids are best in Math, if you work hard you will be good or even better. Not all brown people knows how to twerk or rap. God knows I’ve tried to and failed miserably. What you can do and your ability has nothing to do with your race or gender. It is how hard you are willing to work and the choices you make.
Now it’s all good to be raised in this bubble of unicorns and rainbows. What about the real world. This was were I started to have real anxiety. Especially when they started school. I remember our first incident at their nursery – Lilliput Village in Essex. I was walking down the corridor to pick up my oldest daughter who was just 18months old at the time and noticed something. On the information board, a copy of Plan UK’s leaflets showing a poor Africa girl wearing torn down clothes with no shoes on, carrying dirty bucket of water and looking sad. You would think that is the school being generous right? But it was put under the description of “Africa” in the Equality and Diversity policy folder. Talk about irony. I was livid. I went to the manager politely and asked her why she put it there. Was that her interpretation of the representation of Africa? In the other section there was a picture of a white girl playing with toys looking happy, a Chinese looking girl playing but an Africa or black child is seen as poor with no clothes, food or water and depressed? I have had the opportunity of traveling to different parts of the world and I know for a fact that there are poor white people who don’t have good clothes and are walking barefooted in the freezing cold in small Eastern European countries and Asia.
That is not where that leaflet should be (although I have a different message for plan UK I mean talk about no respect for human decency for the poor, just because you want to beg for money. When cancer research UK are asking for help they don’t put a picture of a child with open stomabag on the leaflet). That leaflet should be (banned) under “our values – giving to the poor”. What was more shocking for me was knowing that several other parents including those raising brown kids, had passed through that corridor and never said a thing about it. Probably just like that ignorant manager they didn’t see beyond their unknown racism that that leaflet was wrong. In their subconscious mind that is how they see black kids so it didn’t register to them to challenge it. I did not only challenged it, (I grew up in Africa and that is not the ONLY image of myself or friends that I know of ) I demanded that it be taken out immediately. That is not the self image I wanted a growing little black girl to internalize and associate herself with. Representation do matter. Especially to a growing child who is just forming image about themselves.
Then they went into Primary school. I remember a second incident at Merryland primarily school. It was on October during the black history month. Now I could write a whole epistle on why I think that “Black History Month” needs to stop or reevaluate how it’s being taught and celebrated. I mean I’m glad at the stage my kids are now. They can think for themselves and they can ask questions and challenge bad practices. My daughter asked me a rhetorical question the other day. Why is it during Chinese celebrations they eat and learn Chinese things. During Hispanic month they color do art and eat Spanish food. Jewish people are the luckiest. They get a holiday (this is probably just limited to New York) but during black history month, wait for it, they teach them about slavery. I literally just laughed typing these. Not haha funny laugh but like how, I don’t want to use the word ‘stupid’ (language) but I mean how can anyone in this day and age still allow this. How is being black equal to slavery? Again those of us who were lucky to grow up in Africa don’t have this problem. Maybe that’s why they say we are overly confident. We are just normal. Since moving abroad I began to notice this idea of what being black means in places outside Africa. What’s even sad is how black people who are not first generation Africans have also accepted this. And no one is questioning the idea. I was so glad that she saw this pattern. Maybe there is a big propaganda to undermine us because they are scared of how powerful we truly are or can be. So they start young, brainwashing kids to not see themselves other than being a lesser citizen. I don’t believe in conspiracy theory but.. My kids learned about the holocaust from me, about when Britain was colonized from their dad. They don’t teach them these things at school. But a four years old already knows about black slavery. Not to sound insensitive but there has been greater tragedies that faces humanity and there still are. Can we move on already.
We don’t allow them to celebrate black history month. We teach them about black culture and celebrate inspirational black people everyday. I tell my son to dress like daddy or Obama and hustle and be disciplined like Micheal Jordan or Lebron James. Same with my daughter. So many successful beautiful black women. Most important we teach them to learn from everyone. Not just black people. Emulate good practices and behavior. If a white kid in your class is good at drawing, learn from him. My daughter self taught herself Spanish and loves the culture. Learn and get inspiration from “people”.
The reason we stopped allowing them to sit in black history class was that, my daughter’s second year teacher was teaching them during the black history month, that white people enslaved black people. Just that. No more information. It wasn’t even age appropriate in my opinion. Before hand my free spirited daughter loved and played with her “white” friends. She’s very sensitive. When she was taught this in class, she didn’t want to play with them anymore. She said they were mean people for bullying brown people that way. It broke my heart so much that I wrote a letter to the head teacher who was also unknowingly racist because of his answer. “I don’t think Ms .. is racist because she went and volunteered in Africa”. Really Mr head teacher(?) another one that makes me laugh is when they say “oh I’m not a racist I married a black person”. Ok Margrate. Let’s move on.
I say unknowingly racist because often times the person themselves are unaware that their words and actions are racist. People think being racist is bad and a big taboo. We have all been racist at some point in time. We have characterized someone based on the color of their skin at one time in life. I’m guilty of this. Likening crazy cat lady to only white women for example. What’s bad is when we act on that feeling, in ways that causes harm to others. Be it physical or emotional harm or even financially by paying them less. That is the ugly racism. So when I call the teacher, nursery manager and head teacher racist, I don’t mean they acted on it. It’s their unaware biasness evident in their actions.
We did not only send an email and had a sit down talk with the school. I re-educated my little girl that not ALL white people were colonial masters and not ALL black people were slaves. In history, the real history. Blacks owned slaves, whites were enslaved. I mean the Romans enslaved Britain for over 300 years. Far greater than the period when some Africans were. Besides it’s all in the past. Her friend’s family were probably not even rich enough to own a slave back then so they are good. Also that her friends were (probably) not like their parents, if they are nice then she should play with them. The next thing we did was to take them out of that school and relocate away from the suburbs.
I had to move. My idea about the world and how ‘we should all be a good global citizen and working hard to achieve our dreams irrespective of our skin tone’ was bigger than my environment. I didn’t have time to be educating people when I was working on myself and educating my kids on the real truth in order to build a positive and healthy self esteem for them. Like Mother Teresa said, if you want to change the world, go and love your family. Start the change there. Educate them on the truth. This is where language comes in. It’s is foundamental on how they grasp it.
If we can all begin to just see people as people and not how we have preconceived them in our little mind, the world might just be a better place for all. I tell them they are people. Just people in this big world. Be a good citizen. Do no harm. You are not a black person. That person is not a white person. We are all just people.
Before moving to America, it always sadness me when I hear on the news a young black boy has been shot dead. The news should be a 13 years old child was tragically killed. That way it becomes the responsibility of all to ensure that young people in the society are safe. And there is better gun control. And people in the poorer part of towns are supported to pursue meaningful things other than gangs and drugs. It’s not a black or Hispanic thing, it’s a human thing.
So you could see my delight when seeing this magazine that just called them “Women in Hollywood” not black women in Hollywood or brown women or anything that shows anything other than their talents.
The world is revolving, we are preparing our children for the future by teaching them coding and computer at an early age. What are we doing about who their colleagues are going to be in the future. They are going to be working alongside people of different color and backgrounds and we also need to teach them to be racially color blind along with coding in preparing them for the future. And we can start by changing our language.