Defining DS's ethnicity

(9 Posts)
marthabear Fri 25-Jan-13 14:41:23

I'm expecting a few harsh replies from this post, but feel it important to get some views about defining my son's ethnicity and helping him to feel comfortable and confident within his growing self. I wish we lived in a Utopia where we didn't have to define ourselves in tick charts and fit into impossible boxes, but my DS is of an age where he beginning to face these things by himself and I feel I need to support him well.

A little bit of background... I am English with pale skin/blue eyes/red hair. Ds's father had an Irish pale skinned/blonde mother, unknown ( and could never be traced) Father, and was adopted by white parents at a young age and raised in a white environment and culture. Looks-wise, DS's father has brown skin and defines himself as mixed race...brown rather than black.

I have brought up DS alone for most of his 16 years. He had pale skin and blonde/brown hair as a little child, but since puberty, he has darker skin and black hair. His last contact with his Father was 9 years ago. I am now married again and have two little children ( blonde, blue eyes).

The question of ethnicity has never been an issue before, and I have always declined those tick charts for any of my family. However a recent comment from my son made me think that as well as coming to terms with his new emerging self as a young man, he is struggling a little with his appearance within our family and predominantly white community.

So, the question is, how do I help my darker skinned son to define and feel comfortable with his identity in this situation?

PhyllisDoris Fri 25-Jan-13 14:45:51

Well, presumably he knows that he has a different father to the other two children?

Can you not just explain that his father was mixed race, and that he has his father's genes?

Have you never talked to him about his father, or shown him photos?

Chopstheduck Fri 25-Jan-13 14:49:57

I don't have an advice to offer sadly, but I hope you don't get flamed. You sound like a very caring parent who is trying to do the best for her son, and I hope you find some answers.

I have twins who are mixed race, one is particularly proud of his Indian heritage, the other less so interested. They are a lot younger, and it will be interesting to see how they feel as they get older. Their skin tone has def darkened too, dt2 used to appear almost white, but def looks more mixed race now. I hope to let them define themselves, but they do have family around so they can learn about both parts of their heritage.

TepidCoffee Fri 25-Jan-13 14:57:13

'The question of ethnicity has never been an issue before'

I think this is your problem (although I'm sure you acted with the best intentions). Ethnicity and cultural background are important to individuals - children notice obvious visual differences and if these are not talked about, he's likely to have created his own narrative. Has he explained his feelings to you at all?

I would help him to find some positive mixed race role models, both in the media and in RL if possible. My own DS's particular ethnic mix is rarely (if ever) portrayed in books/on TV etc, so I try to do the next best thing and show him things with people from his minority ethnic background in them (on the basis that white people are pretty much everywhere in the UK!).

Does he like reading? The Rivers of London series has a great mixed race male lead.

marthabear Fri 25-Jan-13 20:03:11

Thank you all for your replies.

Phyliss- DS is 16 now. He last had regular contract with his father at around age 7 and has clear memories of him. I do make sure I talk about his father from time to time without negativity. If DS's father had a clearer knowledge of his background, it would make defining DS's ethnicity simpler e.g. "My biological grandfather was Nigerian/Jamacian." , but there is no knowledge of this. We really only know that DS's grandfather must have been of African descent. I know this as I helped DS's father search for his family history while we were together.

Tepid- i think you are right in that the problem is that myself and my son have never spoken in any depth about his ethnicity. He knew his father, my culture and that of his mixed race father is typical white British (if there is any such thing), and so it seemed that the fact that DSs skin tans beautifully as soon as summer comes is nothing more than a lucky stoke of genetics. However, of course, I now see that this is niave.

marthabear Fri 25-Jan-13 20:03:52

Oh and thanks for the book recommendation.

TepidCoffee Sat 26-Jan-13 18:47:01

There's an excellent chapter in a book called 'NurtureShock' by Po Bronson about the problems of our current approach to ethnic differences (don't think you've been naive btw, reading this book completely changed the way I thought about how we talk to our DS).

Tryharder Sun 27-Jan-13 02:29:27

Could you afford a holiday to Africa? You can travel relatively cheaply to The Gambia, or Kenya, Nairobi, South Africa if you're a bit more flush. Your son would be able to get a sense of his Dad's background, would be educational and informative at the very least.

Lots of positive mixed race role models, most notably Obama.

Tau Fri 01-Mar-13 19:56:43

I usually put 'other' or 'mixed other'. My son does that too, although he also puts 'white other' because he looks white.
Our heritage is such a jumble that both my son and I don't identify completely with anything.
My son more so than me; he has decided that for practical purposes he will use his official nationality, but otherwise he is a World citizen, not confined to one country or culture. smile

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