Skin colour insecurities.(19 Posts)
My son whom has always loved with me, I am white his biological dad is black. He has never met (neither did I) any of his dad's family. I broke up with his dad at birth. Six years later I re-married a white British and we have had a son, all the extended family my son knows is white. We are all loving and even my DH and his family adore him, treat him as one of their own and no differently then any other child/grandchild etc. my family have always been loving towards him despite the fact they disliked his dad. As soon as DS was born (my mum was at the birth) he has had nothing but overwhelming love. However in recent years he talks and cries about the fact that he is brown and wants to be white. We discuss that colour is not a factor and that he is loving, kind has good character is funny etc. he sees his bio dad every other weekend however always comes home Either feeling sad or has mood swings. (Not sure if the two are related in anyway) we always try and boost his confidence. Any advice on how we can make him feel more secure in his own skin he is only 8 would be welcomed. Or if anyone else has the same or has had the same I'd love to hear your experiences. (DS is of British /African decent)
Hi, my dh is black, I am white and my dc mixed race. We don't see any of dh's family.
Very early on I realised that it was going to be up to me, rather than dh to help our girls feel at ease with their race. It's not something on dh's radar at all. He's not particularly interested in the country he's from, it's history or culture. He likes the food though!
I have always gone out of my way to point out our genetic similarities. 'You are grumpy in the mornings, just like me' 'your fingernails grow really fast like mine do'.
I make sure that they are exposed to different types of families in real life and on TV, in books etc. And we watch 'black heavy' programs on TV. blackish, the Cosby show, Michael jacksons wizard of oz are favourites.
This is probably where we are going wrong, perhaps. It's not like we avoid any 'black' TV etc but we just don't have any specific 'black' programmes. Although we do like a good will smith movie and DS like men in black. But not sure if that is just the aliens!!!
I don't know much about his dad's culture and I don't suppose he even bothers too much, other than talking to others in his native language completely excluding DS as he never talk to /taught him the language. At his old school he had one V good friend who was the same duel heritage as him but as time has gone we've drifted apart from them and at his new school most of his best mates are white. So all he sees all day long is white faces.
I guess like you it's going to be down to me to explore his African roots. It's not like it's ever been avoided but at the same time I never wanted to make a big deal out of the fact he had a different colour skin because to us it's not a big deal I'd much rather he be kind, loving, and of good character and people see him for him rather than just a skin colour. But clearly it worries him so perhaps I need to look into that a bit more.
Is it possible to visit his Dad's country?
Make sure you big up mixed race persons of note like Barack and Lewis.
Learning about his dad's country and visiting, might help.
I remember seeing an television programme about Lenny Henry and he said how marvellous it was to go to his family's country of origin because when he walked down the street everybody looked like him. Had something very similar from a teenage girl, a pupil. She had been raised in rural Wales, everyone was white, and was a troublesome pupil there. But when she moved to Manchester, she settled right away. She said 'There are people here who look like me, I'm not different.'
Could you try and learn some of your exs language together with your ds? A lot of culture and history is tied up in language, it may help him feel more connected to his African routes and will be a huge help if he ever visits his father's homeland. What about food? Could you incorporate meals from his father's country into your weekly meal plan?
Which country is it?
As you have already realised, you do need to get him familiar with people who look like him. He feels different because he is different in a sea of what sounds like only white people.
I would not get too caught up about him knowing specifically about his father's African culture. What he needs is to interact with more black people and to see more black people around him. Movies, books, etc will help but do try to take him to child friendly events where there is a great diversity of people.
It would be great to be able to go to his biological father's home country one day.
There are plenty of more immediate things you can do in the meantime.
You can expose him to different things that are not a part of your own culture.
If you look in Amazon.com (rather than UK) you can search specifically for books with characters from ethnic minorities. And once you find one appropriate one, it will find others that are similar.
TV is easy too. We have enjoyed the American comedies 'fresh off the boat' and 'Black-ish' both of which are about families trying to maintain their family traditions in a white dominated neighbourhood.
You could to a Chinese New Year festival, a Vietnamese restaurant or a sumo wrestling competition. Somewhere where different people are doing different things and where he will see people who look different.
I am attaching a photo of two of the books I read when mine were little.
Thank you everyone for all your advice, unfortunately his dad is not someone whom I trust to have him away especially in his home country of Africa,that will never happen until my son is 18 and old enough to be able to stand on his own two feet.sounds harsh perhaps but there are a lot of family issues regarding the reliability and honesty of his dad... Hence why we are no longer together.
I am definitely going to take on board the cultural suggestions from a home learning point of view, will find out what diverse and culturally ethnical events/ classes are available in our local area. And I will ask my son what he would be interested in researching together.
There was a time he used to bring home a lot of interesting books from the library about many different cultures and countries. I'm also going to see what his school can offer as there are many different ethnicities in the school, just non whom he is friends with or in his year group...(or they are girls and girls stink!! Lol)
I'm sure soon enough we will get on the right track.
Unfortunately it is something he was bullied for in his last school so we are happy he is in a better school now but we just need to build his confidence and awareness of self.
Def ensure that posters/heroes/pop culture he is exposed to includes black and mixed race people- as a child in white area, I felt that to be famous or successful or beautiful you had to be white (although I didn't realise consciously that I felt like that until I grew up) simply because all the imagery surrounding me was white.
Reading this thread I wonder if part of the problem is not so much that he doesn't want to be black, per se, but that he doesn't want to be like his dad. If his skin colour is the only thing he sees himself having in common with his father then that might be the thing that he's focusing on. From your posts it sounds as though his father is a less than fantastic parent/person, and in the mind of a child 'looks like -" can translate easily into "is like -".
It's unlikely to be as simple as only being that, and a lot of the suggestions already made would be a way to deal with it even if it was, but it might be something to keep in mind.
Ninja I never looked at it that way, you are correct his dad is not a great role model and he doesn't focus his attention on anything DS wants to do or is interested in but tries to push his opinions on DS and thus making my sons thoughts/feeling invalid!
Will look at positive black figures and am dealing with his emotions surrounding his dad already with help from school etc
I think what you're dealing with right now is not an uncommon issue, with alot of mixed race relationships.
But race and skin colour is often treated as a taboo un-pc subject.
It's NOT. And importantly It's not a novelty either! It's this kids identity!
People can't tell whether you're a good natured person by looking at you.
His skin colour is the first thing people will see.
He needs to feel not like his different skin colour is a taboo subject his family are avoiding. He's black/brown and he needs to be proud. Let him own his identity and embrace his different qualities. It's not something to beat around the bush over or tip toe around. Show him that his differences are beautiful!
He needs to feel a sense of cultural belonging.
Ofcourse he's your son and your family treat him no differently. But he is also noticeably different. He notices it, and strangers will notice too. (it's not that strangers matter) He needs to feel confident and secure.
I also agree with what previous people have suggested, learning about his heritage, having positive black role models. But really importantly That's not just fantastical ones like Will Smith or Obama. They have to be real tangible people in his life, just like he is a real boy.
His dad is around, but I get from your thread, it seems he's not a character anyone else seems to like or approve of and to your son, he'll reflect that back on himself. Children are extremely perceptive.
That's why it's a good idea in any split parenting situation to try not to criticise the other parent infront of the child, or even infront of a extended family. Because that's a part of your child.. And he'll reflect the negativity within himself (although I'm not suggesting this is what you do)
It sounds like you think, his father might not be very inclusive toward him.
But you can embrace his identity, the whole family should. You can Make friends with black and African people, ones you want to see on a regular basis. Go to positive black events, Like carnival.
Don't let him think that it's just a novel thing you're doing for him, let it be something your whole family celebrates and brings into your household.
Eat African food once a week. (it's amazing anyway! You don't need an excuse ;)
There's some really good advice on this thread - especially the last two posts (by Mommyusedtobe and Ninja).
But there's one thing I don't agree with - I would not take him to visit his biological father's home country any time soon. He needs to be much more secure in his identity before you do that.
I am white British and married to an East African, living in West Africa. Living here, you realise that anyone who is not black African is seen as foreign and different.
This can also apply to those who are black, but have lived their whole lives in the west. The sister of one of my work colleagues just brought her children (both parents fully African) over from the US for the first time in their lives and they were obviously culturally very different from all the children around them.
From what you have said about his relationship with his father, it is most likely to be you taking him there and you will go as foreigners, not knowing the culture - perhaps even on a tourist package. You would have to work hard to really make contact with the local culture and will be seen as outsiders. He may even be referred to as "white". If he is not already secure in his identity, this is likely to make things worse rather than better.
This is something I think about a lot. My 10 month old DS is pale with soft loose curly hair - from a distance more like me than DH - and I wonder how we will cope when he is older and called "white", because his lifestyle is very much African.
I can't give advice on the heritage thing, but the mood swings and bad temper after a visit I remember well.
Part of this may just be reacting to his relationship with his father. I used to come home from visits cross, tearful and angry every time. There are so many emotions that are hard to process as an adult, let alone a child.
Feelings of abandonment, low self esteem, worthlessness all came bubbling to the top after each visit.
I'm not saying the heritage part is not relevant, just that there's loads more at play too. My father wasn't really interested either. He did the visits, but he wasn't really interested. We don't have any contact now.
I like what the PP said about reassuring him that he's part of you as much as your other DS.
I think that his race is the way this insecurity is manifesting itself, rather than the insecurity itself if that makes sense.
I echo Mamayoyo's advice. My dual heritage children have all visited their Father's country as adults and had the experience of being stared at and called white. Although my husband was a reasonably good father he too wouldn't teach them any of his own languages, consequently when they visited they were unable to converse with those of their cousins who didn't speak English. Fortunately they are secure in their own skins having been brought up in a multi-cultural city with friends from many cultures.
Fortunately they are secure in their own skins having been brought up in a multi-cultural city with friends from many cultures.
I think this is key. We have two DC who are adopted and one is mixed race (does not look "Afro-Caribbean" per se, more "brown" due to the particular mix, but looks different to our other very White British looking DC, well, except that being birth siblings they share features).
We have been told both by social workers and by adults who were either adopted by white families or brought up in white areas by the white members of their families that the key things are:
1) make sure that they have lots of contact with people of their own ethnicity and lots of other non-white ethnicities. The UK is still mainly white so most areas you can go around seeing hardly anyone who is not white. If you are a small child it can be really upsetting not to see anyone who is like you. Some people have said it made them think they were deformed because they didn't look like anyone else.
2) make sure they know about their ethnic origins in the cultural sense, even if they can't see that side of the family/go to the country they are from.
3) Talk about colour. White people on average bring up race/ethnicity with their children when the children are 12. Non-white families when their children are 3. Again if nobody talks about it, there must be something wrong/shameful about it! Use the right words too (e.g. don't say people are "chocolate"), children need to know how to talk about their ethnicity properly.
I know this is an old thread, but I thought some people might still come across it.
We are a transracial family, my husband and I are white, our children are Roma. Although they'd like it better if we were all one ethnicity, they like their look and would prefer for all of us to be brown. I am trying very hard to support them in their ethnic identity and have been quite successful so far. Some ideas:
- talk to your child about colour and help them to feel good about their skin colour
- don't play down the stereotypes and racism. Explain it to them BEFORE it happens (and it will happen!), so they are prepared. Take everything they say seriously. Their experience is very different from yours (in case you are white).
- life in a diverse neighbourhood if poss
- send them to a diverse school if poss. Make sure there are children of their ethnicity and if that's not possible then children who look like them.
- provide them with lots (!) of books with characters of many ethnicities (check Pinterest for ideas or amightygirl.com, Jane Ray is a good illustrator)
- read books about different family set ups (The Big Book of Families) and racism (A First Look at: Racism)
- watch films with high diversity and heros/heroines who are POC (Whale Rider, Storm Boy, Aladdin, Wadjda, Studio Ghibli films, www.imnotthenanny.com/2015/04/family-movies-multicultural-heroines.html)
- if you send them to predominently white hobbies (eg. ballet), make sure their group is diverse and get ballet books and films with characters of different ethnicities
- find real life mentors for your child who share their ethnicity, so if they are confronted with stereotypes they have their own life experience to counter that
- get look alike dolls/ toys for them. We also have a doll family that looks like us (etsy.com). It is better, if the doll really looks like your child and doesn't just share the ethnicity.
- make sure your flat reflects different cultures and ethnicities (paintings, photos, etc)
- make sure they know about all the cultures of their background. Explore everything you can: fiction, photobooks, documentaries, music, food, theatre, ... Show them that you value their/your culture.
- get traditional clothing or other cultural goods they can be proud of
Some of this is tokenism and of course you can' t provide a child with the experience of a culture that is not yours, but I think every little helps.
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