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Being a mixed race child

(25 Posts)
Jojo79 Fri 26-Nov-04 16:37:26

I have just read this lovely piece by a man called Ishraga Lloyd, if you have a few moments have a read... I'm a mixed race woman and have a son who has a white father. For the best part of my life I grew up in a small middle classed white community in wales, but have since moved back to NE London where I started out (till I was 8yrs old). Although our experiences have been very different I found I could identify with a lot of what Ishraga wrote about being a mixed race child. This may help parents with mixed race children have a little more understanding... hope that doesn't sound patronising!!!

Be warned... it's a long one!

Now I thank God that I am mixed race, although for many years I resented the fact that I was different because it brought trouble to my door. I remember being on a bus one day when I was about 13 and suddenly noticing that my hand was brown. Everyone else on the bus was white and I wondered what they were thinking about me. I imagined bad things.

In those days I lived in Colchester in Essex. I rarely saw any other black people apart from my brother and sister. My mother and all the rest of my known family are white. My Sudanese father died in a car crash when I was six. We'd all been living in Khartoum at the time, but with him gone life became very difficult - particularly for my mother. She was treated with contempt because of her colour. People spat at her and called her a whore. My grandfather told her to go back to England but that her children would stay. Sadly, I can remember walking two or three paces behind her so that people wouldn't associate us. At the age of seven, I was dimly conscious of racism and I wanted to distance myself from trouble. I wanted to fit in with the majority. Perhaps if we had stayed in Africa I would, although I hope not. After 18 months my mum managed to smuggle us out.

I already knew England well and had friends here as we had made frequent trips before my dad died. My brother was born here. We were a bilingual family and spoke only English at home in Sudan, and Arabic when we went out. Settling into life in this country should have been fairly easy, but we soon got the message that we weren't quite good enough. At that age I didn't question it, I didn't know what was going on. Also, it was the mid '70's and I don't think many white people questioned it either. For example, we were collected from the airport by an aunt. It was a beautiful day and she was keeping us entertained by teaching us 'The sun has got his hat on'. When it got to the second verse, my mother told my aunt to shut up. My aunt said 'Why? It's just a song.' But it was too late. We were already singing: 'The sun's been tanning knickers out in Timbuktu' I still remember that journey as a washing line of multi-coloured pants swaying in the breeze.

We lived at our grandparents in a tiny, faded, town on the Essex coast. Nonie, my grandmother, was a formidable woman with rigid ideas on right and wrong. Nonie didn't act out of malice, but out of an genuine desire to mould us into respectable citizens. She just believed that British was best. Her influence was strong because our mother was living and working in London during the week and only came home at weekends. Three lively kids under the age of eight can be a handful, and we regularly drove Nonie to exasperation. That's when she'd shriek: 'You little savages!' We'd giggle and mumble to each other in Arabic and she'd blow her top. 'We're not in Africa now, this is England!' I came to see Africa as disgusting, without being aware of it. In the early days we didn't think to dry our faces (in the Sudanese heat it was best not to), but we soon learned that this was barbaric. My sister couldn't get used to wearing woolly tights and used to tear them off in the playground. She was seen as delinquent. All too quickly I shook off my ties to Africa - except my colour. There was nothing I could do about it so I ignored it. But as much as I wanted to believe it didn't matter, every day I could see that it did - to other people.

After some months my grandparents wanted their lives back. My mother gave up work and we lived together in an even smaller Essex village. My mum was keen for us to embrace our African side, but we didn't want to. I refused to speak Arabic, or to wear my hair down (too frizzy). She forced me to watch Roots and I could hardly stand it. I felt such rage at the way black people were treated, I cheered when a slave spat in the master's drink but it was too painful for me to accept in my own life. I didn't want to be associated with those slaves. I didn't want to be an object of pity or contempt. I wanted to be free to be me. At my primary school, kids started calling me Kunta Kinti after one of the slaves. Instead of seeing them as wrong for being racist, I hated the programme for highlighting my difference.

I was pulling down the shutters on race and racism but this state of denial was precarious. Any incident that touched on the subject could reduce me to tears - and I couldn't understand it. My mum was powerless to help because I couldn't bring myself to talk about it and she wanted to spare me any pain. But I think this was a natural reaction to a hostile environment. It was also a survival mechanism.

Things got worse at secondary school. I actually preferred racist incidents that took place without any witnesses because then I could pretend it hadn't happened. But attacks were just as likely in public as in private. In one class we were made to sit boy, girl, boy, girl. As I took my seat the boy next to me shouted that he wasn't going to sit next to a nigger. The teacher dragged him off and I wished the ground would swallow me up. Another time I sat through a lesson having paper darts tipped with pins thrown at my back. I didn't tell the teacher because I wasn't a grass. I was just humiliated and I hated myself for being such a wimp.

Although I had a British passport (once I was 'naturalised') and an English mum, I wasn't able to declare my Britishness. People would say: 'Yes, but what are you really'. At the same time I was in exile from Sudan. It made me wonder a lot about nationality and nationhood. Especially as I was born in China. I thought it all seemed so arbitrary. Chinese nationality was only conferred on people with a Chinese parent so I was born Sudanese (the Chinese decided my father's nationality was superior to my mother's). My sister was born in Sudan and also given Sudanese nationality. My brother was born in England and was therefore granted British nationality. We had the same parents and it wasn't rational. It also seemed irrelevant. But it did matter, as I found out during the Falklands War. My classmates got swept along with Thatcher's patriotic passion. They were delighted when we whipped the Argies and some went to greet the returning soldiers when they arrived at port. I envied them their closeness in uniting against a common foe, but I felt it was phoney. (Besides which, the Falklands looked like a dump and seemed suspiciously close to Argentina.)

I was dogged by the question of who I was and where I belonged and I think this has been the greatest gift my background has given me. As I grew up I felt more secure about being seen as different. I gained some objectivity which meant I didn't dissolve into tears of self-pity at the prospect. I also knew I wasn't inferior and I needed to understand why I was seen that way. Who says black is bad? What's wrong with Arabs? Why do people insist that a white woman with brown children adopted them? Why do some people feel sorry for you if you're mixed race? So I began the long process, which I'm continuing today, of finding out.

I started reading books on racism, international history, psychology - looking for answers. I got righteous and angry and defiantly black. This felt good, very empowering; and when people pointed out to me that I was brown I just glared back at them. (But I did worry that I wasn't black enough). I had a naive idea that all people who weren't white felt they had a special affinity and were united. At university one day a white friend of mine introduced me to a black friend of his. This guy was quite stiff until my white friend happened to mention that my father was Sudanese. "Thank God" he said "I thought you were a f*ing Paki."

My experiences have opened my eyes. They have shown me that racism is a system we live in - consciously or not. We're all prone to it's sneaky influence. It's comforting to feel superior; it's satisfying to blame others for our own misfortunes or shortcomings; and being part of a gang can boost your confidence no end. But I'm aiming for a self-confidence that comes from love, not fear. Something inclusive that allows me to feel happy with myself and about other people. I've been forced to realise that my true allegiance is with everybody. Nationality is arbitrary; countries can change their shape or character (what does it mean to be British today?); colour is in the eye of the beholder. But I'm still me. Now when I catch sight of my skin I get a warm, tender feeling. Not pride, but a kind of twinkling delight. It's me and everything I've been through. It's a perfect fit.

try this link for more:

KatieMac Fri 26-Nov-04 16:52:49

Wow - that is so interesting (my DD is mixed race)

yingers74 Fri 26-Nov-04 18:07:48

jojo79, wow you have been through a lot in your life. To some extent i understand your experiences, I am chinese and british born. I often feel stuck in the middle. Neither side truly accepts you, i always get the ' but where are you really from' comment and in HK I am considered to be half white!

MarsLady Fri 26-Nov-04 22:03:21

that was good to read Jojo. So many things that you said about school took me right back. I'm black, british born and reading that brought back some painful childhood memories. My children are all mixed race as their father is white british. I am so glad to see that things are changing. My children are surrounded by people of all colours (we live in London) and they have friends of all colours. DD1 once said "I'm brown, my brother is brown and mummy is brown, poor daddy is just white". The children are in a school and church where they are encouraged and celebrated. Their self esteem is good. It took a while for my husband to appreciate quite the way that racism sneaks in and he went from fear to acceptance to standing against it when it reared its head. I'm so glad that my children were born now in this time and not years ago or when I was born. Whilst so many things still aren't right, so many things are. Thanks for your post.

pedilia Fri 26-Nov-04 22:08:25

interesting i am mixed black/white and was adopted by white parents and brought up in a white middle class area with no -one of any ethnic minority anywhere. I quite often felt very isolated and was teased at school, when i was a teenasger and discovered London I have nevere felt so at home.

My kids are part african/west indian and asian but i feel it will be easier for them as there are a lot more mixed race children now.

peskykids Fri 26-Nov-04 22:44:49

Do you know, I read that article thinking, ooh, I must put it on the People in Harmony e-newsletter then got to the end and realised it was from one of their members! It's such a great organisation, they have been so helpful and supportive to me (see my rants about my situation elsewhere!) PIH made me heave a sigh of relief that my beliefs and opinions weren't just the crazy theories of a middle class white kid (well, woman, but hey - cut me some slack!), but actually had support from many quarters.

Pedilia - this may be a complete no-no, and feel free to say so. But would you be willing to start / contribute to a topic about being adopted into a white family? What you missed out on looking back or at the time, what you've learned etc? And if you don't want to do it it public would you be willing to talk to me about it in e-mail?

Jojo79 Mon 29-Nov-04 09:58:25

Thanks all for your posts... I just had to share that one! (And just to make it clear, I didn't write that piece, it was by someone called Ishraga Lloyd)Cheers

pedilia Mon 29-Nov-04 10:28:01

peskykids- no problem i would be more than happy to help !!

Issymum Mon 29-Nov-04 10:33:13

Pedilia, if you feel that you could post your response here, that would be great. As a white mother of adopted SE Asian children, I'd be fascinated to hear your experiences.

pedilia Mon 29-Nov-04 11:29:13


No problem, I was adopted with my twin brother at the age of 3. My adoptive parents are wonderful people who gave us endless amounts of love and still do.

The main issue for me growing up was the lack of understanding regarding our black heritage, this was through no fault of my parents I think it was just the way it was at that time. I was always aware I was different to my familt (cousins) etc and never really felt I fitted in, even though every member of the family accepted us and treated us no differently from any others e.g grandchildren.
However that may have been because we were in an area where there were no people of etnic minorities so we always stood out. I also remember my parents having no idea what to do with my hair and no-one to advise them.

Having said all that the benefits of the adoption far outweighed any of the above, the love ,security and values and morals I was shown by my parents.
I think the important thing for any inter-racial adopters to remember is to make sure the children have some type of interaction with a positive role model of the same/similar racial group, failing that they have an understaning of there racial background, maybe books from the library or resources om-line.

I have taken a lot flack over the years from black people for having no knowledge of my 'black roots'. As amixed race person it is easy not to feel accepted by either race, but I have come to accept myself as just me, neither black or white.

If you want to know anything else please don't hesitate to ask me,

peskykids Mon 29-Nov-04 19:37:46

Thank you so much for your post. Do tell me to get my nose out if I ask anything you don't want to answer!

Being mixed race, is there pressure to identify solely with one side? And is this just because it's a visible difference? (I'm wholly french and wholly english, at least that's the way I see my self. No-one's ever implied I should pick sides - except when France win the World Cup! Or refuses to go to war.... or burns lambs...)

Do you think being raised in a white family added extra pressure to 'pick a side'? And do you think things are actually different now for children as racial mixing is just the norm now?

If you were raising a child transracially, who was born in the UK but their parents were from elsewhere, do you think that their birth parents nationality, which is the child's birth roots, or their new nationality and roots now is more important?

Do adopters risk alienating the child from both -the old and the new? I'm not for one minute suggesting adopters should pretend the birth roots don't exist but I worry that you could make the child feel that they don't belong in this country - which they may get thrown at them anyway.

What do you think?

peskykids Mon 29-Nov-04 19:38:47

And do you think I should move this discussion to another thread? I don't want to hog it with adoption issues...

Caribbeanqueen Mon 29-Nov-04 19:59:56

Pedilia, can't wait to chat to you on Friday!

pedilia Mon 29-Nov-04 21:26:03

carribeanqueen- you to !!

pesky kids- you can ask me anything.
I think both a childs natural roots and 'current' are equally as important because they are both part of who you are. For example I was raised being told I was half jamaican because that was what s/s had on file, when at the age of 20 i met my bf and realised he was african, that was a massive shock and it changed the way black people percieved me. Although it didn't change the way i saw myself.

Even though I am light skinned, white people would not accept me as being white and black people won't accept me as being black.
i definetly think it is easier for transracial adopteees and mixed race children now because it is more common ( I am 28) but we must forget the basic human need of knowing where you come from and of being accepted, hence my earlier comment on the need to teach children ALL their heritage adopted and otherwise. The current trend at s/s seems to be the importance of a decent home rather than race,sexuality and so forth which i agree with as long as the above is not forgotton.

and yes it's amazing how many people refer to their background as soon as football is mentioned

my children are mixed enlish/german/african/fijian/jamaican, I am a christian and dh is a hindu so they are due a well rounded lesson in race and religion. i hope they don't suffer the same prejudices i did !!

And with more discussions like this hopefully they will be eradicated.

and lets not forget the adopters, I really admire people who adopt children out of their race. A lot of adopters want children of there own racial background, I know my parents were forever explaing why we were a different colour to them.

GoingMad Sun 30-Jan-05 18:29:53

Just read through all your messages. I will introduce myself. I am a mixed race adooptee. I was adopted into a white family, and although they did their very best, i spent my whole childhood hating the fact that I was black. i tried to hide it. I have a mixed race brother who is not blood related and he spent most of his life boxing to learn to defend himself. I only really 'found' myself when I met a black woman who made me proud of what I am!

network Mon 31-Jan-05 13:30:03

We are hoping to adopt a mixed race child (we already have 1 bio DD) and have started reading books on this and hope to put ourselves forward officially in March. Any advice or organisations recommended,

network Tue 01-Feb-05 13:14:37

Hi Pesky Kids
Noticed that you are a member of PIH. I have just recd my app form. What branch are you with? Are there any other memebers of People in Harmony?

pedilia Tue 01-Feb-05 13:35:24

goingmad- nice to 'meet' you, I can sympathise totally with your story, whereabouts were you brought up ??

Chandra Tue 01-Feb-05 13:36:08

Please excuse this daft question, but what do English people understand by mixed race? suddenly after reading this I got myself wondering if I am or I am not...

Gwenick Tue 01-Feb-05 13:42:49

Chandra - I understand someone of mixed race to be anyone of mixed racial origins -

Chandra Tue 01-Feb-05 13:47:49

Thanks Gwenick, the question now is if romans, vikings, and I don't know how many other races have lived and mixed with locals since the begining of time, does it makes everybody mixed race?

I was born in a country where everybody is mixed race so the thing of being mixed race didn't become an issue until I moved to Europe... I relate to the first post though, as I expect DS would have, in a way or another, with things like that.

Gwenick Tue 01-Feb-05 13:49:49

I think 'race' tends to refer more to skin colour than country of origin - hence I wouldn't refer to my nephews and nieces as mixed race despite being South African/Zimbabwean mix - both black parents. They hold (are did until Zim changed the rules) duel nationality of both countries too - so are multinational (mind you now living in the UK and have done for 6yrs so I'm not sure what that makes them LOL).

crunchie Tue 01-Feb-05 14:08:18

OK as a white british citizen I understand mixed-race to mean mixed in terms of colour. Any combination of balck, white, pink, blue or green which results in a child that is different from the race's of their parents. Although some may say my kids are mixed race (jewish/christian) since I consider judiasm a religion not a race, to me they are not 'mixed-race'

BTW is mixed-race the most culturally acceptable word to use?

Gwenick Tue 01-Feb-05 14:11:39

crunchie apparently mixed race is the [current] most acceptable way to describe them - we call them Coloured in our house (apparently quite unPC these days - but its what DH and I are used to and what, if we ever go back to Zimbabwe to live, our children will find it common to call themselves.)

GoingMad Thu 10-Feb-05 17:10:30

Hi pedilia. I am originally from Sheringham North Norfolk. I spent a lot of time in Great Yarmouth also Norfolk, but now live Enfield way in Middlesex. Where are you from?

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