The Thing About Raising “Brown” Children…

I will be honest and say that Walter and I were very naïve when we embarked on our adoption journey and decided to adopt cross culturally. We didn’t give too much thought to the challenges and prejudices we’d be faced with, or how we’d raise our children in a world so inherently prejudice. But my children have opened my eyes and taught me so much about prejudice and racism and how subtle and yet lethal and prevalent it is in our society. It is a blessing to raise these children, we have grown as individuals and I believe, become better people for it.

 

Over the years, my ability to deal with other people’s prejudice, from the subtle comments like “But you don’t need to tell anyone she’s mixed race/ coloured, because she doesn’t look it!” (and this statement, so carelessly & innocently thrown about by people, smacks of prejudice for me, because in a sense you’re saying we should keep her race a secret like it’s something to be ashamed of), to much more blatant comments, has improved tremendously. Previously, I would have flown into an indignant rage and not handle the comments or commenters very well and probably did more damage to the situation.

But as the years have passed, I’ve learned to contain myself and my responses, and to be far calmer and more rational when dealing with these types of people and comments.

Earlier this week, I saw a commentary about a young child who had asked if white people were allowed to marry “brown” people and the parents response had been that it was a tough question for her to answer.

It immediately made my blood boil. I had to close FB and step away from my phone. Because in my mind, this is not a tough question to answer, not at all. It’s very simple really. Any two people, regardless of colour, gender or gender preference, should be allowed to marry, because marriage should be about two people loving each other irrespective of ANYTHING else. And my daughters are beautiful, intelligent human beings from a good family and they should be and are, according to the laws of our country, allowed to marry whom every they like. Black, white, brown, male or female and any family would be lucky and blessed to have them included into their family circle by marriage.

I agonized over whether or not I should respond to this commentary and what my reasons were for wanting to respond. Was it just a matter of wanting to be confrontational? No. Was it my responsibility as the mother of “brown” children, to respond, to (hopefully) educate and defend the idea of my children’s “brownness”?

I discussed this with Walter as he’s the level headed one in our relationship and I’m the hot head. He’s the calm and I’m the storm. And he said I should respond, that we had a responsibility as an enlightened cross racial family, to share, with love and kindness and in a non-confrontational way,  from our own experience of raising “brown” children.

So I did. And I do.

And now my question to all of you is this…. If you were in our position, or if you ARE in our position, a mixed race family, how do you cope with these types of situations? Do you/would you respond? Do you/would you ignore?

October 29, 2014
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31 Comments

  • Reply Immeasurable Love

    I think that we should respond because it creates awareness. Hopefully our responses will make people think about how they think! In saying that…..I hold myself back from responding when I am angry because I don’t want to come across as being defensive or reactive.

    October 29, 2014 at 10:22 am
    • Reply Sharon

      I’m learning the art of stepping away, calming down and then going back with a calm response!

      October 29, 2014 at 10:23 am
      • Reply Ronel

        You’re daughters is beautiful, I once had a colored girl in safety care, and it was wonderful having. As my extended family did not handle the situation well, I did let her go to some one else for foster care, could not put her throe their bad attitude. I cried my eyes out for weeks passed her going away, for her it was the best.
        As I am older now, maybe it is something I will do again.
        But I want to congratulate you and your husband for what you are doing.

        October 29, 2014 at 10:30 am
        • Reply Sharon

          I think you did the right thing Ronel. As a safety carer, your no. 1 priority should always be to act in the best interests of child. I can imagine that you were devastated but I think it was the right thing to do.
          I never realized what a prejudice society we lived in until I had coloured children and even 5 years on I often find myself speechless and astounded by people’s narrow mindedness and prejudice.

          October 29, 2014 at 10:39 am
  • Reply Jenny

    I find this just so odd. I wonder if this person would admit she is a racist or think you are completely mad by accusing her of being one? As I said in my mail to you – for me that kind of comment points to an insidious and pervasive racism that is sometimes worse (imo) than an outward choice. Because it’s the unconsciousness of it that will affect that child and so the cycle continues. In the same vein – when somebody makes a comment about a girl not playing soccer or their sons will never be allowed to play with dolls: this is homophobic and it freaks me out that the parents a) don’t recognise it and b) don’t try to change their attitudes for the sake of the future generations. Black, brown, white, pink, peach, grey, green, straight, gay or bisexual – as long as my kids are happy! I tell them all the time they can marry whomever they love (except each other! ;)) I am glad you said something. I think it is right to always take a deep breath and mull over your answer before you do and you will probably get flack for it anyway from some quarters but maybe you also get through to somebody (even if it is just to think before they post!). I agree with Walter – it is totally the right thing for your family to stand as an example tough as it can be at times.

    October 29, 2014 at 10:44 am
    • Reply Sharon

      What she said! ^^^^^^^
      You have hit the nail right on the head Jen! And I agree with everything you’ve said!

      October 29, 2014 at 10:47 am
  • Reply Nicky

    I always want to respond…but I never do. I just leave it, although you’re quite right to respond, I know I will get too excited/upset so I walk away. I gave this mixed race thing no thought at all prior to my son’s birth and then suddenly my eyes were opened to the prejudice and it drives me absolutely nuts!

    October 29, 2014 at 10:54 am
    • Reply Sharon

      I’m getting better at dealing with it face on, but in a calm way. I used to get very angry and fly off the rails. It’s tough one but as my children get older they will understand more and I want them to see me standing up against it too!

      October 29, 2014 at 11:21 am
  • Reply nunu5

    I am working with facial characteristics and I find it so interesting how for some characteristics most “white” South Africans are no different to Coloured or African South Africans, but are different to Europeans! I want to shake people and say we are all shades of Brown!

    October 29, 2014 at 11:05 am
    • Reply Sharon

      Wow! That must be fascinating!
      And you’re right. I watched a fascinating doccie on the Human Genome Project and the results were astounding. Everyone one of us has brown in us.
      But why oh why oh why does this even have to matter??? It breaks my heart! It makes me worry for what our children will face growing up.

      October 29, 2014 at 11:10 am
  • Reply Dominique Kapery

    My husband and I respond. His responses are way better than mine, because he deals with most things humorously. I tend to respond too bluntly. But the message gets across.
    Its 2014, racism has no place in our lives, particularly because we are raising 2 boys who are clearly a blend of my husband and myself. Its still early days, they are still very young, so we haven’t dealt with the big issues like you have. So I just want to thank you for addressing these issues publicly. It does help us that still have to go through it.

    October 29, 2014 at 11:36 am
    • Reply Sharon

      It’s a process, you get better at it the more you experience it, sadly.

      October 29, 2014 at 11:43 am
  • Reply laurakim

    We have had this discussion in our house. We tell the kids they can love whomever they choose. We have had to face with a few of Davids friends who wouldn’t dare cross the colour line. They “forget” my kids are coloured so make these stupid statements. I ignore it purely because its really not worth it with them. Yes I realise that’s the wrong way to deal with it but I have learnt to pick my battles.

    Also I am tending more and more to steer clear of online debates like that. The internet tends to bring out the worst of people. I suspect it is because they can hide behind the screen.

    October 29, 2014 at 12:24 pm
  • Reply Emy Clarke

    Jae has an aunt that is married to a woman. She asked me why 2 girls were married, and I said that when you love someone so much that you want to spend the rest of your life with them that it doesn’t matter if you are girls. And the same goes for boys. She turned around and told me that she is going to marry her best friend Roche because she loves her. My answer to that: If that is what will make your heart happy then thats perfect.

    I think being open and honest is very important. Jae never asks about mixed race couples, because we are one. And since the above discussion she has never asked about it again.

    October 29, 2014 at 12:44 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      Yes, I agree.
      BUT, my question is, as a mixed race couple, do you tend to avoid situations where you’re faced with prejudice or do your confront them?

      October 29, 2014 at 12:49 pm
      • Reply Lise

        I go right on in there and say my bit. But I also try to be measured and treat it as a learning experience rather than get too fired up.

        October 29, 2014 at 12:56 pm
  • Reply Lise

    I find that the people we mix with and school friends generally don’t make stupid comments. Kids ask questions and I have no problems answering them – they need to learn afterall. I think we have been very lucky. Mark is incredibly strong in himself so he just tells people whats what and gets on with it. I find it much harder to deal with people in shops thanking me for what I am doing. I will gladly take tips on how to deal with that since it is always in front of him. I understand where they are coming from and that it is meant as a compliment to me, but I find it a huge insult to Mark and need to say something that strengthens his sense of self in the process.

    October 29, 2014 at 12:54 pm
  • Reply cat@jugglingact

    Firstly I think you did exactly what you should have and it would have been my option two. And secondly, you have to be very naive to think that in a society as ours today that your child will consider race when they choose a partner. I think our children have moved way past that idea and that they are a generation where it may not even be a thought (if we let in the way we bring them up)

    October 29, 2014 at 1:05 pm
  • Reply amberdaddyandmummy

    Hmmm I am never sure on this one. I am a white, blonde mum, married to a Muslim man, my daughter who is 4, has the same colouring as me with hubby’s brown eyes and features, son who is 2, is darker than her. My daughter says “he is mixed up colours, and I am mommy’s colour with daddy’s eyes. My husband has been asked in Pnp more than once when he is alone shopping with daughter if she is his daughter, or maybe a “lost”child, almost as if people are accusing him of kidnapping her. They dont seem to see past her skin and hair colour, and notice her features are so similar to his. A few weeks ago I went out to Spur with my kids and a friend and her kid. While eating, I was approached by a (white) woman, asking ” Is this little boy yours? And may I just ask where you got him from? I would love to have one too!” A bit lost in translation, and in shock, I replied that he came out my tummy, that he was mine, and no, she cannot buy him haha! Turns out she had an adopted little white girl, and a friend of hers wanted one too, but there weren’t any white girls up for adoption that they could find, so next choice was a light brown/asian looking child she told me. It still shocks me thinking back, I don’t understand why nowdays people assume your kids have to be the same colour as you, well a lot if things puzzle me about it all…

    October 29, 2014 at 3:18 pm
  • Reply Vanessa

    Ignore it. There are always ignorant people. As much as we’d like to we can’t change everyone’s perception. At least that’s the way I see it. Sometimes I cringe for things people say. If it’s from what I think is ignorance small mindedness etc I ignore. I it’s from plain nastiness these are people that I no longer associate with.

    October 29, 2014 at 6:26 pm
  • Reply Cindy

    I married a “brown man” and it was the best thing ever – not because he’s brown but because he love me and our children and that’s what matters. Race things make me mad. So I too feel the need to stand up and say something, this kind of stupid ignorance should not still be so prevalent in our community!!

    October 30, 2014 at 11:53 am
    • Reply Sharon

      That’s how I feel, I’m surprised that in this day an age this kind of prejudice still exists!

      October 30, 2014 at 11:56 am
  • Reply Our roles as parents | My Blog

    […] and the issues that parents have to deal with on pretty much a daily basis. You can read them here and here. Reading these blogposts hit a nerve with me as I also have to deal with the ignorance of […]

    October 30, 2014 at 1:26 pm
  • Reply SA Mom Blog Roundup and Linky for October | South African Mom Blogs

    […] posts about moms raising kids of different races are worth reading: Sharon (The Thing About Raising Brown Children) and Laura (Raising a Rainbow Nation) both share how they are dealing with it and the reactions […]

    November 1, 2014 at 10:53 pm
  • Reply Dianne

    I found the link to this post on the SA Mom blog round up post. Sadly racism will be here until the end of time. It is world wide and not limited to SA. I hate that people believe that because I share their skin colour and grew up in the heart of apartheid that I share their racist views. People are not even subtle about their views on racism. I used to look after a little boy whose mother worked in our shop. We would take him out with us and people obviously thought he was our child and the looks and comments we got were unbelievable. On the whole white people would have that “oh you doing the honourable thing” look in their faces and black people would treat us with contempt.
    I think the marrying of someone “different” to yourself goes far deeper than marrying across the colour-line. Take the Greeks and Portuguese for instance, even German and Dutch parents will strongly object to their children marrying someone that is not the same Nationality and culture. So it is more not accepting people who are different.
    I think taking the “educating people” stance that your husband suggested is way better, for the sake of your children more than the other person. Imagine them growing up believing their skin colour has to be defended in anger and aggression, when it should not even be a factor in their lives.

    November 2, 2014 at 8:53 am
  • Reply lindiwem

    I read your post with much interest, I’m not in an interracial relationship or have children of mixed race but I feel you should speak up by doing that you might help another parent to educate their different to what they were taught themselves. My personal opinion is that children notice differences but they are much more accepting of them, we as parents need to create an environment where that is almost seamless.

    November 5, 2014 at 12:15 am
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