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“Mummy, are we Black?”

Jade Mutyora reflects on fostering a positive racial identity in her multiracial children

I’m heavy, steeped in the world’s aching as it’s forced to acknowledge the racism it’s been allowed to ignore for some time now. Sparks of the raw urgency in the USA have blown over on the winds of technology and are singeing us here. Guilt and distress spill from allies, as it should, and

I’m placing all my towels on the floor around me; I can’t absorb their anguish as well as my own.

I explained to my children why I was painting ‘I CAN’T BREATHE’ onto a sign, as gently as I could, as if I could soften the edges of brutal, state-sanctioned, daylight murder. My 5-year-old son with his honey-brown hair asked, not for the first time, “Mummy, are we Black?” I gave him one of my versions of ‘yes’. I suspect it’s not the same, ‘Yes!’ with proud conviction that I might give to him if we were American. “Yes, kind of. We’re mixed-race so we’re Black and white. We’re Black because Sekuru’s Black. We’re a bit Zimbabwean. We’re also a bit white because Nanny’s white, and Daddy is white.” As always, I berated myself for not giving a better response, even though I’ve been preparing an answer since before they were conceived.

Later on, after kneeling among a sea of socially distanced people where I could count the other people of colour on my fingers, I received a text from my white friend, requesting reading resources to talk to her daughter about racism. I guiltily felt the weight of this tiny bit of extra labour. After all, I’m half white, so maybe this is the very least I can do, but I know the internet is flooded with resources for white people, because I’m wading through it to find resources for Black and mixed-race parents of mixed-race children. There are workshops for white women to talk through their feelings and learn to be better, but there’s no workshop for me who also needs to be better. If I could find a group for Black parents, I doubt I would hear them over the cry of “imposter” from within me.

I straddle the fence between Black and white, neither foot reaching the ground on either side. Even my hair can’t decide: the odd loose curl flops down amid coarse tufts that hold their silhouette. I grew up mostly with my white mum in a small, predominantly white town where I benefited from the privileges this entails, within a childhood flooded with microaggressions. I only learned this term – for the thousand tiny, unprovable cuts that minorities encounter daily – in my late 20s. Until then I just swallowed those little nuggets of burning shame, barely understanding why I felt them. I sorely felt the absence of someone to discuss these with when I was a child. I needed someone to hear these feelings and validate them, in order to complete their processing, but those conversations were not available to me.

Playground taunts aside, everyone in my life, Black and white, largely avoided directly discussing the topic of race like a grenade. I wonder how different microaggressions will look for my ‘racially ambiguous’ children, and I hope they will have the knowledge to identify them when they occur. My 7-year-old is already weary of her classmates touching her hair. By the age of 5, she’d already been told to “go back to Africa”. Even though I can’t prevent these occurrences, I can debrief with them, acknowledge their hurt and frustration so they don’t gloss over inappropriate behaviour through lack of understanding and confidence, alongside discussing the ways they benefit from colourism.

With their light skin and eyes, it’s possible that they’ll be in the presence of racist remarks and actions in far greater frequency than me, made by people who are unaware of their African heritage. Will calling out/in microaggressions be safer from a light-skinned body? Arguably, their duty falls to allyship in these situations, but with the addition of experiencing an attack on their identity that white people don’t endure. As a lifelong introvert, I quietly admire the approach of American artist Adrian Piper, who handed out ‘calling cards’ in the 1980s, in response to racist interactions with people who mistook her for white, explaining: “I am black. I’m sure you didn’t realise this when you made/laughed at/agreed with that racist remark.”1

Psychologist Sarah Gaither has shown that, while physical appearance is the most common reason for being excluded from a group, when a Black/white biracial person is reminded of their Blackness, they subsequently have more positive interactions with Black people.2 She also found that being reminded of one’s multiple identities boosts creativity and problem-solving abilities.3 I endeavour to find a way to acknowledge my children’s different racial identities in a way that helps them to feel positive about belonging to both, rather than no, races. I want my children to feel secure in a home where both cultures are in harmony, rather than switching between two, always leaving part of themselves behind at the door.

I still get ‘racial imposter syndrome’ (a term I first heard used on the Code Switch podcast) in most situations, but for my children’s sake, as well as my own, I need to overcome this anxiety in order to give my children a chance at being included in the Black community.4 I watched the Facebook discussion on an event for Black >


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