In summer of 2015, I quit my job and started this blog to write about my travel adventures. Since then, it has grown to include more in-depth details of life as I have lived and seen it as a Jamaican on a tiny island, and then as a West Indian immigrant in the United States.
This led to several articles on race and race relations, which has garnered a lot of healthy feedback from readers all around the world.
In Response to Queries from Mothers of Mixed Race Children
Loudest of all the voices I’ve heard came from White parents of children of colour, who struggled to raise their children with a fine balance of both worlds. They asked:
What should I do with her hair? Are there any products I can use that worked for you? How do I make sure he appreciates both sides of his heritage?
I don’t have all the answers, but having grown up as the mutt in my multi-racial family, I’ve learned quite a bit. Thus, I’d like to share what I do know with all the non-Black moms, dads, grandparents, and concerned aunts who reached out to learn how best to approach race, when it comes to their Mixed-Race children.
Pay Attention to Representation
Many people believe that minorities’ issues with representation are trivial. Sometimes, I might even agree this is true. However, when it comes to children, representation is important. If a child cannot see himself in the face of the people he admires, he will begin to question that difference over time.
For instance, in Why I HATED my Dolls as a Child, I explained how having an all-White doll collection really made me wonder what was wrong with me. Why did I not look anything like the very things I idolised as the epitome of beauty?
If you live in a family or community with very few Blacks or Mixed-Race kids, this becomes even more important. Buy toys and find movies and books that reflect not just the faces your child will see when she goes out into the world, but also what she will see when she looks in the mirror.
Do not Forge their Racial Identity
A Mixed-Race child does not become Black, simply because one parent is Black, or even if both parents are half Black, each.
This is because a Mixed-Race child is exactly that – mixed – and they should be treated as such. Forcing the child to deny a part of their heritage may cause problems later on.
Teach your kids that they are both and show them why they should be proud to be both. Let them choose who they want to identify with on their own.
Most people will likely identify with the race they most resemble, as they grow older. However, many well-adjusted Mixed-Race children simply accept that they are two or more great things rolled into one unique person.
Do not Make Race an Uncomfortable Topic
Race and race relations all but dominated the media last year, before feminism seemed to overrun it. But in spite of its prevalence and the dialogue it created, many people refuse to talk about it. In some places, race is almost taboo and it seems impossible to say anything about race without being branded a racist.
As a result, many people become uncomfortable when it comes up, and entertain the grand illusion that if they don’t talk about it, it will just go away. However, silence did not end slavery, or segregation, or do much of anything for the Holocaust either. Sweeping things under a rug hides rather than eliminates an issue – and only for a time.
With that said, a Mixed-Race child may begin to notice their racial differences at as early as three years old. And they will have questions, even if they don’t work up the courage to ask right away.
So create an environment in the home where children can discuss race and ask questions without feeling judged, and without feeling as though they have inconvenienced their parents by asking uncomfortable questions about their identity.
An awkward and discouraging experience with addressing their racial differences may instil that not only is there something wrong with asking, but that their differences make other people uncomfortable when it is addressed and acknowledged.
Teach them your First Language
In some countries, there is often a cultural bias towards people who don’t speak English as a first language, and people who speak English as only one of their first languages. However, if you speak another language, do not allow your child to miss out on the opportunity to learn it.
When that child becomes older, having a second language makes them stand out for many prestigious job positions. Almost all the most successful people I know who had amazing jobs, spoke at least two or three different languages, and got their jobs based on that fact.
Being multilingual often landed them jobs which required international travel, or special projects that required working closely with natives who spoke the other languages they possessed.
While parents should certainly place greater emphasis on teaching their children the language they will be instructed in, children do learn multiple languages with no confusion.
Learn to Manage their Hair
One of the biggest problems many White mothers reached out to me about was their children’s hair, and how to deal with it. One mother related the heartbreaking story of how her son expressed outright hatred for his hair and wished he had “normal” hair like hers, instead.
However, learning to make your kids see their hair as different but “normal” means not fighting with it, and never letting them feel that their hair is a struggle or an inconvenience.
Combing and Detangling
The first step in this is to use combs and brushes which suit their hair type. The less straight a child’s hair is, the bigger the space should be between the teeth in their combs. De-tanglers also tend to get tangled in kinkier hair types, so opt for a soft, smooth brush instead.
To help with de-tangling during a wash, use warm water, a wide-toothed comb, and conditioner. The hair may begin to tangle again after you’ve towelled it dry, so make sure you moisturise before combing or styling.
In fact, hair should always be moisturised before combing. You can try spritzing the hair with water, or using leave-in conditioners.
When it comes to hair care, one of the biggest mistakes White mothers make is washing curly and kinky hair as often as they do straighter hair.
Doing this strips the natural oils from the hair and leaves it dry, wiry, and easily tangled. Curly hair should only be washed twice per week, and for kinky hair, only once per week.
If you’re worried about keeping their hair clean, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to keep hair clean without washing with shampoo. This includes dry shampooing and co-washing.
Experiment with Brands
When it comes to Black and Mixed-Race hair, there is no one brand that works for all of us. Different hair-types respond differently to certain brands and lines of shampoo, no matter how similar our hair may look on the surface, and no matter how closely related the individuals compared may be.
For instance, when I still wore my kinks lose, the only brand that made my hair manageable made my mom’s hair a complete mess. Thus, I made every attempt to buy only that brand, and she did everything to avoid it.
Keep in mind also that brands which claim to be made specifically for people of colour are not always the best option. After all, not all women of colour have kinky hair. Asian women and Hispanics are women of colour too – ads can be deceiving.
Seek out Professional Help
Unless you have Black hair yourself, trying to comb and style this hair-type can become a confusing and tiresome task. If this becomes the case, hire a professional who does have experience with this hair-type, to do it. Virtually every corner of the world has hair salons for coloured hair (and I don’t mean dyed).
Do a quick search on Google, or you can also check out shops which boast backgrounds in African, Jamaican, or Dominican roots. They are usually the best suited for handling this hair-type. While you wait, feel free to ask the stylist for advice you can take home with you.
Try to avoid suggestions to alter the child’s hair with chemicals or heat, such as relaxing the hair or routinely flat ironing it. While this certainly makes the hair more manageable for you, for your child it reinforces that their hair needs to be straight to be suitable.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with the occasional flat-ironing. Teaching them the different ways they can handle their hair is just as important.
Every year, interracial families become a more common sight in America and across the globe. This creates the perfect opportunity for families to learn about each other’s differences from not just a cultural, but a physical standpoint as well.
The growing trend helps us to transcend cultural barriers, and to appreciate each other’s differences (and similarities) as a part of who we are as unique and wholesome beings.
If you believe there’s any tip I’ve missed that mothers could find useful, feel free to fill in the blanks in the comments. We’re here to learn from each other, and comments are always welcome.