It’s been a really difficult week as a black woman in the world. That coupled with the fact that I’m a black mother-to-be of a child that will also be black, the events of the past month have weighed heavy. No, I’m not in the US, but that doesn’t mean institutional racism doesn’t exist here in the UK either.
I was always raised to be proud of who I am, where I’m from and what I look like. My father is very political and was more Malcolm X than MLK back in his hay day. The first time I went to Ghana (my mums Ghanaian), I was 6 and we went to Elmina Castle. That was the first I remember of ever hearing of slavery, understood what it was, and the conditions slaves were kept in etc. It sparked my love of history. Not just the history taught in British schools, but my history. Black history.
When we were younger, my little brother and I were taught to conduct ourselves in a certain way in order to get on in life:
- If we’re out with friends, don’t act a fool otherwise we’d be the first to be singled out by others for behaving badly.
- Always be presentable to make good first impressions. If we turned up anywhere in a hoodie (one of my favourite items of outer wear) we will be deemed a stereotype, before we have even opened our mouths.
- If we ever encounter police, regardless of if we weren’t doing anything wrong, we are to reply politely and respectfully so as not to make matters worse.
- In a shop, it is the norm to be followed around by the security guard/staff in case we live up to the stereotype of being shop lifters. For the same reason, we are never to put our hands in our pockets or bags while in a store, so staff have less reason to suspect us of doing anything wrong.
- If you are on your own as a black boy, or with a group of other boys, it will be normal for people approaching you to cross the road or for people to clutch their bags that little bit tighter.
- Don’t allow others to touch your hair – you are not a toy to be petted.
These and many other tiny things to help us deal with, or avoid microaggressions were the norm and as taught to us by loved ones, we never questioned it. We, ultimately were good kids, who wanted to get on in life.
Obviously as a black woman who always wanted to be a mother, I always knew I would have to pass this information down to my children to a certain extent, but I always hoped circumstances would change when it came to me having my own kids. After the events of the last month, it is clear that is not the case. If anything, thanks to social media and smart phones, racism and its microaggressions are just as rife as ever, it is just easier for the world to see now. And I worry about these situations making me have to spark these conversations with my kids earlier than we planned or maybe before they’re even ready. How do you answer a kid who asks; ‘but why don’t they like us because of the colour of our skin?’? Or how do you react to young kids who already hate themselves; see the Doll Test & see the Colourism episode of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk. It really breaks my heart…
But I am not the first black mother-to-be in this situation, nor will I be the last and I will be damned if my kids don’t also grow up loving themselves, knowing their history, knowing they are loved by those who really matter, and lastly thinking they can do anything in the world they put their mind to (despite having to work harder than their white peers).
So, what can we do?
- As a black mother, I need to love myself and ignore the deeply ingrained issues of colourism that plague the black community all over the world.
- I need to make sure my child loves their hair, kinks and all, and does nothing unnatural to it until their 18, just like my mum did with me.
- Make sure they know where they are from and instil the pride my husband and I have of our backgrounds. My child will be a great mix: Ghanaian, Dominican, Nigerian and British and they will visit each often, eat the food from each, love the music and know their history.
- Make sure they have diverse toys; Barbies come in all colours, shapes and sizes now and Crayola have a wider range of colours to represent all skin tones. A great online source of Diverse Kids Books can also be found here. It is all about making our kid aware of and comfortable with people of all backgrounds, as we all naturally have our own biases.
- Ensure they have the best start in life: vet the schools they go to, not just for an amazing education but also to make sure they are diverse. Inspect the curriculum and make sure what is included is diverse. For anyone interested here is a petition to update the English curriculum to add Black authors and poets to the GCSE reading lists – please sign it. Also follow The Black Curriculum to find out how you can help make sure Black history is taught in schools.
- Sadly, pass down what my parents taught my brother and I, to get by in this British society.
- Give them a platform to speak their own minds so they are accustomed to using their voice when they disagree with injustices in life.
- Most importantly, surround them with our diverse family and friends to show them how loved they are, each and every day.
That is my pledge as a black mother to my unborn child, with the help of our family and friends.
How will you instil self-love and non-discrimination in your kids, of any background, so we build a future that’s better for the generations to come?