Parenting mixed-race children

I never really think of our daughter as mixed-race. To me, she’s just our little girl and most of my focus as a parent is on the day-to day stuff like trying to get her to eat her dinner and trying to get her to wipe her own bottom. For her too, the day is filled with playing, eating, sleeping, more playing (oh if only life were that simple!) but thoughts about her identity or heritage couldn’t be further from her little world. Of course all too soon this will change as she grows up and tries to make sense of who she is.

Even as young as she is, as parents we work hard to make sure she gets as much cultural input from each of us. She has grown up eating Indian food (some of you will remember my  post about her love for rice and dhal!) and we bought her her first shalwar khameez just last week which she adored. She has danced to bhangra and uses all the appropriate suffixes for relatives like ‘masi’ or ‘dhatha’ (don’t forget in the Asian culture, everyone is an aunty or uncle or older sister! We have a wide circle of friends and relations, hence the mix of languages there). Likewise we involve my husband’s cultural traditions, language, food, music and so on in her daily life.

I wonder if she will grow up to identify more with one side of her heritage than the other? I wonder if she will feel that she doesn’t fully belong to either of them? Or will she reject them both and embrace her British-ness instead?

Funnily enough, there will be a growing number of parents in Britain today asking themselves these same sorts of questions. The UK 2011 Census revealed that the mixed-race population has gone above a million for the first time, equating to 1.2% of the population. What is more, the mixed-race population is among the fastest growing in Britain and is already the largest ethnic group among under-16s.

Isn’t that incredible? When I was growing in 80’s Britain, to be anything other than English was unusual. We were the only Asian family on our street, and I the only Asian face in my class. I think there was one mixed race child in my school, but this was an even bigger taboo back then than not being English, because it meant that – shock horror- you had one white parent and one who was’t. Today this has changed: the Census reports that there are 2 million British households, where at least two people live, with partners of different ethnic groups.

It’s clear that attitudes towards mixed race couples and their children are changing. In light of the Census figures, one commentator went so far as to say that British Olympian Jessica Ennis was not only the poster girl for last year’s Olympics, but also for 21st century Britain. The likes of Lewis Hamilton and Leona Lewis are also being hailed as representative of modern Britain.

As someone who was raised by two Asian parents and identifies fully with the Asian culture, I am keen to pass onto my daughter as much of her Asian heritage as I can. I hope with all my heart she can embrace this aspect of who she is and enjoy the richness of all it has to offer. But I know I can’t make that choice for, and she is free to make up her own mind on matters of her own identity.

Writing in an article for the New StatesmanSunder Katwala, director of thinktank British Future says of his own mixed-race children:

“Are our children “mixed race”? ….we had to tick census boxes for them too. Maybe I should have left the space blank. I feel that I should wait, and ask Zarina and Jay, Sonny and Indira, all under seven right now, what they think, when they are fifteen years old, before I pronounce on their identity or ethnicity for them. Their family history enables them to stake their claim to be mixed race. They have one Indian and one white English grandfather, though they can also call on two Irish grandmothers, one on each side of the family. I want to respect the choices they decide to make.”

In some realm, even if only for the Census, we are simply a label, a tix box, whether that’s British, Indian, Irish, whatever. In terms of identity and how we see ourselves, well yes I agree that is something we decide for ourselves; in much the same way that I choose to see myself as British Asian rather than of my country of origin.

Perhaps my daughter will be smart enough to reject all the labels and start from the point that she comes from two different heritages but in simply being herself she starts a new set of traditions. And anyway, if ‘mixed’ is the next generation of this country as the figures seem to suggest, well surely that’s the start of something entirely new altogether.

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10 thoughts on “Parenting mixed-race children

  1. This was very insightful. I am punjabi and my husband white….just American I guess. And we are currently pregnant with a baby girl. I am thinking about all the things you talk about in your blog. I am also teaching my husband the proper names for auntys and uncles. This is going to be a wonderful journey.

    • Great to make contact with you! Please stay tuned to the blog as I talk about lots of issues in this area. I’d love to hear of your experiences as a bi-racial couple too. It would be interested to know how attitudes differ there in the States.
      Best of luck with your pregnancy, I hope all is going well.

  2. Hi, I really enjoyed reading this post, and absolutely relate to it and agree with you. I am too raising a “bi-cultural” family, I am Mexican and my husband is Persian, we have two beautiful daughters, whom my husband and I jokingly say the are “persicans”. I do not like the term “mix-raced” because as far as I am concern we are all part of the human race; I am also perplexed when asked to select a race and ethnicity box when filling out paperwork. Our daughters are US citizens with Persian and Mexican heritage, we embrace both cultures and want them to be proud of who they are and where they come from. 🙂

  3. Great post! As a mother of a multi-cultural daughter (me-caucasian, her dad-Native American Indian, black and white) I can identify. Race/culture really wasn’t that big of an issue when I was in child-rearing mode. I just raised her to be a happy, healthy individual. Now my daughter is the mother of a beautiful baby girl and ethnicity/culture/race is at the forefront…should be interesting to see how she raises her 🙂

    • Thank you Kelley! Yes you’re right the world is such a different place to be raising children, so different to when I grew up. It will be interesting to see how increased migration/ more bi-racial marriages and couples in general will impact on our attitudes.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  4. I think that what is most important is not what mixes of races your daughter is, but the fact that she is a human being (a member of Homo sapiens), with her own unique identity regardless of “race” or anything else. As one of the oldest intercountry adopted persons in Australia, I might label myself as a Chinese-Malay-English-Australian because my birth parents were both Chinese, I was born in Malaya (not Malaysia) but I came to Australia as a baby & was raised by an English couple whom had moved to Australia just over the 2nd World War.

    First of all, I would identify myself as me by my name, and if people I interact with are genuinely interested in my ethnic origin and up-bringing and are polite about it, I might tell them that I am intercountry adopted. That’s all I say, the term speaks for itself. I am pleased to say that those who respect this do not see me as “Asian” at all (in terms of stereotyping me as using chopsticks or eating rice, etc.) but treat me as a human being.

    If anyone asks your daughter what race she is, she is within her own right to say “I am a human being like you” or to tell those whom are asking her respectfully what her ethnicity is. As for bureuacracy and “red tape” which asks inane questions like “what is your nationality” or “are you of a mixed race”, I think there is no big deal about these questions, when you know they are for demographics and government planners. If I had two parents of different “races” or anyone parents in my lineage of different races, I would tick Yes, knowing that doesn’t mean I should be treated any differently to any other “races” or to “pureblood races”.

    I am not mixed race, but from mixed cultures and have had a very difficult up-bringing / life, but the reasons for this have been a myriad number of interconnecting influences or factors, e.g. being adopted in a very large family & suffering child abuse, facing wide-spread racism in the community, and not keeping in touch with my natural cultural heritage.

    I am glad that you are showing your daughter the Indian way of life, and wish I had been shown the Chinese way of life, not because of being intercountry adopted (keeping in mind that some other intercountryadoptees are not interested in their “roots” – as we are all unique / different) but because even after all this time I do miss that connection.

    It seems to me that your daughter will be fine. I have had far too much trouble in my life to embark upon a journey prior to now in order to tie that connection. In summary, my unique Life has taught me that the world is very much inter-connected and that I have to make the best of things and have the courage of deep understanding or acceptance, in other words, turn a lemon into a lemonade.

  5. Hi there,
    I am doing a PhD on mixed race children in South Africa. I am white and my husband is Indian. After having our son; I thought this would be an interesting area to look into. Looking at their experiences, coping mechanisms, challenges etc. Any links, personal information, people to contact or who would share their stories would really be most appreciated! The research is in proposal stage; so perhaps one could advise on what you think could be useful to research. Any assistance would be great…Many thanks

    • I am a mixed race adult, half pakistani, half white. I grew up in a northern english town where we were pretty much the only asian family. I never mixed with any asian children, the only ones around where I was were the children of doctor who went away to private school. My relatives were also in pakistan or canada. The crucial thing in my experience for mixed race children is that they have experiences in both cultures. As a child I felt very english, its only as I grow older that I feel more and more a fish out of water. I may be culturally “white”, but clearly I am not and I often wonder if I marry a white english girl and my children marry white as well, how long will it be before having an asian grandparent or great grandparent is just a curious story told in the family. I have nieces and nephews who are a quarter pakistani and its clear that they will ‘pass’. I never really had indian food or spoke urdu as my father who was pakistani worked away a lot. If you want your mixed race child to fit in they need to spend time with either people from both cultures or even better other mixed race children ( I never had the opportunity for the latter and still don’t)

      • Hi David,

        Thank you for your honest and frank comments, and also for your advice. Luckily we do spend time with both sides of the family and Asian friends. Thanks so much- I’ll definitely take your comments on board.

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