After Ashleigh, a 31-year-old black British Jamaican woman, married a white British (born in Wales) man, they had a glorious beautiful daughter called Alleppey, now 19 months old. Ash is a blogger at The Constant Wonderer and recently vlogged about being in an interracial relationship and the challenges that come with marrying two cultures. Here she talks about the responsibility that comes with raising a biracial child.
Becoming a parent is a magnificent learning curve unto itself… So what makes raising a child of mixed heritage so different?
Perspectives on this topic seem to differ depending on geography and the ethnicity of the mother (she is often regarded as the most influential person in a child’s cultural identity). But everyone seems to agree that the main challenge of raising biracial humans revolve around balancing their cultural identity and genetic features. The battle between nurture (whichever culture they are most exposed to) and nature (their physical appearance) is played out openly in every moment of a mixed race child’s life.
Photo credit: Ashleigh The Constant Wonderer
Funnily enough, when my husband and I did talk about Alleppey’s cultural upbringing, celebrating her black roots seemed more urgent than celebrating her white ones. It sounds kind of one sided but because we live in the UK — a ‘white’ society — Alleppey has no shortage of references to white culture. (If she was born and raised in Jamaica, then obviously this logic would be reversed). It’s all about giving her a balance!
Here are a few ways that we consciously expose Alleppey to her black heritage in order to maintain that tricky equilibrium:
1. Toys & Books:
I was adamant that Alleppey’s first baby doll was black. Most stories these days are very culturally inclusive, but you can get some fantastic books with leading black characters – and there is a whole range of books and stories targeted towards mixed children and their wonderful families.
2. Food & Culture:
My Dad was born in Jamaica, and every Friday we join my sisters, nieces and nephews at Dads for huge plates of Jamaican food! It’s glorious, and as a result Alleppey LOVES plantain! When Alleppey was 7 months old Dan and I spent 3 months in Jamaica. This trip was mostly for me – as I had never been back to visit my roots – but as a bi-product of that, Dan and I had the opportunity to fill up on authentic Jamaican culture and we can share this with her as she grows. Dan and I have an eclectic taste in music, so it’s been fairly natural for us to expose Alleppey to music of black origin – from Reggae right through to Gospel and Rap.
We are hoping to move out of London soon and are consciously looking for areas that have a multicultural community. I always measure this by the types of shops in the vicinity. If there isn’t a black hair shop and a Caribbean takeaway nearby, then we should probably be looking somewhere else lol. Constantly exposing Alleppey to multiple cultures (not only black and white), is a great way to ensure she is accepting of differences in others, and in herself. This is also one of the main reasons I advocate family travel – exposing children to different cultures while they’re young is so rewarding!
The language we use towards Alleppey is important too. And I don’t mean curbing our swearing (though my potty mouth is a constant source of despair – especially as Alleppey is at the parroting age). Dan has been calling Alleppey a ‘little monkey’ since she started becoming more mischievous, and it’s been causing a bit of a stir on my side of the family. I know he uses this phrase as a term of loving endearment, but some members of my family have really taken offence. Should Dan stop using this phrase? If Alleppey was 100% white would it be as offensive? Would he use it to describe a child that was 100% black? Really interesting debates have come from this… what do you think?
Hair care has always been a divisive thing between black and white mothers of mixed children. Shamefully, I admit that I get a bit judgey when I see a white mum with a biracial child whose hair is clearly unkempt. The joke is – although Alleppey’s hair has lots of similarities to my own afro textures, taking care of her locks is a learning curve for me too, and I don’t always get it right! Making the effort to learn about your child’s mixed biological features and finding out how to care for them is so important. Teach them to moisturize their skin…to love their dark eyes, or broader nose, thick lips or thicker hair.
Alleppey is a little too young to have an identity crisis at this stage, but our responsibility as parents is to show respect for each other’s culture and celebrate each other’s features. Dan and I are keeping the dialogue open and learning together. We want to equip Alleppey with all aspects of her identity so that she can pick and choose which elements suit her, as she gets older. And we steel ourselves for the difficult questions that will inevitably come.
About the author:
Ashleigh blogs at The Constant Wonderer. She’s a vlogger on a mission to dispel misconceptions of modern-day motherhood. She’s also an avid advocate of family travel after a 3 month trip to Jamaica saved her family. Together with her husband , she has extraordinary adventures with their daughter Alleppey, but the everyday wonder of being a mum and wife keeps her feet firmly on the ground! Keep up with Ashleigh on Instagram.