What does race mean for all parents? How do we talk to children about racism? How do you bring up children to confront racism? Those are the questions Uju Asika, a multiple award-nominated blogger, screenwriter and creative consultant, addresses in her new book, Bringing Up Race: How to Raise a Kind Child in a Prejudiced World. In this author interview with Uju, we find out more about this important and underexamined topic for parents of all races and ethnicities.
My BritMums cofounder Susanna and I have known Uju for years. We caught up with her to talk about the book, race as a topic for parents and kids, her response to Black Lives Matter and more.
A former journalist for publications such as The Guardian, Time Out and Salon.com, Uju has been a fixture on the parent blogging and influencer scene for years, known for her popular blog Babes About Town and her presence at events and conferences. A published poet and screenwriter, she’s written Bringing Up Race, incorporating her experiences of raising two boys in London. Bringing Up Race is published in early September this year.
Bringing Up Race: Uju Asika
You talk about the inspiration for the book being your blog and your experience of raising happy Black boys in a prejudiced world. How does this book help Black parents and parents of all colours and ethnicities?
I always say that I wrote this book for my community. That includes not only my Black and Brown sisters and brothers but also my parent community, who have been a big part of my journey as a mother of two boys. I wanted to give a voice to people like me whose experiences of race and racism is often unheard. I also wanted to invite White mothers and fathers into the conversation, because it’s such an important issue that affects us all one way or another. To that end, I’ve shared personal stories but I’ve also interviewed more than 20 people (mostly mothers) of various ethnicities and you’ll hear from some of them throughout the book. My goal was to give all parents the insight and the confidence to talk to their kids about race and how to challenge racism, no matter who you are.
Does racism affect parents differently from adults without children?
Racism impacts all of us in different ways as individuals.
For parents, it’s particularly pressing because first encounters with racial difference or racism often happen in a school setting.
Sometimes it’s overt, like racial bullying. Sometimes it’s more subtle, like going to a school where everybody looks the same, which doesn’t prepare you for the real world. From my research, I discovered that even babies notice ethnic differences. So as parents, it’s essential to start learning and engaging positively on race from day one. For adults without children, racism can feel very personal. But when kids are involved, it becomes a much bigger topic because it’s about our responsibility to future generations.
You talk about being mistaken for the nanny and conversations with your children about being Black and mixed race. Is it becoming easier for parents to talk about race and identity with children and other people or is this a conversation you feel you have to have over and over?
I don’t know if it’s easier although the current global spotlight on race has inspired much more interest. So there are many resources floating around and I’m hoping we’ll start to see some changes in the curriculum too. Race is such a charged topic that it can be difficult to discuss even with your closest relatives. It’s important to take it at your child’s pace and use age-appropriate tools like books and movies to guide your conversations. It’s a lot like the ‘birds and the bees’. Don’t see it as just one big talk… you have to keep dipping in and normalising the conversation as they grow.
Your book covers a wide range of topics, including research about how kids see colour, your experiences from childhood to parenthood and talking points for parents. Was it difficult to decide what to put in and what to leave out, as racism, discrimination and parenting are such big evolving subjects?
Oh wow, yes. I was quite overwhelmed at first because race is a HUGE topic. Fortunately, there have been and there will be many other books written. So I didn’t feel like I had to cover everything. I picked the stuff that mattered to me and what I believed would matter to my readers. My focus is on having an ongoing conversation and also on being kind as the most important thing. No matter what your opinions or experiences are racially, I think every parent would like to raise a kind child at the very least!
How have the recent events, conversations and developments in the #BlackLiveMatter movement affected you?
It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for real. There are days I’ve found myself laughing hysterically, raging, weeping — all in the space of an hour! What is amazing for me is that we are finally starting to have these conversations not just as Black people but as a global community. Nigerians often say ‘our road is far’, in other words, we have a long way to go. There’s definitely a long way to go but I’m glad more of us are taking these steps together. It’s strange to feel this way in the era of Boris and Trump, but I’m hopeful for humanity.
Uju Asika is a multiple award-nominated blogger (http://babesabouttown.com), digital consultant (http://mothersandshakers.net) and author of the book Bringing Up Race: How to Raise a Kind Child in a Prejudiced World, published on September 3, 2020 by Yellow Kite (Hachette UK).
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