My husband John is white and I am black. Our first daughter was conceived after a lot of body heat measurements, lovemaking, and consultant fees. As a newborn, she looked nothing like me but everything like John—dark blue eyes under straight black hair, set in pale skin dusted with freckles. Twenty-two months later, her sister was born.
My beautiful girls have always seen and described themselves as caramel. They say caramel is the mixture of white and black. I also see them as caramel. However, I refuse to raise them as caramel. I am raising them as strong black African women to give them a sense of belonging.
When my seven-year old (who had played all day), wanted to play with her friends some more instead of studying, I said no despite her tears. Her friends in question are white, middle-class, and privately educated. She is mixed race, middle-class, and in a state school. In May, my daughter writes her SATs, her first exams.
Because I worry about my daughters’ academic potential, I constantly emphasize the importance of working hard at school. Only this time, her naïvety irritated me. I told her, “You will have to work twice as hard as your white friends to get where you deserve to be.”
In England, caramel is closer to black, and society regards them as mixed black Africans and not mixed white British. People see their sex and race first. They are not immune to this reality. As a warrior mum, I want them to know who they are and I want to give them every advantage they need to succeed.
Still, my main parenting ethos is to ground them in the kind of love I never experienced. Love, which is professed. Love, which cuddles. Love, which kisses. Love, which makes us spend time together. Because knowing you are loved and accepted unconditionally is a bulwark against ‘colour’ coding and separation.
Yvonne is crazy about retro and vintage fashion. She writes passionately about things that get to her at RealYvonneBlog
E1 ran for house prefect last term. Three girls and a boy competed for the two positions. She wrote a speech and campaigned round school. After the elections, E1 came second. The highest vote was nine. She scored eight, the boy scored three, and the other girl one. E2 excitedly told her sister, “Well done, you got it.”
Imagine my shock a couple of days later when E1 reported that the other spot had gone to the boy.
I let off steam at the school office and emailed the secretary expressing my displeasure. A meeting was scheduled with the head teacher where she confirmed that because a boy and a girl traditionally filled the positions, the second post had gone to the boy.
I contended that since the candidates were not informed upfront, the entire process was a mockery. I decided to pursue the matter further as I felt E1 was robbed. Outlining my grievances in a letter, I pointed out that by denying my daughter equal opportunity the school was teaching her that gender is a deterrent to success in a society where gender discrimination is illegal.
It was a lonely and long fight. Well-meaning people asked, “What’s the big deal?” In the meantime, E1 was offered other positions. I told her it was okay to accept another position, as long as she made it clear she was still holding out for her elected post.
Countless emails and acknowledgements wearied me to the end of my tether. Then one Friday, at the close of school, the secretary handed me a letter. I ripped it open once we got to the car. E1 had been awarded the prefectship!
I turned to her, “You see why it’s important to stick to your guns and fight for your rights?” She nodded, joy brimming from her eyes.
I am trying to raise my daughters to believe that there are no limits to what they can achieve or how far they can go. They know that sometimes, they will have to fight. And I want them to know I will always have their backs as God gives me strength.
Joxy, wife, mother, bookworm, bookaholic, ardent Scrabble player, tennis fan, and foodie, writes at Justjoxy’s blog.
A Heart of Gold
My thirteen-year-old son is not special needs. He has special needs and barely qualifies to have some of them met in school. If you met him, you would not imagine that my well-spoken boy struggles in school. This challenge began in pre-school and has now progressed to annual team meetings with teachers.
The meetings always start with, “What are your concerns about Damon?” I exhale before I rattle off the same yearly list, lack of focus and mathematical comprehension, poor grades, etc. His teachers smile sadly and nod because they see it every day. In that moment, I don’t feel alone even though they are witnesses for only nine months.
What happens next is my favorite part and it happens every time. Sure, their faces drop when they describe how Damon hunches over his paper, so they won’t know he hasn’t written anything. But they then mention how his hand shoots up above his brown curly hair to volunteer to read; and my mind travels to the years he cried because he hated reading but persevered until he loved it. They smile as they recount his eager participation in class discussions, which elevates the conversation. We all laugh at the way he smiles and assures us that he’s, “Got this!”
And yes, Damon’s got this, this being the heart of life. He carefully scoops up infants in the church nursery where he volunteers each week. He emanates warmth as he greets homeless people whenever we hit the streets to hand out supplies. You see, I mother a child who on his best day puts in twice the effort to receive half the grade and has done so for nine years. Yet his perspective of the world and himself is untainted. Once when I checked his phone for inappropriate content, I saw a text from a friend who stated he wants to be incredible like Damon.
So yeah, parenting an out-of-the-box kid isn’t easy when it comes to schooling, but witnessing his spirit shine in the face of obstacles is better than perfect marks.
Brina Harwood, recent returning full-time student, aspiring writer, and working mother of four, blogs on occasion at My Life in Crowd Control.
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