Maintaining a balanced cultural identity for my mixed race son
Black History Month
I’ve always felt some discomfort around Black History Month. Held annually in October in the UK (and February in America and Canada), I’ve always felt there was something tokenistic about it; an isolated month of often superficial observance of black history while other communities aren’t afforded similar celebrations. Shouldn’t black history be interwoven with wider reflections upon society of the past and present? Indeed, if black history and celebrations of black identity weren’t so sparse, Black History Month wouldn’t be necessary.
Consequently, Black History Month has always had less significance for me than might be assumed. Although this year’s Black History Month is the first that I’m a dad. And fatherhood has a knack for making what was once insignificant now perhaps more deserving of your attention.
Black History Month got me thinking about myself as a black man and a black dad, but one with a mixed race child. My son will undoubtedly share my culture. But how do I achieve a balance in reflecting my wife’s in the same way? Not to mention, how do ensure this isn’t effected tokenistically in the same way I take with Black History Month?
Do I establish Bob Marley Mondays? Soca Saturdays? Or do I give Black Friday a whole new meaning in the ALaw household? Similarly, should I encourage my wife to do the same? As a parent, it’s natural to want our children to know and understand, and assimilate, aspects of our respective backgrounds. However, with a mixed race child, that can represent competing entities that need to find some parity.
Even before he was born, my wife and I always wanted our son to be exposed to both sides of his mixed heritage in a subtle yet meaningful way. We’ve asked my in-laws to speak to him exclusively in their first language with the aim of him not only being bilingual, but also possessing a tangible link to the culture of his mum. Albeit with my limited vocabulary and anglicised pronunciation, I too attempt to speak to him in their language alongside English.
Not even a month old, I took him into the kitchen while I was baking my ‘black cake’ (a West Indian fruit cake) for Christmas. The aroma of the spices and soaked fruit, wafting out of the kitchen, was a cultural sensory memory that I recall, and one that I wanted him to share. Similarly, the soundtrack to my childhood was soca, reggae and soul. Sunday dinner comprising of rice and peas (which was always carried over as leftovers for Monday) was without exception. So many features of my upbringing were quintessentially West Indian and it’s evident in me today.
Conversely, for my son, his upbringing won’t and shouldn’t exclusively reflect that of my own experience. I can’t force my culture onto him at the expense of denying him the experience of my wife’s. Furthermore, as a second generation ethnic minority, he’ll grow up in an era where his Britishness will arguably be more prevalent than it was for my wife and I as first generation, British-born children of immigrants.
There will be times when those cultures may clash and we’ll need to compromise. Though that’s no different from so many aspects of parenting and we don’t have an issue with that either as long as there’s an overall balance that doesn’t leave our son leaning towards one side more than the other. At least not on account of any bias in our parenting.
Some may not appreciate the emotive connection to one’s culture being visible in their parenting and their children’s identity. Though being of ethnic minority diasporas, there can sometimes be a dichotomy between the culture of our parents and the Britishness that we grew up with; ‘tis often the experience of being the child of immigrant parents. Whereas for our son, the challenge is different as we’re actively trying to bring these identities together in a way that he can be proud and aware of his mixed heritage.
Returning to Black History Month, it should serve as a platform for black identity across society. And as a black dad, I feel the responsibility of ensuring my son is provided with a proud image of black men and black dads that refutes any negative stereotypes he may encounter. Being mixed race, he can’t be subject to negative stereotypes that represent part of his background if they aren’t countered by first hand experiences from his parents.
Promoting this with my son therefore becomes even more important. It isn’t to effect an imbalance within him being mixed race. On the contrary, it’s to make sure that the balance is achieved regardless of anything that might undermine it.
For some mixed race children with a black parent, and children where both parents are black, Black History Month can present a further opportunity to reinforce positive images of black identity. Despite my broader views on Black History Month, from the perspective of now being a dad, perhaps it’s more significant than I once thought after all.
Written by A Law