Monday, 21 March 2016

Mothers fight against racism

The 'International day for the elimination of racial discrimination' which falls on 21 March is an annual celebration by the United Nations (UN) in the global fight against racism. It is a day that calls for racial harmony. This blog post is a reminder and a celebration of the role that mothers play in combating racism. 

This is done in a number of ways and primarily through the intersection of race and mother. Mothers employ a variety of strategies. A journal titled 'Mothering, Race, Ethnicity, Culture and Class' (see picture) published by the Journal for the Motherhood Initiative sets out the myriad of ways in which mothers practice and incorporate anti-racism measures in their mothering.  
Vol92
Journal referred to in this article
The article in the journal that I most identify with is titled, 'The Experiences of Mothers of Children of Mixed Heritage: The Theme of the Body Physical' and is written by Dr Louise Gormley, a Canadian researcher who specializes in the issue of mothering and race. In writing the article she discovered that the physical body was a key consideration in the way mixed race children are viewed and the negative racial connotations that go with it. 

I have written about this before myself because I am an Asian woman of colour mothering a mixed race child whose skin colour is white. My motivation for being interested in my daughter's mixed race heritage is much like Dr Gormley's - the desire to help her thrive in the world and to learn more about the sorts of experiences that she will have in negotiating identities. 

Dr Gormley writes that, "When conducting a literature review on mothers of children of mixed heritage, I found that there is an undeniable emphasis on the physical body. To elaborate, there is no physical space less distanced than that of a child spending nine months in his/her mother's womb". 

When my daughter meets people for the first time she is assumed to be Caucasian but surprise is expressed when she or i explain that she is of mixed race heritage. I have been asked in the past, when she was younger, whether I was her nanny. Dr Gormley writes about a mother of colour who has been asked whether she is the family maid or nanny to her fair skinned son. It is quite disturbing that in an age where mixed race children are literally a common sight there is still a racial assumption that mothers and children should have the same body physical.

Another mother who is mixed race herself teaches her blond-haired, fair-skinned children on how they "have the ability and responsibility to move back and forth across the lines of race". My daughter knows that she can use her white privillege which is predicated on the colour of her skin to challenge racial assumptions while, at the same time, being able to understand the racism that people of colour face because she witnesses this happening to me, her brown skinned mum. 

One of the stereo typical attitudes towards children of mixed parentage is that of being perceived as being beautiful. This issue is given prominence in the article and validates the experiences that I have had where Chinese tourists, especially, would crowd around my daughter to take selfies with her. While Chinese tourists take photos with her, Asian people without exception will compliment her on how she looks like a Bollywood actress called Kareena Kapoor who is fair-skinned. While the comparison is enormously flattering I do recognise that there is a negative connotation involved because of the Asian Indian desire to look fairer. Quite controversially there are beauty products which carry the promise of lightening one's skin and a backlash has resulted in India in a campaign called '#unfair and lovely' on Twitter. 

The journal costing $5 is an insight into how constructions of motherhood and race play out and how the lived experiences of mothers with mixed race children involves negotiating the minefield of race. In a highly globalized world where human movement across countries and boundaries is the norm there is no reason for the ignorance and racism that  sees mixed race children as being objects of fascination as if they were a token rarity. 

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