Bringing Up Race
How to raise a kind child in a prejudiced world, Uju Asika, Yellow Kite
When I was growing up, we did not bring up race, just as we did not stare at cripples, or ask out loud why that woman only had one eye. In our defence we had a shining example of ignoring race in the form of our Great Aunt Elsie, who had been a missionary in Nigeria. If you did venture to ask her whether a friend or colleague who featured in her anecdotes was white or Black, she often could not remember.
I then worked in an Australian publishing company committed to a wide representation of children in its output (including the groundbreaking series All Kinds of Kids, focusing on disability), and later, as a civil servant, took part in in successive waves of diversity training. Nevertheless, I felt I was in particular need of reading Bringing Up Race, to counteract any persistent ‘let’s be polite and sweep everything under the carpet’ tendencies I might have.
You couldn’t hope to have a better guide through the minefield than blogger and screenwriter Uju Asika. She writes honestly about her own experiences, both of growing up as ‘other’ herself, and of raising two Black boys in London, wanting them to enjoy all the city has to offer, but keenly aware of all the threats it may hold for them.
A looming question for her is when to have The Talk? That’s The Talk about what you have to do as a black boy growing up in the US or UK (and probably elsewhere): ’Keep your hands where everyone can see them. Don’t make any sudden moves. Don’t argue. Don’t turn the tension up.’ If having that talk is not something you need to do, there are still conversations to be had: ‘In a world becoming more and more polarised, talking to our children about race might be our saving grace.’
But there is nothing remotely preachy about this book. Asika is a warm, engaging writer who tells her own story movingly (and often amusingly) and has reached out to a wide range of families to explore the particular pressures they face. She doesn’t make the case only through anecdote, though: it’s backed up with well-referenced research from around the world.
Bringing Up Race is also nothing if not practical, and each chapter concludes with a number of Talking Points, genuine dilemmas that people have run up against: Asika’s calm, wise and sympathetic answers show how you can take positive action in a range of situations: for example, what to do if your child is the one doing the racist bullying, how to deal with inadvertent – or even deliberate – racism from grandparents, how children can push back on negative comments about their race in the moment.
The book is infused with the aspiration stated in the subtitle: ‘How to raise a kind child’, which is why reading it is is such an affirming experience, offering hope of a way forward whether you and your family are Black, mixed heritage or one of the white privileged ones that has never been on the receiving end of discrimination. It also contains a fantastic reading list for all age groups, so I’ve got more reading to do, and the first of the suggested picture books awaits my granddaughter for Christmas.