& mixing

New perspectives on mixed-race Britons

A CRE eConference · 4-6 September 2007

Learning about racism (Sue Funge, founder of the Starlight Black Child Mixed Heritage group)
06 August 2007

Learning about racism

Posted on: Monday 6 August 2007

Sue Funge

Sue Funge

Having grown up with the influence of the hippy movement - promoting love and peace, and a message that we are all equal, men and women, black and white - I guess I wasn't aware of the devastating impact racism can have.

The birth of my son, a black child of mixed heritage, was the most significant, wonderful, fulfilling experience of my life. When I left hospital I encountered my first negative response from an old white man who was clearly disgusted that I should have borne such a child! One or two more encounters in the very early weeks of my son Rory's birth made me think again about what racism is and how was I going to best ensure my son didn't absorb all this negativity.

I began to notice the bias on the television with either a complete absence of any black presenters, actors or comedy programmes or a portrayal of them as muggers, drug addicts, musicians or sports people. Adverts for hair products continually pointed to straight, shiny hair as being 'healthy' and the absence of any black models suggested indirectly that they had 'unhealthy' hair! Other things began to bug me. When we went to the library, where were the books showing black children in the key role and not just a token picture of a light skinned child somewhere in the background? (Fortunately I saw an early advert for Letterbox Library, publicising their anti-sexist, anti-racist children's book club and I joined immediately - they became a lifeline.)

Over the next few years my little boy was growing big and strong and was a happy, contented child who was a total pleasure to be with (he was and is the most rewarding part of my whole life). We lived in a relative cocoon in our two bedroomed house in Haslemere, Surrey, with plenty of toys and books in our home that clearly promoted a celebration of black children, people and their heritage. We shared a number of books, mainly thanks to Letterbox Library, that helped us both to learn of the great contributions black people have made over the years.

When Rory was four years old we left Haslemere and moved to Oxford. I had met a single dad with two young boys, aged six and four, and we intended to begin a new life in Oxford as a 'reconstituted family'. My partner, was white but we had discussed prejudice and as he was Jewish I felt he would be able to empathise with Rory when he encountered prejudice. Again this was another big learning curve for me as I realised that just because someone may have experienced some form of prejudice it doesn't automatically mean they have examined their own feelings about racism and are not racist themselves!

The beginning of the end of this relationship occurred when I commenced setting up the Black Child Mixed Parentage Group in Oxford when Rory was eight. I had been studying for my degree in Education and Sociology during this period and I had used this time to further my own understanding of how racism is perpetuated from one generation to the next and how we might be able to break this cycle.

I had listened to debates about the inadequacies of white parents/ carers and how I had been irresponsible having my son whilst the struggle continued to achieve equality for black people. I was also warned that my son was likely to reject me in his teens because I represented white European supremacy and racism. I was told this was inevitable as he struggled to find a comfortable identity and the most I could do was understand his need to go through this stage.

However, I began to consider more carefully the messages I was being given. I had not been welcomed by any local black community groups, I was not accepted by white neighbours whilst I continued to discuss or mention racism. I could have been accepted by the local white community if I had gone along with their view that Rory could 'blend in' and that no mention would be made of the delicate issue of his skin colour! It was as if the colour of Rory's skin was a kind of deformity that no one would be unkind enough to mention. How different from the message I wanted to give Rory - my perfect little
human being!

I have gone through periods of time when I have looked to the black community for support and got none. I have been made to feel that I am making a fuss about nothing by my white neighbours, their friends and white professionals and have had no support from here either. I have also hated myself as a white person whilst adoring all black people unquestionably - if they weren't very nice to me I deserved it, I was white, and anyway how on earth does anyone stay 'nice' when they live in such a racist society!

My son is meant to be. Other human beings have no right to judge how 'black he is' or describe him using derogatory terms. He is a whole person and I am proud of who he is. He is proud of his black and white heritage. Rory has continually had my love and support and an unconditional celebration of who he is. He did not reject me in his teens and as he has got older we have talked about some of these comments others have made over the years and he thinks it's all crazy. He says he feels I have helped him to feel good about himself, he doesn't worry about rejection from either white or black people because if they think like that he doesn't particularly want to know them anyway.

I hope we can help to make sure that all our children can grow up with such a strong sense of themselves - then we may finally break down these barriers created by racism and discrimination.

You can read Sue's son, Rory's paper here.

About the author

Sue Funge founded the Starlight Black Child Mixed Heritage group in 1994 and is the group's Chair. She co-wrote and edited Celebrating Identity and has since facilitated workshops and conferences promoting the importance of a strong racial identity and offering approaches that help to challenge racism and prejudice.



negative reinforcement of stereotypes - until recently i hated the (white?)part of me who’s heart beat quickened when a group of young black men walked past me late at night but didn't quicken as fast as when a group of white boys did the same. Then i discovered that my responses are a reflex action after decades of having negative stereotypes of "black" people reinforced by every media outlet available almost. I realised that all the images I had seen as a child and adolescent in Dublin where I was born, adopted and raised were pretty much all negative (with the exception of the Cosby Show and Nelson Mandela)…. I wish my (white) parents had had some of the resources (even if scarce) you mentioned available to them when I was little – though naturally they did the best they could – but I don’t remember playing with black dolls( except golly-wog dolls) or seeing black characters in children’s books that reflected me.

Am delighted your son feels that way – I was always raised to bellive that “it is their problem” if they don’t like the colour of my skin – the reality however, when applying for a job, renting a flat or dealing with anyone in a position of power over you is something else and that armour will only get you so far – but hopeuflly far enough.

Thanks for sharing you experiences.

Sioban McKenna
06 September 2007

Thank you this Sue and for your inspiring work on challenging racism. What you have written is brilliant and your son is absolutely right in saying that he does not care if he is rejected by people who think they have the right to judge others merely they happen to be different. Considering the amount of money people spend on sun beds and creams so the they can get brown, one could argue that this is because brown is such a good shed to be.

You have done a wonderful job with your son by the sound of things. I hope that people who claim that lone white mothers are unable to equip their dual heritage child/children to cope with racism will read this article. What these mothers need is encouragement and support. Dual heritage individuals are beautiful and blessed with the benefit of having the best of both worlds.

Often the stereotypical views based on racist assumptions derived from the traditions of western culture is what is behind how these individuals are treated. Having said that, I fail to understand why they experience racism from white people as well as from black people.

Perhaps there is not much individuals can do about institutional racism, but a great deal can be achieved if each one of us play a part in condemning and challenging prejudices and stereotypes based on individuals’ skin colour.

Viicky Lambet
07 August 2007

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