A long line of bad news has reduced me to tears. My 13-year-old, the youngest of my three daughters, is starting school, the early morning blue skies I’ve come to expect each morning – and the trash talk and thrash metal that is now typical for students – filled with uncertainty. And then, a really bad week. First, I was disappointed that my children’s teacher had come into school late for her first day, and then I was astonished to be informed of another member of staff’s proposition to colleagues that she be allowed to replace the children’s black foster brother with a white child.
I realised that if my husband and I were to have a successful future, we would have to raise our children in a way that, as a biracial mother, I have felt I’m very lucky to be able to do. We are white South African citizens, we have white friends and white relatives, as the legal requirement for our welfare requirements shows. We know more than two races and recognise the racism in many contexts, including my own, but we have chosen not to allow our children to experience the horrors of discrimination.
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I understand that some white parents are not able to relinquish control over their children. I understand also that over the years, white parents have turned to raising their children in non-blacks for safety. However, when I was starting out as a civil servant, it was hard to believe that racism was prevalent in this country, not only from some people but also in so many of the institutions and leaders. An education that allowed me to walk the same streets as my black colleague, where I could walk around without her commenting on how dark I was wearing, was an education that allowed me to build racial consciousness that I can now show my children.
The one thing that has served me well is knowing the right people. I met some important people before my children were born, like our local town councillor, the deputy chairman of my daughter’s nursery, my old college lecturers, church leaders and most of all a teacher at my kids’ nursery, who taught me how racism can be rolled back by collaboration, self-analysis and active participation. I know that I am living in a racially harmonious country.
It is, of course, important to protect the vulnerable and to keep our children safe, but every day I feel disappointment about how we are fighting discrimination rather than how we can teach children about race and learn to live with each other’s differences. The two-and-a-half years between our adoption and my husband moving to the UK to be with me in 2016 were a test of commitment that, although living an hour’s drive from my friends, have meant that we were never far away from the ones whose lives might be affected by a scandal like this one.
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One of the things we worry about is that the children will stay in the position that I feel I was left in when my husband was chosen to be a judge – one that is better suited to a non-black judge. We look at our children as gifts from God and don’t ever want to think that they will spend their lives trying to straighten out the inequities around them.
As parents, we need to take up conversations about race, about learning about different races, about family. We should demand that we get more information from the authorities, from the school who are meant to deliver the lessons, about the staff who are responsible for our children’s futures. If, indeed, they are ignorant about racism.
I am angry that the media that I normally turn to has not run these stories. I am angry that it is me, as a biracial woman, raising my children. I am angry that I have to remind my children that their lives matter, and because I am black.
• Alitha Chau (aka Ruby Love) is an independent children’s story writer, illustrator and creative leader