I haven't written a blog in a while - I've been suffering from some sort of "I have so much to say that I can't figure out where to start" writers block. Recent blog posts by Sian and Yan To about racial 'jokes' their 6 year old daughter has been subjected to have shocked me out of it.
I'm angry at what happened but not at all surprised. The issue of race has been a big feature in my life, albeit in a very strange way. My mother is "Canadian" (a mixture of English/Irish/Acadian), and my dad is from Goa. I turned out with relatively pale skin, brown curly hair and blue eyes - in other words I don't look like an ethnic minority. When I was younger, people picked up not on my appearance but my Dad's. I was subjected to awful racial slurs and "jokes" by so-called friends and even close family. My first memories of being called a "Pakki" and a "Coon" were when I was about 4 or 5.
Throughout school and even after University, I must have subconsciously defined myself as a minority, or at least as a misfit. I had the occasional "white" friend, but somehow always ended up with a group of friends that looked like an ad from The United Colours of Benetton. Because of how I had been treated, and how I expected to be treated, I felt I had more in common with the kids who had recently arrived from Nigeria, Trinidad, Cameroon, India, Vietnam, and everywhere else, than the kids who were born in my town and had spent their lives on the same streets. Bear in mind I grew up in Canada, a country thought of by many as being PC and inclusive, and of making a concerted effort to atone for its (many sordid) racial sins. You wouldn't imagine that in such an environment one child would call another a Pakki, or that an adult could tell a 5 year old child she has "Coon hair". You wouldn't imagine that a teacher could tell a pupil that her father's native tongue was "made up and isn't really a proper language". But it happened.
Somewhere down the line, my ethnicity became something to be proud of. Just as quickly, it was completely turned on its head. When people realised that my father was Indian, they would look at me in disbelief and say "obviously he's not a real Indian". Ummm.. OK. So when I was a child I was too Indian, and now I am just not Indian enough.
My husband is "white British", and our children are fair-skinned, fair haired little cuties. Their blood is a mixture of English, Irish, French Acadien, Indian, Portuguese, and probably quite a few other things thrown in for good measure. My Acadian ancestors were persecuted by my husband's British ancestors, so the idea of them being defined as British makes me feel a little queasy.
I have to admit I am at a bit of a loss in terms of how I help them define themselves. Are they mixed-race? Or mixed-heritage? Or are they British after all?