Alarice Stuart On Raising Biracial Children And The Royal Family’s “Skin Colour” Question
Content warning: The following discussion contains mentions of anti-Blackness and racist experiences.
A couple of nights ago, a girlfriend and I were recounting an experience we had together. It was about eight weeks after Alarice had given birth to her second son, Bowie, and we were in a café having breakfast. Ally was seated and I was standing, holding Bowie and marvelling at his little nose and tiny fingers while she told me the birth story. I had decided to stand up so that I could rock him in a (failed) attempt to keep him asleep. A mutual friend of ours walked in and came over to say hi, and after a few minutes of oohing and aahing commented that I “looked more like Bowie’s mum than Alarice did!”.
What was clear to Ally and I in that moment, and what we both interpreted the person’s comment to mean, was that I looked more like Bowie’s mum because I’m white and Bowie is white passing (his father is Pākeha), while Ally is brown. And the only reason Ally and I were reliving that exchange was because of the Meghan and Harry interview that has been setting the Internet on fire for the past 48 hours.
I asked Ally what it felt like hearing Meghan and Harry recount their own experiences as an interracial couple raising biracial children, and specifically, Meghan offering a second-hand account of conversations Harry had had with his family on the subject of their unborn first child’s skin tone.
Here’s Ally in her own words.
“Raising two bi-racial boys, both who are half-coloured (mixed race) South African is challenging to say the least. One of my boys is half Rwandan and the other is half New Zealand European. One of my boys has beautiful dark skin and curly hair and the other has beautiful white skin and straight ginger hair.
When I’m out in public with my white baby in the front pack, and holding my brown son’s hand, I see people do a double take. So often black and brown women are gaslit into thinking they’re “imagining” this kind of thing, but this isn’t something I’ve fabricated in my mind – I can see the confusion on their face. In conversations with strangers and other parents on the school run I find myself overcompensating, usually by awkwardly saying, “Oh, Eli looks like me and Bowie is the splitting image of his Dad!”, all in an attempt to avoid the conversation steering towards questions about their different skin colours. This is why it’s sometimes problematic when White people speak about BIPOC experiences; I often find sharing my opinions of racism with White people challenging and somewhat frustrating, whereas having that same discussion with other BIPOC is usually met with a sense of comfort and relief, like, “Yup, I get it!”. And it’s not because we share the same views but because we’ve shared similar experiences.
The issue of whether a comment or question is racist or not, is so often dependent on context, and that’s because these are nuanced issues. The comment about Archie’s skin colour came from a family – and more specifically, a country – that has a long history of structural racism. White Brits are notorious for talking about racism by not talking about it, deflecting, or by inaccurately making the argument about “free speech”, and using dangerous rhetoric like “reverse racism”. It’s been less than 30 years since the 1993 murder of black British teenager Stephen Lawrence by a racist white gang who escaped justice through multiple police failings and witnesses who were “too scared” to come forward. It was 18 years before Lawrence’s killers were convicted. A lot of young people have grown up in Britain thinking that blackness and Britishness are mutually exclusive. Therefore, in that context, a question about the colour of Archie’s skin is incredibly damaging and offensive. However, if that question had been asked in the context of a loving and inclusive biracial family, it may not be as heavily weighted.
Online, I’ve seen white people saying that Meghan and Harry were “too sensitive” about a family member raising concerns over the colour of Archie’s skin, but, in addition to the context of Britain’s history with racism, it’s also important to consider the circumstances that surrounded their question: A pregnant black woman, married to a white man, who had voiced the fact that she was experiencing suicidal thoughts and needed help. Help that she was denied. When you put that alongside a white family member questioning the skin of your unborn child, it’s unfathomable.
Both of my sons will go through life sharing similar experiences, but they will also have racial encounters which are completely opposite, simply because one of them is white passing and one of them isn’t. When I think about how to raise these boys with a strong sense of self-worth, I often think about the responsibility I have to carefully articulate to them why they may experience the same thing in completely different ways; as parents it’s not enough to simply celebrate our children’s differences (although that is crucially important), but we must thoughtfully engage in conversations with them about what their identity means for them throughout their life. It is on all of us to recognize our blind spots; being mixed race and not fully Black means that I too have blind spots. So how do we successfully raise bi-racial children? I’m still figuring that out, but what I do know is that it’s important to continue to do the work and have these conversations with an open and educated mind.”