‘I am privileged to walk freely in white skin but my children are not’: Raising children of colour in Ireland
As the mother of a mixed-race family living in Dublin, Emily Westbrooks implores us all to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions and examine our racial bias – for the sake of her children and every child in Ireland.
I am a white American woman married to a Black man who was born in Chicago and raised in Dublin. When he was just six weeks old, his family moved to the northside of Dublin, where they have resided for almost 40 years. His dad, an African American, was a professional basketball player, and his mom, a white woman, was a nurse. We met in college in my home state of Maine, and moved to Dublin in 2008 shortly after we got married.
I am now also a mom to two beautiful children through adoption: the most gorgeous brown-skinned Latinx four-year-old daughter, and a half-Black two-year-old son with a smile that will change the world. (You can read about the extraordinary story of their adoption journey here.)
Our Mexican, Irish, African American mix
I am privileged to walk freely in white skin, and I know my role in this movement and moment in time is to amplify the voices that have been stifled for centuries
They were both born in Houston, George Floyd’s home city, and the most diverse city in the United States. We lived there for three years before moving back to Dublin in 2018. We are so proud of their heritage and grateful that we get to mix all of our cultures together — Mexican, Irish, African American.
I am not an authority on anti-racism or the Black Lives Matter movement, either in Ireland or America, but I am a fervent supporter. I am privileged to walk freely in white skin, and I know my role in this movement and moment in time is to amplify the voices that have been stifled for centuries.
Insist we do more
I am, however, fiercely passionate about doing whatever I can to ensure the world loves, accepts and protects my family and my children as they would their own. And with my white privilege comes the responsibility to insist we all do much, much more.
So as a white woman, I would like to implore white readers to please begin to actively learn what you can do to confront your own internal racial biases
Watching America rise up in protest from 3,000 miles away has been surreal. I know structural and generational racism is built into the systems in America, and I am rooting so hard for them to come crashing down, finally, this year. I’m grateful to be in Ireland, where I know my family is physically safer and yet I’m heartbroken that my home country, and the country where we were all born, is so broken.
Dismantling the structures
I think white people are missing the fact that anti-racism is our job now, it’s our work to do
So as a white woman, I would like to implore white readers to please begin to actively learn what you can do to confront your own internal racial biases and start dismantling the structures that keep white people superior. We all have them. I am married to a Black man and have a Black son and a Latinx daughter, and even I have them.
I think white people are missing the fact that anti-racism is our job now, it’s our work to do. Not just today, but probably for the rest of our lives. For many of us, the ways we are racist have nothing to do with choices we actively made, but they have everything to do with the ways we’ve been socialised and the systems and structures that we benefit from every single day.
The work we do now matters
It is embarrassing and shameful to admit when you’ve been wrong. It’s even more shameful to continue to refuse to look for ways you can do better.
And if you think it doesn’t affect you (because I do know that a whole lot of white people here don’t have non-white people in their immediate circles), think about your kids. When your teenager goes off to university a decade from now and comes home with a Black girlfriend, or vice versa, your potential grandchildren of colour are why this matters now. The work we start now matters.
Being less racist in your life when you don’t believe yourself to be overtly racist doesn’t immediately lend itself to a lot of simple steps toward change
I know active anti-racism feels like an ambiguous project to embark upon — I have felt that paralysis immensely in the last week. Being less racist in your life when you don’t believe yourself to be overtly racist doesn’t immediately lend itself to a lot of simple steps toward change. Most of us are task-oriented, and anti-racism work doesn’t have an easily envisioned finish line. We get stuck on how to start, because there is no one perfect way.
But I’d encourage you to push past that paralysis and choose something you can change today.
Practical steps towards change
Stop using gifs that make caricatures of and perpetuate stereotypes of Black people on social media. Stop using AAVE if you are not, in fact, Black. Do not touch anyone’s hair, do not fill your kids’ toy box with all-white dolls, do not ask Black people or people of colour to direct you in how to become less racist.
Make a seat at the table for workmates who don’t look like you, actively amplify Black voices that aren’t being heard in your job or class or community. Use your body and your voice to protect and defend Black people and people of colour from racism whenever you see it. It is our turn to do this work.
School bookshelves of all-white characters
Turn off Frozen and turn on Doc McStuffins. Turn off Fireman Sam and turn on Blaze and the Monster Machines
My world revolves around toddlers at the moment, and all I can think about is them going to new schools next year with new classmates (the majority of whom will be white) whose bookshelves at home are full of white characters — where they’ll sit in classrooms full of books with all-white characters.
If you’re a parent, please invest in the books you read your children. Not just books about racism, although those are important, but books where the protagonists are joyful and strong — and Black, where the main characters are courageous and creative — and Brown.
Turn off Frozen and turn on Doc McStuffins. Turn off Fireman Sam and turn on Blaze and the Monster Machines. That’s how you dismantle racial bias, when white children stop seeing only themselves reflected as the lead characters, or in positions of power.
Talk to your children about race
Please, teach them to stand up for my daughter when a classmate makes fun of her gorgeous brown skin
Speak with your children about racism as early and often as is developmentally possible — children as young as junior infants see and act on racial bias. If your child is already school age, talk to them tonight.
Do not teach them to be colourblind, instead teach them to love and appreciate the whole range of shades we’re all made in and the people underneath, by talking about the differences and strengths and talents we all have.
And please, teach them to stand up for my daughter when a classmate makes fun of her gorgeous brown skin, or when someone slags my son’s blonde afro as he’s running across the football pitch.
Start diversifying your toy box
It’s unfortunately almost impossible to find dolls/toys of colour in Ireland without relying on Amazon. But here are a few options. Let’s all campaign to change this…