Ruban's blog: EmbRACE
A brown man walks into a pub.......is potentially the start of a humorous observation of ethnic mismatches and misunderstandings that would have been acceptable in the 80's, but actually it continues in an altogether less controversial, more domestic manner as this brown man walks into a pub with his two children who are in desperate need of the facilities, not having enough time to buy a pint to warrant our existence there, and severely lacking in alternative clothing options should the worse come to pass.
The opening gambit of many wannabe school playground comedians tickled me once young bladders had been fully relieved but had also got me thinking about a topic that has been on the fringes of my mind ever since we had children: Race. And not the Usain Bolt kind. I myself am a confused melting pot of cultures and sub-cultures. Born in East London to Sri Lankan parents, one of whom was born in Sri Lanka, the other in Malaysia, both of whom practise Hinduism but celebrate Christmas as if they were born-again Christians to a backing track of Mariah Carey's ‘All I Want For Christmas’. Being first generation in the UK, it was hard enough trying to figure out who you were without the added layer of your identity based on where your parents came from. “Fit in, but don't fit in too much”. “Change who you are, but don't forget where you come from”. Where am I supposed to come from? East Ham or Colombo? Jaffna or Kuala Lumpur?
Having children reawakens you to the innocence and purity of humankind before the world and its web gets its grubby mitts on them, reality kicks in, and all hell breaks loose. Race is not on the agenda for them. In my experience to date, there were no questions about it because it didn't matter that everyone looked different. Having a different skin colour was just as much a non-event than having different eye or hair colour. I have only one example to contradict this involving a bathroom incident at my eldest son's 4th birthday party. Soon after doing their business and as they were washing their hands came the innocent, inquisitive remark from his good (non-brown) friend of 4 years: "Why are you brown?". My son looked intently at himself trying to figure out what it meant. "My shoes?" he said. "No, why are you brown?" came the reply. Before I launched into my jumbled explanation of evolution, geography, history, and politics using a mixture of age-appropriate language and wild hand gesturing, the friend was ushered away by an equally amused and horrified dad (we are still good friends).
If I could leave race to such funny amusing anecdotes, it would surely reflect on a more tolerant and acceptable world. Unfortunately, despite making great strides, we are still having those conversations, whether it be about the top levels of the monarchy, football, or policing. All symptoms of a society that is not ready to move on from our differences.
All these thoughts leave me somewhat confused about what to say to my children and when (if indeed at all) about race. On one hand, do we not have a conversation about race and leave the kids to enjoy a colourless, innocent life for as long as humanely possible, leaving the job for the likes of Chris Rock and Aziz Ansari when they inevitably hack the parental locks on Netflix? Or worse still, wait until they fall victim to society's problems in some manner and deal with it then?
Or do we have the conversation up front, highlight that people are different and while we should accept such differences, sometimes it can cause problems for people who don’t feel that way inclined. Attempting to put ourselves in a child’s shoes, how are we meant to react to being told about race? A child could feel anything from fear (about being singled out for it), inquisitiveness (about where they come from), to pride (about their heritage). Could (and should?) non-ethnic minorities be having the same chat to aid equality in the future?
Alternatively, is race a part of a wider conversation about being 'different'? Is it fair to have a default type of person and/or baseline and rest of us are classified 'different'? Surely there are many components of who we are who make us different from each other, and that's what we should embrace?
Reading this and the number of question marks on the end of rhetorical questions should give you an indication of just how unsure I am of what the best path is to take and that there are no hard and fast rules about what is such a sensitive matter. The limits on words here mean I have not given the topic justice but is certainly not designed to make light of what is such an important subject, and instead may hopefully resonate with parents and non-parents alike and get people of all backgrounds talking and working together to create a more harmonious future.
Ruban is a husband to one amazing wife, father to two wonderful young boys, and a willing slave to all three. When he is not dancing around with a child on his shoulders or ferrying them around on piggyback, he can be seen attempting to kick footballs, save worlds on his Playstation and occasionally audit some things for a lucky City insurance firm.