Last week, while it was still Loving Day in the US, my son (AM) celebrated his 20th birthday. Loving Day commemorates a landmark US court case in 1967 which made laws against interracial marriage unconstitutional.
I don’t think interracial marriage was ever illegal here in Australia, but historically there was certainly plenty of racism, with laws like the White Australia Policy to back it up, which discouraged racial mixing. By the time AM was born, interracial relationships were becoming more acceptable, although for a white person to be involved with an African was uncommon, because there were few African migrants here. AM’s grown up without knowing a lot of other mixed kids, although living in multicultural inner Sydney there’s been no shortage of diversity in his life.
I don’t think of myself as a trailblazer in interracial/bicultural relationships, (as this American woman certainly was), but one of the reasons I started this blog was to share what I learned from being in a mixed family. As AM’s got older, and more independent, it’s felt like there hasn’t been as much to say, and I’ve moved more towards blogging about other things that are important in my life, like music. But I’ve realised my music posts are often just another way for me to express my own opinions and experiences, including about living in my bicultural family. So this week, I’m sharing some music that relates to the experience of being AM’s mum.
My own birthday is only a month before AM’s and in 1994 my brother Mark gave me a Papa Wemba CD. As a result, in those hours of pre-labour at home, this is one of the songs that was easing my pain.
Appropriately, given how close AM’s birth is to Loving Day, I suspect it’s a love song. I think this next video, from Senegalese musician Ismael Lo, is also about love (judging by the original video, which unfortunately I can’t embed). This was AM’s favourite song when he was around 4.
An early sign of excellent music taste, wouldn’t you agree?
A decade later, he was listening almost exclusively to Eminem. At least, as far as I could tell, given that these days so much music is heard only through headphones and parents no longer get to yell; ‘Turn that damn thing off!’
After a while, his taste in music broadened out again, perhaps because I’d taken him to a few music festivals when he was a tween, and at some point he remembered there was more to music than Eminem. This next piece is from a CD he gave me a couple of years ago, that he brought back from Woodford Folk Festival (where he now makes an annual pilgrimage).
Or perhaps his broader taste is because he’d had a good grounding in early childhood listening to all the music DadaK and I used to play. Maybe Dibi Dibi Rek, Maria Valencia, and Adwoa Yankey (not to mention my own rousing renditions of Botany Bay) had got under his skin. Or perhaps it’s because when he was six, he made friends with the son of a musician and he’s been listening to that family’s musical choices ever since.
I remember AM joking about how he and another (Black) mixed race friend were often the odd ones out at the gigs, because … to be honest, and even though it’s a bit of a stereotype … they’d be up the back wishing they were listening to hip-hop instead. But I think he’s got used to rock, even enjoys it now, along with all the other interesting playlists on his phone.
I suppose the reality is that all of these different experiences, and more, have contributed to AM’s musical tastes today.
Which kind of goes to prove the point that people like AM may be culturally and racially mixed, but they define who they are. Living in 21st century urban Australia, AM doesn’t have to choose between cultures, or align himself one way or another, as mixed race people have so often been forced to do — through legislation which decided their race for them, the prejudice and preconceptions of people who can’t see beyond skin colour, or simply other people’s lack of understanding.
People of mixed race have the right to pick and choose from all the diverse and sometimes contradictory influences in their lives, and they get to decide who they are. Not me, the parent. Not you — the friend, the relative, the casual, opinionated observer of their life; but them. If there’s any take-home message I can pass on about how to be the parent of a mixed race child, after twenty lively, eventful, joyful, frustrating, funny, challenging, and sometimes tragic years, it’s that. Make space for them to become who they choose to be.