Monday, 1 March 2010


The other day, my daughter said something quite disturbing. For the past year she has been asking me questions about her looks (how different she is). When she was three, she came home one day from nursery school and said to me
“Mamma, is it true that you are black?” I was amused. I asked her what she thought and she said
“I think you are brown. Mattia said you are black and I told him you that are brown.” With that, I knew that it willl be just a matter of time before the you-are-different snake pops its head up again. It’s been two years.
Well recently, she has gotten into fights a lot too often with the boys in her class and although her teacher had trivialized the whole thing and had told me she was simply a difficult child, I found out that the boys in question had called her Bistecca (steak - for the colour of her skin), ricciolina (nappy head - for her hair) and cacca puzza (smelly shit - for…heaven knows what).
Anyway, on this particular day, I had picked her up from school and we went grocery shopping before heading back home, and while we were stuck in traffic, I was listening to Sarah Brightman, my mind was wondering in all directions when suddenly she said
“Mamma, I am not black.”
“Yes principessa, you are not black,” I responded, (she loves being called a princess ever since she learned that my paternal family were at a time rulers in my African hometown).
“And I am not white,” she added, again, I shook my head.
“No principessa, you are not white either.”
“I am Mulata,” she stated.
“Yes you are Mulata.” This has been a conversation we have had in the past, so I was certain this line of conversation was closed until she added
“I don’t want to be black because I don’t want to be a cacca puzza like black people are.” I felt my rage rising slowly but I kept it under the lid.
"Is it true that we stole this car because black people are theives?" (refering to my car of course). My tolerance lid popped.
“WHAT?” I barked.
“I didn’t say it,” she defended quickly, “Mattia said that black people are cacca puzza (smelly shit) and that I am a negra femmina (female negro - usually when Italians use the term negra it carries an offensive denotation), and that blacks are thieves."
For the next sixty seconds that felt like more like sixty minutes, clearly and harshly, I defended my being black. She began to cry. When the anger cooled down, I felt bad, then sad. I didn’t trust myself to speak. I cannot say I perfectly understood what it was like for her to continually have to defend being related to me. I had taught her that there was nothing wrong or superior with being either black or white and more so being a mixture of both. What I had never envision nor planned to tackle was the possibility of her having to deal with defending my race and embracing her white Italian father’s race.
“I’m sorry,” I eventually said. She gave me a puzzled look. I knew she didn’t understand what I meant. We have always had an understanding with her, never say you are sorry about hurting someone until you fully understand what is it you are sorry for, otherwise the ‘sorry’ would only be a cute cover for a wound that would rot under the cover until it leaks out, bigger and uglier than before.
I was sorry for not preparing myself for the roller coaster of emotions she would be dealing with for being different. Granted, she is lighter-skined than I am and could pass for another non black race with her hair heat straightened. But she is too young to have that option (or I purposely choose to let her embrace who she is from the very start).
When we got home, I tried as best as I could to explain to her that there will always be shallow minded people like Mattia who are just not intelligent enough to appreciate the beauty of our differences. And that she must concentrate in embracing her being different rather than defending or running away from what makes her different. I also told her that I loved being black, I didn’t want to be a Mulata like her or white like her father (and it’s the truth too) and that she MUST learn to embrace who she is AS SHE IS and not crave to be more like me or more like her father because her being different is what makes her special. Now, that doesn’t mean the problem has been solved. That doesn’t even mean it’s a reliable solution but for now it works for us.
What bothers me though is that I am still not prepared to handle what will come next, and I know more will come. I know that I need to educate myself on what being Biracial feels like.

©Naan Pocen


  1. Personally, I think your "second round" explanation was as adequate as any parent could handle this hot potato. It may be a lifelong struggle for her to find her own identity. With you guiding her, hopefully you guys can get this done sooner than later. Seems that you are on the right track.
    I don't know if it will help, but I found 2 books on Amazon, one for you and one for your little principessa (plus there are tons more available):

  2. Oh! Remind her to write down those boys' names so she remembers not to date them in a few years. ;D Kidding!

  3. Poor baby. It's so upseting to watch your children experience hurt at the hands of ignorance. Unfortunately, its athe reality for any person of color living in a society that is mostly white. I have been struggling with the very same issue with my daughter and she's not bi-racial but she has natural hair worn in locs so that makes her different from every girl in her mostly white middle shool and she doesn't want to be different. She has been called ignorant names by evil white boys. She has been questioned about the cleanliness of her hair. We're in different parts of the world, with different situations but the sterotypes about black people still remain. I would make certain that she is surrounded by positive reflections of bi-racial and black children. Photos, paintings, books and mmovies will help her feel more positive. I have many firends with bi-racial children and it always helps if the mother is strong in her idenitiy. She will absorb your pride as she gets older but you have to remember to offset all of the negative messages and images that surround her. I hope this helps.

  4. We all struggle with ignorant intolerance and handle it as best we can, it is when our children are victims of it that we need to be our strongest.
    With you as a mother, I suspect your child will be just fine.

  5. Thanks for your comments guys! I didn't realize it was read at all :-) I appreciate that you get what I'm dealing with.

  6. Wow! I wonder why many black women especially, claim that Italy is so accepting of black women and how the men love bw over there, yet it seems the racism is just as bad as the States. Anyway I'm currently taking Italian classes now, because I plan to visit one day maybe even live for a year there to really learn the language. I don't know anyone here in the States I can practice with. I'm wondering what else I need to prepare for geesh!

  7. Wow.... What a moving interesting portrait. Felt incredibly familiar.... Similar story, different country - in my case Germany.... My heart goes out to you and your daughter in facing your struggles -current and yet to come. The good news is that there IS light at the end of the tunnel of finding your cultural and ethnic identity... And it is BRIGHT and BEAUTIFUL!!! ♥

  8. OMG!! This is an awful experience for you and your daughter. We're an African-American couple and we've been living in the French Alps with our daughter for 3 years. My daughter (age 6) has never encountered a word of this kind of nonsense over here in France. Mostly, the kids fawn over her. Because we're so close, we visit Italy every other month to shop (Turin-Milan-Venice, mostly). In Italy, I instantly feel the hostility towards me, as a black person -- but my negative feelings have been tempered by the kindness that strangers have shown to my daughter in Italy. This madness happening in your daughter's school is completely unacceptable and has got to stop. Have you thought that maybe it's a class-issue? Is there another school - where you can get your daughter away from such low-level and ignorant people?

  9. I thought about this terrible experience your beautiful daughter had at school. And before the same happens here to us, I think it's probably time I sit down with my daughter and discuss racial bias. Although she knows people can be different colors. And she knows that people can have different nationalities or cultures ... she has no idea about race or racial bias. I don't want to burden her or frighten her -- but I don't want her to be clueless about this stuff either. Coming from a racist country like mine (America), I knew the day would come when I would have to fortify my daughter against the racism in the world. But, I guess living in France, I've been able to put it off for a while. Thank you for sharing this very real-life story.

  10. Thanks ladies for your comments. Sophisticated, I think you shouldn't give it much thought, think of your trip to Italy as an adventure and make the best of it. Chances are, you might get lucky and won't have to deal with racism, at least not directly. Italians, do have the tendency to be curious about coloured people. Maybe that's what those coloured women meant (Italian men loving black women). It hasn't been my experience though. I actually find the women a lot more friendly and open minded than the men....but hey, don't let our bad experiences make you overly cautions.

    Susan, thanks for your encouragement, it is always soothing to know someone gets me. I like your positivity.

    Veronica, I would wait with the lecture until it is absolutely necessary. Let her enjoy every bit of bliss she can grab from not knowing yet, there certainly will be time to worry about that. Besides, I think the french have a different way of expressing 'being different'. I lived briefly in France and didn't experience racism....or at least no one ever made me feel inferior for being coloured....made me feel different yes but never inferior....then again, as I said my time in France was rather brief so maybe that explains it.

  11. Thanks for that Naan! I think you're right. I will wait a bit. Having that discussion with her at this age will only worry my little one to pieces. (she's only six!)

    I don't want to leave the impression that I think France is without race issues. Although we don't get the negativity and hostility in our faces here - we have been sad to see the lack of black role models here for our daughter. It's depressing that 90% of the time we encounter black person in their workplace (here in the Rhone-Alpes region of France), they are the bathroom attendant or the housekeeper! Ugggghhh!! I don't want my daughter thinking that having brown-skin means she will grow up to clean toilets for a living!

    Even though there is more racism in the States - there's also plenty of examples of people who have overcome the limitations of race (Obama, Oprah, etc). And there are people who are in positions of importance in her life (teachers, doctors,politicians, etc.) So hopefully she can have a more positive regard for her life in this world as a beautiful, smart brown-skinned girl.

  12. Naan! A heart-wrenching story! Kids can be so cruel to each other, but is this "racism" learnt or is it part of human kind (an oxymoron there, I think!). The fact that your daughter asked about whether the car she was in was stolen or not leads me to believe that the misconceptions that certain people have about Nigerians (or any other race that is somehow "different") tells me that these misconceptions are passed down from generation to generation. Like many other people of different skin colour or religious beliefs, I think that your daughter will unfortunately have to hear this kind of nonsense again and again. I only hope that it will meke her stronger!

  13. Sometimes I wish we (adults) will swim in the rot we have created and leave the children out of it. Unfortunately this is not an ideal world so I guess, the kid will have to learn to be strong for it or else she'll sink....still, it kind pulls at the heart that the children have to share in our (adult) ignorance.

  14. I just stumbled across your blog. Thank you for writing about this stuff. I've had similar experiences in Spain and sometimes find it hard to articulate what it felt like.

  15. Wasim,thank you for reading it. It is indeed a rather uncomfortable topic of discussion, and experiencing it makes the emotions run deep, but then again, it's a reality we can't ignore, unfortunately.

  16. I'm very sorry to hear your gorgeous little girl's having such big problems. Can't imagine how hard it is to grow with that kind of pressure. I hope she'll manage to beat it up.
    Thank you for reading my blog and for the lovely comments you left there!