Tag Archives: Race

Does race matter when choosing a sperm donor?

Another question that could have been included in my recent post on Questions not to ask the mixed race daughter of two Jewish lesbians, but which I thought deserved a bit more space, is why my parents chose an Indian sperm donor? It’s not the question itself which bothers me, but some of the assumptions that can lie behind it: had my parents chosen a white sperm donor, I very much doubt that their decision would be subject to questioning – even though the broad category of ‘white’ can still encompass many differing cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

The act of choosing a sperm donor can be more or less complicated dependent on personal preferences. Primary decisions need to be made around the role and relation of the donor – whether he is someone known, and potentially involved with the child, such as a relative, friend, or friend-of-a-friend, or someone entirely anonymous. Basic non-identifying factors are typically considered, such as height, hair colour, medical background and blood group. And finally, some prospective parents are interested in more than mere appearance and health, considering the donor’s personality and achievements, such as education level, musical talent and sporting prowess; looking at childhood photos; and reading letters from the donor explaining his decision to donate.

For my own parents, the criteria were pretty simple. He had to be:

  •         A man, with functioning sperm
  •         Healthy, and free from any genetic diseases
  •         Willing to donate sperm for a second child in a couple of years’ time
  •         Happy to be contacted should my brother or I wish to later in life

Clearly my parents erred on the side of nurture in the great nature v nurture debate; picking a neuroscientist wouldn’t necessarily ensure that I’d grow up to be bright, and seeing as they’d be stuck with me regardless they might as well just let nature do its random thing and focus their efforts to mould me into a tolerable human being on the parenting side of things.

In actual fact, the sperm donor who finally ended up contributing to my existence, was the second man my parents tried to conceive with. We’ll call the first man Pietro.

Pietro was a man known to my parents, and he was half Indian and half Italian. The plan was for Pietro to play a role in my life. For a good two years, Leah tried to get pregnant with the aid of Pietro’s sperm, but to no avail. They had to pretend to be a heterosexual couple to seek treatment on the NHS (luckily, things have moved on since the 1980’s). Turns out that Pietro’s sperm weren’t quite up to the job, so Leah and Deborah had to find a new donor. Race didn’t really come into it – having two healthy babies was the primary concern.

Leah and Deborah could have used a sperm bank, but at the time these were uncommon and unregulated (until the passing of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990). Men donating to sperm banks were also guaranteed anonymity, and my mums wanted to make sure my brother and I would have the choice to make contact with our donor when we were older. In a sense, their desire to give us choice therefore limited their own.

As a sperm bank was ruled out, my mums placed advert and half a dozen men responded. Of these, a couple weren’t willing to forego their right to anonymity, and others were unsuitable on health grounds. The man they chose was the best respondent by far, fitting all of their criteria. He also happened to be Indian. Race was never a dealbreaker. My mums certainly weren’t going to decline any suitable candidates on racial grounds. Heck, they were lesbian mothers who knew to expect a certain degree of ignorance and intolerance – they weren’t intimidated by adding more layers of diversity to the family.

Furthermore, my parents knew that they wanted my primary identity to be a Jewish one, and Jews of different colours and sub-cultures can be found all over the world, including India. Had my parents used a white donor, who’s to say that I would have been any culturally closer to my biological roots? There’s arguably as big a gap between a tall, athletic, light-haired Dane (Danish donors being particularly common) and my Ashkenazi, Mediterranean-looking birth mother, as between her and a small Indian man. And as my mums wanted to give birth to a child each, they couldn’t choose a sperm donor who looked like the other mother, as some couples choose to do so that their children can resemble both parents.

My parents chose to use the sperm available to them, and not to worry about the race of its donor. Like any good parents of biracial children, they believed that race wasn’t all-important, but acknowledged that it was meaningful. When they’d planned a child with Pietro, he had been expected to play a part in educating us about our heritage. Although this wouldn’t be possible with the eventual donor, who wouldn’t be involved in our lives, my parents had still spent two years thinking about the relevant implications of having mixed race children, so when the best potential donor turned out to be of Indian origin, my parents couldn’t see a reason not to use him.

When you have a child, there is a lot you can’t control, and some things that you won’t share with your child but which you have to learn to deal with quickly. Your child might have a physical disability or medical condition. They might be transgendered, have learning difficulties, or be a genius. Good parents will adjust to their child’s circumstances – raising them in recognition of their personal needs, even when they don’t share the exact same position.

Similarly, my parents knew my race would make me different and they parented me accordingly. As I grew up, they had age-appropriate conversations with me about racial identity. They filled the house with books and films which featured people with different skin tones and bodies, belonging to different races and cultures. They replaced words in fairy tales – turning Goldilocks into Shoshilocks. They bought me brown dolls (which was surprisingly hard to do at the time – I remember Leah being thrilled on finding one in a charity shop). The only Barbie I owned was a Pocahontas (though I’m sure that’s also in part due to their feminist sensibilities). They based themselves in a diverse city and made sure I mixed with other non-white children. They encouraged me to embrace my Indian heritage, but allowed me to self-define as I wished.

So I guess the point of this post had been to say that whilst my donor’s race was not at all important, mine and my brother’s is, and has been treated as such by our parents, but not to the exclusion of other aspects of our identity – race is just one feature of who we are. Racial identity is far more complex than somebody’s external appearance, and my brother and I differ in the ways we identify and perceive ourselves – to be half Indian was never a guarantee that we’d turn out a certain way. My parents did an excellent job of bringing us up to be proud of who we are and aware of what it means to be mixed-race and brown. I’m pretty sure though, that had my parents used a white sperm donor, the child I would have been would be fairly similar to who I am today. Certainly my life has been shaped by being half-Indian, and I have a high awareness of issues around race, but it’s only been one of many influences in my life. Mostly, I’m just glad that I’m happy and healthy – which was always my parents’ number one priority.

Image

 

Dear Mr KKK – you cannot silence me

Trigger warning: contains racial hate language

 

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, I checked my emails and saw I had a comment awaiting moderation on my previous post, Questions not to ask the mixed race daughter of two Jewish lesbians. That’s normally a fairly exciting moment, so you can imagine my absolute horror when I opened the email and saw this:

“Just answer the f****** god damn question concisely next time, you stupid ugly n***** b****. We havent got all day. Next.”

I’m sorry if that was shocking, but you can imagine my own shock was triply so, given that the comment landed in my inbox, with no warning, and was directly targeted at me. I’ve also considerately added in the asterisks above – I was subject to the full unedited onslaught.

The comment came from somebody calling themself ‘KKK’ (although interestingly their email address started ‘tofutofu’ – I’d like to imagine that’s because the main email providers are sensible enough to forbid addresses which are clearly offensive in nature, thus ruling out any other ideas in this person’s small brain).

It seems that my mistake, is daring, as a person of a skin tone other than white, to write and publicise my own opinion. On a side note, it’s slightly amusing that Mr Ku Klux Klan can’t even get his racial slurs right: the n-word isn’t normally one applied to people of Indian heritage.

When I started this blog, I knew that I was opening myself up to criticism. There is a difference, though, between reasoned disagreement over subject matter, and direct personal attacks based on my gender and the colour of my skin. I am a twenty-four-year-old woman, essentially writing in my spare time from my bedroom, offering a perspective which I fully acknowledge to be mine alone, and which I do not intend to push onto anybody. I don’t think I (or indeed anybody) deserves to receive such hateful vitriol in return.

What’s even more surprising, is that the comment I received did not take apparent problem with my subject matter. I don’t imagine Mr KKK even took the time to read my words. I probably could have been writing about film, or fashion, or food, and Mr KKK would still have found mine to be an unacceptable voice, given the colour of my skin alone.

This is why I now believe that what I am doing, in blogging about my very intersectional and unusual experience, is all the more important. People like Mr KKK, would rather not have to deal with the fact that there are people who look, think and behave differently from him, whose opinions count in the world.

It’s essential that different minorities get an opportunity to add their own perspective and experience to societal narratives. There are so many voices that are never heard in the mainstream media, and that’s why the internet is at once thrilling and dangerous. It opens up new opportunities to reach people across the world, but also allows cowards and bullies to intimidate people from the safety of their isolated existence.

This is why I’ve decided that this post will be the story of a little bit of hate, but a whole lot of love.

Because contrary to Mr KKK’s hopes, I am certainly not going to be silenced out of fear or shock or upset. His comment pales into insignificance, compared with the support I’ve received from a few thousand other readers.

It’s time to celebrate what my writing has achieved.

I started this blog less than three months ago, and here’s a list of some of my highlights so far.

My Motherfull Family, three months in:

  • Over 7000 views, with my own self-promotion being limited to status updates on Facebook and a couple of (re)tweets per blog post on Twitter. That means a whole lot of people have discovered my blog and liked it enough to revisit and to share with their own friends – so thank you for that
  • My 7000 views come from six continents, from countries asfar ranging as Bangladesh to Jamaica, and New Zealand to Japan. Check out the map below, to see the impact my blog is having

    Where my readers come from

    Where my readers come from

  • Childhood friends whom I’ve not heard from in years have got in touch to tell me that they’re reading every post and learning new things about a family they’d taken for granted. Newer friends have been equally encouraging, telling me that they’re learning a lot from my blog, challenging their own beliefs, and thinking about diversity in a much more complex way
  • After this post on bullying, a young man I went to primary school with contacted me to apologise for ‘being a twat’ when we were younger – how amazing
  • I’ve been filmed by a student of Journalism for her final year dissertation project on LGBT+ families
  • A Greek website posted an article about how hard it is for same-sex couples in Greece to raise families, then posted an excerpt from my blog to provide the counter-argument
  • I’ve been invited to speak at a panel event for a new Jewish lgbtq youth group
  • The What I See project asked me to write a piece on how my racial and cultural identity impacts on my female identity
  • I’ve had an article accepted for publication in the Huffington Post, and interest from EverydayFeminism
  • And most importantly of all, I’ve received messages of thanks and support from people living across the globe. Individuals have written to me to tell me that the words I am writing and the story I am recounting have given them hope to start their own families. And that means the world to me.

I do not claim that my story is any more important than anyone else’s, or that I have access to some deeper truth. I only hope that by contributing my story, I might help others. That I can provide a space for open dialogue around a subject not often discussed. That I can inform, and sometimes inspire. So long as I know that people are responding positively to my blog, I will not allow an ignorant minority to threaten that endeavour.

Mr KKK: I will not be victim to your intimidation or dreams of a whitewashed world. Rather, I see you as a victim of your own prejudice, living an unenlightened life, unable to share in the joys that the diversity of this planet’s people offer. You will not silence me: I will continue to write, to share, to shout – my words touching many more people than your vitriol ever will.

Thank you, everybody, for reading, sharing, and especially for responding. Every comment, message and tweet that I receive puts a smile on my face and gives me the strength to laugh at individuals like Mr KKK. The knowledge that I am making a small difference makes me prepared to fight fiercely for my right to do so. I know I can expect more comments like the one that’s inspired this blog post before I am done writing. I don’t want to pretend that this is easy, because it is not, and it does hurt, but I do want to acknowledge that what I have to say is important, and is said in an environment which isn’t totally safe, but is full of wonderful people whose acceptance and encouragement allows me to stand strong.

My words are more powerful than a bully’s words.

And if anybody feels like doing something practical today – there’s little better you could spend a few of your pounds on, than supporting this Kickstarter project, which aims to do something about the fact that 94% of the UK’s journalists are white, whereas 1 in 6 of the population are not. Let’s make sure that Mr KKK will soon have to deal with more non-white voices than mine, cluttering up his newsfeed.

 

Questions not to ask the mixed race daughter of two Jewish lesbians

I don’t have a problem with people asking me questions. If somebody is genuinely curious and interested, desirous to know more about alternative families, I welcome any dialogue. However, there’s a general principle that it’s sometimes best to think before you speak, and to work out how to word your question so as to get an open, honest conversation going. Some questions can be offensive – thinly veiling prejudice and ignorance. Sometimes it’s clear that someone is expecting a certain answer, and they’re not happy when my response challenges their assumptions. Inspired by this, and other recent examples (see I, too, am Oxford), I’ve donned my very own whiteboard and put together my own list of some of the less welcome questions and comments I often encounter, alongside the response that goes through my head at the time.

Image

Sigh.

Image

Never and always. Check out my blog post, here, for a slightly lengthier explanation.

Image

There’s a thing called google. It might be appropriate to try using it before asking me. There are lots of options, and I’d be happy to discuss them further with you, but I’m not sure that you ask other people if their existence is the direct result of sex between their parents, or IVF, or another method, so why ask me? The important thing is knowing that different ways of conceiving exist, not knowing how I personally was created.

Image

The concept that one of my parents need mother me, and the other father me, buys into pretty damaging gender stereotypes. If I did have a mum and a dad, I don’t imagine that their roles would be limited by their genetalia. Sure, one of my mums is a big football fan. She’s also a good cook. And a good gardener. And a good cyclist. And a good lecturer. Let’s just call her a good human being. And yes, my other mum also cooks. They’ve never separated parental activities along gender lines.

Image

We’ve probably been talking for all of five minutes and this has come up. Maybe wait until you know me better, if you want an answer any more detailed than ‘no’. It’s also worth trying to use my own language – referring to my sperm donor as my ‘dad’ will only make me inwardly prickle. And try not to be visibly disappointed with my response – I’m sorry I won’t be providing a storyline worthy of a primetime soap for you, but I’m very happy with the family around me.

Image

The answer is still London. Unless you’re asking where my parents are from. In which case the answer gets a bit more complex, although I’m not sure that’s what you want to know either. It probably doesn’t interest you that one of my mothers grew up in Sri Lanka, moved to Scotland when she was nine, and then to England when she was seventeen, given that I have no Sri Lankan or Scottish blood in me. I think what you’re trying to get at, is where the exact shading of my skin hails from. In which case, just ask that. Or maybe don’t, seeing as we barely know each other.

Image

Jews come in all shapes, sizes and colours. My Hebrew name might be a bit of a give away. Or the fact that we’ve just spent ten minutes discussing Judaism, but some people can’t see past colour, or their own limited experience. If you can’t stop yourself making assumptions, at least try not to sound so surprised next time.

Image

I think I look quite a bit like my birth mother, Leah. I think lots of people don’t, or won’t, or can’t see that. The fact that my skin is darker than hers, doesn’t mean we don’t share features, or facial expressions. Maybe focus a bit more on what you can see, if you try, than on what you’ll never see, but would like to imagine because it’s so much easier to focus on colour than what’s underneath it.

NotReal-2

I don’t claim a biological connection; I do claim a familial one. Yep, pretty sure the woman who has raised me is my mum, the brother I’ve grown up alongside is just that, and pretty sure it’s me who gets to define that.

Image

And finally… questions are good. Curiosity is good. Keep wondering, thinking, learning. I’d love to answer those questions of yours that are thoughtful, but please leave any preconceptions at the door.

Family2

Reflections on racial and female identity for the What I See project

This week, the What I See project invited me to contribute a piece on how my racial and cultural identity shapes my female identity.

It’s a great community project, which asks women all over the world to think about the question ‘What do you see when you look in the mirror?’, as well as hosting monthly themes which various women contribute longer reflections to. Its purpose is to provide a platform for women to connect and share their thoughts on female identity, creating “a global exploration of women’s experiences, perception and self-expression”. Any woman can upload a video, or contribute a few lines of text – so please do so if you’re feeling inspired!

You can check out my post (and video, eek!) here.

I’m also copying it below. Racial identity is a big topic for three hundred words (and I already went over by quite a few – thank god this isn’t being marked by a university English tutor), so I’m hoping to explore some of these themes in more detail on My Motherfull Family in the future. Now go add your own voice to this wonderful project :)

 

How does my race and culture shape my female identity: Image

When I first started thinking about this question, I wasn’t sure that I would have much to say. I identify as half Jewish and half Indian, and this cultural/racial identity is important to me both politically and personally. However, I’m not sure that it typically interacts with my female identity, which has been formed as a result of the people in my life – strong women who question societal norms and raised me to recognise and resist sexism and patriarchy and take pride in my gender whilst being exactly who and what I wanted to be.

I figured that my female identity and deep-rooted feminism were centred in my existence as a woman (in both sex and gender terms), not in my experience as a brown woman, or a Jewish one.

One of the reasons that I perceived my racial identity as not core to my female one, is that whilst I identify as half-Indian, I arguably have little connection to that side. This is because a sperm donor gifted me my Indian genes, meaning I possess the racial biology, but few of the cultural trimmings.

However, what I’ve come to recognise, is that what other people see shapes my identity just as much as what I feel. When I look in the mirror, I see whatever detail I am looking for that day – whether my hair is too messy, or if the colours of my clothes clash. I’m very aware that when many other people look at me, they see my skin colour, first and foremost.

That means that people make assumptions about me. They expect certain behaviours of me, based on my visible race and gender.

The identities people superimpose onto me come to matter too, because they affect the way I’m treated, which in turn affects the way I react. So the external and internal interact, and my identity as a woman becomes intrinsically linked to, and shaped by, my cultural/racial identity – if only because I want people to know that I am a unique, complex, multifaceted individual, who will never fit simply into a box for anybody else’s ease.