Monthly Archives: April 2014

Jah. What is in a name? Some contentious issues.

When I went into the city centre in Leicester with Jah, I received many negative comments and they were always from black people.

“You shouldn’t call him Jah!” one lady muttered angrily.

We knew that Jah is used by Rastafarian people to mean God.

We spoke to our social worker Pat about this and explained that Jah himself kept asking when he would have a new name.  He meant that he wanted to be able to use our family SURNAME, but he also wanted another first name, as he had discovered that all the others had two first names.

We spent some time discussing this.  As a Christian family it was hard to justify using such a Rastafarian name, unless Jah himself wanted to continuing using the name.

One option seemed to be to add the name Joshua, derived from Hebrew.  It means approximately ‘God is salvation’/’God saves’. It was the closest name to the sound of Jah that we could think of.  Then he could choose whether he preferred to be called Jah or Joshua.  Pat was entirely happy with this. It was good to be able to talk things through with her. She was an excellent social worker.

 Jah and Joshua

The next step would be to consult him.  We might need an idea in advance of when to introduce this new name. We felt that it might be best to wait until he started ‘big’ school after the summer, but he might want to change as soon as possible.   A lot would depend on him.

Some people might think that it is “wrong” to change a child’s name when he or she is adopted.  It was what was expected when we adopted baby Sam. He came to us when he was only a few weeks old.   Jah of course, was already a four-year-old child and had been called Jah all his short life.  However, it was Jah himself who was talking about a name-change, so we felt that we should consider this.

To be honest, some people are very hostile to the idea of white people adopting “children of color”, as the Americans say.  Of course this attitude affects me.  I can see how much easier it might be for a child to be adopted by people of the same colour.  I also know of the mistakes one can make when bringing up a child of a different colour,  but the fact remains that when we adopted Sam and Jah, there was a lack of people of the “right” colour.  I was so surprised to discover that the situation is still the same today.  I had assumed, when I saw all the advertisements in council magazines, on bus stops and in newspapers, that by now enough would-be adopters of various races were coming forward.  Apparently not.

This blog does not give rise to an easy choice of illustration, but since I do like illustrations (not for nothing am I am picture-book writer)  I’ll attach two pictures of children at play. children at playImage courtesy of Vlado / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

J + hat

Jah.  Where did you get that hat?

There were many times when we agonised over certain issues.  If things became really deep and worrying, sometimes we could just look up at the children at play and feel full of wonder at their power of  imagination. On other occasions they did such funny things that  we were able to laugh.

Laughter is a good medicine.  And at times we needed that.

 

 

 

Back to reality and our Leicester home

I counted recently and I reckon that In my long lifetime I have moved home eleven times, but always with family members,  except when I was in my first job.   In Jah’s short lifetime of only four years, I reckon he had already changed homes about six times.  That is counting protracted stays in hospital and always the change had involved living with people he had never met before.

After the first holiday away from my new home, I always really appreciated coming back and looking all round the house, garden and neighbourhood.  It was like “nesting” or rather feeling that the current “nest” was still fine and acceptable. We were relieved to see that in his way Jah was happy to return to the Leicester house after our holiday away.

summer daysIt was lovely seeing  him walk solemnly round the house and garden, checking that everything was as he had remembered it.  The sunflower plant that he had brought with him was now as tall as D.  Jah was very impressed.

sunflower“I gave you a lovely present, didn’t I?” he said.

The weather was still warm and the boys carried on with games they had invented.  All our children have enjoyed making make-shift tents.  Anna and Sam used to make a cosy tent-home, but I see that Sam and Jah played more outside their tent.

2 musketeers

When he had been with us for the required length of time, we were given permission to set the adoption process in motion.  The Local Authority’s Social Services Department assured us that although the process was going to be lengthy and complicated, they would pay all legal fees.  They would have to use a barrister, as the case was not straightforward.

One of the main reasons for the problem was that Jah’s birth mother had moved and nobody knew how to contact her.  The Local Authority would at the end of the day apply to have the adoption legalised without her written permission, but this would be the very last resort.  They said that it would be so much better for him to know that his birth parents had agreed willingly to the adoption.  It would not mean so much to him now, but it might when he grew older.

O & J off to playgroupJah would still accompany me to the Playgroup during the winter and spring terms, but he was due to start school in the following summer term. He was already beginning to ask aloud when he would be “properly ‘dopted” and have our family surname.

That was a question he would ask again and again: and as time passed, so would we.

Diversity. Where are the books that reflect our multiracial society?

When I thought about writing a blog, I imagined that I would write quite a lot about my reflections on being a multiracial family and multiracial issues today.  I still intend to, but for the last few weeks I have been describing the early days of our younger son’s introduction into the family.

Arriving LeicesterAs he was nearly four years old at the time, I found that there was a lot I wanted to say and the feedback is that people have been interested. I shall resume the story in the next blog post.

However, an issue has come up in an internet discussion group that I feel I want to comment on.   It relates to a question I have been asking myself and others for decades – namely Where are the books that feature black and mixed-race children? 

Please  believe me that I am not the only person concerned about this.

The flurry of correspondence that arose on this matter all began when somebody quoted an article published in the New York Times

 “According to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, of the approx. 5,000 children’s book published in 2013, just 93 were about black characters, 57 were about Latinos.”  She commented  “Thanks to the New York Times for putting this on the front page of the Sunday Review”.

The view among British contributors to the discussion is that the situation is no better in the UK.

I know that there are some excellent black and ethnic minority writers. There are also other authors who have written about characters from diverse backgrounds.  Since the writers and books exist, is the problem with the bookshops? Why don’t they stock such books?  Our Willesden Independent bookshop certainly did stock them, but sadly it had to move to another area when their rent was greatly increased.

OR is the problem that there are not enough ethnic minority writers?

OR is it that such books would not sell?  If so, why not?

Way back in the 1970s and 1980s we felt concerned about the lack of books portraying black or mixed-race children. We searched everywhere for such books to share with Sam and Jah. We found one or two, mostly from The USA.

books photoI kept searching. It was obvious to us that the boys needed to see children like themselves in books.  If not, what is the unspoken message?  Is it that they are not important enough to feature in stories? It is depressing to realise that this is still the situation today in 2014! MalorieThe current Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman uses the phrase “A mirror to every child’s life”.  She has mentioned that when she was growing up, she longed to see a child in a book who looked like she did.  She herself has written books for children of most age groups and is truly an inspiration to all.

The lack of representation of children from all ethnic groups is not only a problem for children from ethnic minority backgrounds.  I am sure that good books portraying children of every race and colour and background should be available for everybody to read, not only for children who are from ethnic minorities themselves. We are all human beings and we live in an inter-connected world.

Here –  as a shameless plug – are two of my books that are still available.

Sammy Flying cover This book was inspired by Jah who always wanted to keep up with his older siblings.

JJ cover for Buzz This book was inspired by Sam’s school friend who frequently had to look after his little sister.  I remember one day, when both boys said to me rather sheepishly  “We have to take N. to the park to see the ducks”.  As teenagers, they thought that they had left such childish behaviour behind them.  In the end I think they quite enjoyed the experience.

The topic of books for children of all colours and creeds is one I shall want to return to.  For now I’ll give you a link to the Letterbox Library.  This is a marvellous resource of books that celebrate equality and diversity.

http://www.letterboxlibrary.com

Here is another important resource.  Tamarind Books, set up by the visionary Verna Wilkins

www.tamarindbooks.co.uk

(Next blogpost will be  “Back to reality after the long summer holiday. Return to our Leicester home.”