Q&A with Uju Asika
The 'Bringing Up Race...' author on what it means to get honest about race with our children and with ourselves to build a kinder world...
This year we are seeing books released that are provoking difficult, meaningful and ultimately transformative conversations. Uju’s book, Bringing Up Race: How to Raise a Kind Child in a Prejudiced World, is one of those very books and draws on her experiences of being a mother, writing an award-nominated parenting blog and the interviews she led with other people sharing their stories. It’s as much a book to read, as well as a book to action, a book that kicks you into shape in the best of ways, a book that you might, as Brené Brown would put, ‘throw at the wall’ because it brings to the surface the things you need to address. Which is exactly what we need to be reading right now.
Q: Firstly a huge congratulations on the publication of ‘Bringing Up Race’. It’s such an important read for everyone. What’s the reaction been like so far?
Uju: The reaction has been amazing! I have to say, the timing was totally unexpected and something I can only put down to divine intervention. I started writing this book last year and had submitted my first draft just before we went into lockdown. Then with all the various setbacks, it wasn’t until June that we were ready to announce it publicly. The press release went out just days after Black Tuesday when the whole world was focused on Black Lives Matter. Also that week I wrote a blog post about George Floyd that resonated with so many readers. So it was as if people were waiting for a book like this. I’m excited about it being out in the world.
Q: When did you start writing the book and what was the impetus to put pen to paper?
Uju: I started writing it towards the end of 2019. It came about after much pressure from a relative of mine to write this book. I was very reluctant at first because, to start with, I really didn’t want to be another Black woman talking about race. It’s so easy to get pigeon-holed especially as an ethnic minority. Also although I’ve been blogging for parents for a decade, I’m very wary of people putting themselves out there as ‘parenting experts’. I really don’t think that’s a thing. I think you develop some expertise around your own kids over time, but even that is always changing. Every child is different and parenting is the ultimate learning experience for both you and your children.
So I was quite resistant to the project. But then I thought about having the opportunity to tell my story and also share other voices (I interviewed 20+ parents) and really make a contribution in this area. Race is something that affects all of us whether we want to talk about it or not. I would love for my kids to grow up in a world where you can have the same rights, respect and opportunities as anyone else, regardless of your skin tone. And the first step is being honest about race with our children and with ourselves.
Q: There has been a shift begin to happen when it comes to the conversation about what it means to be anti-racist. Whilst there is more action to be done, this book feels like it’s coming at an important time. What role would you want this book to play in making positive change? What change would you like to see as a result?
Uju: I’ve written this book so that it’s accessible to parents of all backgrounds. I wanted to draw readers into what it feels like to experience racism and also to empower people to feel like they can make a difference. My real goal is to get parents talking at home, at school, in their communities, with their peers. Once you open up discussion, you create so much room to learn, grow and change.
Most people I spoke to for the book didn’t have any conversations with their own parents about race, particularly the White families. We need to do a better job with our children because the silence has kept us stuck, especially in Britain where they love to sweep this stuff under the carpet. I’m really hoping the book will inspire more people to take on anti-racism not just as a hashtag or a couple of posts, but as a lifelong family value. I also hope its impact will be felt in schools because the British education system needs a total shake-up. It’s so whitewashed (pun intended)!
Q: You also run the blog 'Babes About Town’ and you are the founder of 'Mothers & Shakers'; tell us what drove you to write so much in the motherhood space?
Uju: My kids have been two of my biggest inspirations. When I had my eldest, I had just returned to London from Lagos and I felt quite isolated and unsure as a new mum. I wished there was a site I could go to where I’d find places to go that were fun for me but still baby-friendly. That’s how the idea for Babes about Town was born, although I didn’t get the blog going until my youngest was about to turn 1. He’s grown up with my blog. It was through blogging and meeting other mums in that space that I had the idea for Mothers and Shakers — a sort of A-team of bloggers (if you remember the A-team!). We started doing digital consulting for a number of lifestyle and family businesses. More recently, we’ve offered workshops for aspiring bloggers and creatives and we are looking to move in a new direction soon, so watch this space!
Q: What do you plan to do next?
Uju: Well, my agent is on my case about Book 2. Haha, she isn’t pressuring me at all really but I do have more books in me. I’m also a screenwriter and have a couple of interesting projects that are whispering my name. I would love to create an online writing course as I have a lot of experience across different genres. In the meantime, you can follow my journey with this book on @Babesabouttown on social media and of course on babesabouttown.com. I’ll still be blogging for a while yet!
Thank you Uju for sharing insights into your writing and power of your book. Bringing Up Race: How to Raise a Kind Child in a Prejudiced World is out this week, so you have lots of time to digest ahead of the book club regroup in October.