This piece attempts to explain the dilemma faced by the clashing of cultures and attitudes to upbringing when it comes to families in diaspora; and may help in further examining issues of identity in diaspora; and to understand migrant parents better as well as avoiding misunderstanding these parents based on the immediate societal norms, especially where we have seen, in most cases migrant families unnecessarily dissected and potentially destroyed by the systems in place. In this article, I will use a petty example without going in too deep, because I want to keep this article short.
Migration involves the loss of one’s own language, attitudes, values, social structures and other such things…. The loss of one’s social structure and culture can very well cause a grief reaction as it is overly emphasised that migrants must follow the laws of the land. In the United Kingdom, the idea that not hugging your child, not getting a birthday card or not telling your child frequently how much you love them, equates to child abuse. There is a bias that comes with overlooking the fact that specifically to some cultures, the identity of someone within a family can be ascribed to the role of that person……for example, because of a father’s role within the family, he may not have physical contact such as hugging with a female child, it may be viewed as off-limits or just unfitting. The role of a father does not encompass comforting a child by hugging in some cultures (that’s a motherly thing), however, in Western cultures, not hugging your child may be viewed as abuse in the category of neglect or emotional abuse. In my experience within community work, there were often issues with migrant families and their assumed emotional abuse towards their children according to UK standards, because it was and still is the norm within the health and social care sectors, to use Western diagnostic criteria on people from other cultures to measure “abuse”.
The horrors of the Social work system, as it is often practiced within this instance, has left parents in fear of having their children removed, due to Social workers overlooking the cultural aspects of the upbringing of immigrant children. The same can be said for within the court system as lawyers and judges make biased decisions in custody cases, especially where the family is interracial.
Granted that the laws of the land must be obeyed; and, the fact that some children are in situations that require intervention, my sentiments however are that quite often, foreign parents come away from the experience traumatized and branded as bad parents because of the perceptions of those with power whilst dealing with their cases. Surely, the dynamics of wellbeing vs power-play ought to be examined here. What is striking is how determined the social workers can be to remove children, to wherever they deem is a safer environment. Quite often, children are removed and taken to homes where they are brought up within cultures that ignore their own black culture and other factors that aid to the importance of knowing one’s identity as they become isolated from people that look like them and from their culture. The horror of any parent in such a situation is having your children returned to your custody after a while; and the child/children has adopted parts, if not whole chunks of a foreign culture that are unsavoury, and with that, unfortunately comes an unpleasant lifestyle that clashes with the family’s own culture and values. In such a situation, the parent is now forced to adapt to the unwelcome changes and must grin and bear these (unpleasant) changes; if not, they risk being branded a bad parent and once again go through the traumatic experience of the family being dissected and destroyed.
On the flipside, it is quite common amongst migrant families that their children could sometimes use the system to their own advantage by manipulating it to have their way. It is not unheard of that some teenage children know that they can access material things such as their own flats (accommodation) and high-tech gadgets once they are ‘in care’. This knowledge causes some children to tell lies and make false allegations to position themselves to acquire the aforementioned. Of course, health professionals are not trained to sniff out which kids are being genuine and those that are not. They have one size fits all policies that state that all children must be believed; and all parents accused must undergo this traumatising and unfair treatment and of course their stories must not be believed over the children’s stories, because all grown-ups lie and all children tell the truth! Simple! Easy as pie! I digress…
Non-the less, there is no doubt that a shift from cultural changes and assimilation into western ways can result in a high rate of problems with identity crisis, mental health problems such as phobias, depression and in some unfortunate cases, even suicide amongst immigrants and their families, as they try to adapt, especially where they are threatened by social services policies that may include having their children taken away from them.