Interview: Uju Asika.
Uju Asika is the founder and voice of the popular, award-winning family, lifestyle, and travel blog Babes About Town. It's a guide for families who want to have fun together in London—and beyond.
Now she has a book that just hit the shelves: Bringing Up Race: How to Raise a Kind Child in a Prejudiced World (Amazon, Bookshop). In it, she blends personal stories and research to explore how race impacts us from birth and what we can do to build fairer, anti-racist societies.
I couldn't wait to talk to Uju about happiness, habits, and parenting.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Uju: Hula hooping! I’m not a pro by any standards, more of an enthusiast. Hooping is such an instant mood lifter. As a lifetime habit, what has most enhanced my happiness, health and productivity is reading books. My parents were voracious readers and we grew up surrounded by books. As a child, I read everything from Winnie the Pooh to Simone de Beauvoir. One of their best friends, the late Flora Nwapa, was a celebrated Nigerian author. Auntie Flora was the sweetest lady with dimples when she smiled and an infectious giggle. I thought she was magical because she wrote stories. She was one of my earliest inspirations for becoming a writer.
A love of reading is something I wanted to pass on to my own kids. My eldest inhales books but my youngest takes a little nudging. In Bringing Up Race, I wrote a chapter on the importance of reading diverse books with your children. It’s titled "Books Will Save The World." I really believe they can.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That happiness is about the daily hum not just the high notes. You can keep chasing those big milestones but true happiness comes in the everyday moments. Jokes and banter with my husband as we watch TV. Or when my teenager comes in for an unexpected hug. Also, at 18, I wish I understood fully that my happiness didn’t depend on any boy or what/whether he was thinking about me.
You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?
Discovering that babies notice race from as young as three months old. Most people expect this to happen with school age kids or even toddlers but not tiny babies! However, several studies have shown three-month-old infants reacting to people with different skin tones from their primary caregivers. I must emphasise that they don’t react negatively in any way at that age. So no, your baby is not racist! They’re simply absorbing information and learning about the world. We’re born curious. It’s one of the reasons parents need to talk about race with their kids from a young age. It’s never too early or too late to start a conversation.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
I used to be obsessed with women’s lifestyle magazines. I would sneak off with my mum’s and older sister’s magazines until I was old enough to buy my own. I’d read them cover to cover, from the editorial letters to the tiny back page print. You might say this was part of my formative training as a journalist. However, it was unhealthy because there was so much pressure from these magazines to act and look a certain way. Most of them didn’t feature people who looked like me. It’s nuts that in 2021 it’s still a rare and precious sight to see a Black woman on the cover of a mainstream magazine.
One day, we were decluttering our flat and I decided to chuck out most of the magazines I’d hoarded over the years. By then, I was getting most of my information online and preferred reading blogs. So I quit the habit altogether (apart from the odd collector’s edition). It took me 20 years but I’ve never looked back.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
I would describe myself as a Rebel but having read The Four Tendencies and taken the test twice, it turns out I’m an Obliger. It’s all about inner motivation. I am much more inclined to get things done when I’m given a push or there’s a deadline to meet. Otherwise, I can be distractible and daydreamy. My head is filled with too many ideas, not enough time to make 10,000 of them happen. I do have Rebel tendencies though. I also lean towards Questioner as it’s in my nature to research and overanalyze everything!
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?
My biggest issue is with my phone. I’m trying to stop reaching for my phone every spare minute when there are more creative ways to spend my time. I never imagined that one day I would need to practice the art of staring into space instead of staring at my phone. But it’s something I’m actively working on. I worry that children these days don’t spend enough time getting lost in their own thoughts.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?
One of my personal mottos is ‘Be Cool, Be Kind, Be You’. It’s the title of the last chapter in my book and it’s inspired by my parents who were the essence of coolness, kindness and individuality. I teach my kids that you don’t have to be trendy to be cool. You don’t have to be a pushover to be kind. And you don’t have to be anyone but you.
Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Amazon, Bookshop). It introduced me to my mentor, Maya Angelou (I never knew her personally but that’s how she feels to me). I went to school in Britain where we studied mostly White male authors. So discovering the works of Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and other Black female authors truly changed my life. Reading Maya’s autobiographies inspired me to share my own stories in my own voice. Before then, I went through a phase of writing about vegetables, animals or White characters. Maya Angelou taught me that you could take the things that happened to you, even the worst things, and make it art. I read the whole series but the first book is my favourite.
In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?
It’s interesting. As someone writing about race, I’ve noticed we’ve swung from a false notion that racism is a Black and Brown people problem to books mainly aimed at telling White people what to do. This can feed into a misconception that, when it comes to race, Black and Brown people know exactly how to act and what to say. However, from my research and personal experience, people of color don’t have it all figured out. It’s just that we don’t have a choice in engaging on these issues. We can’t sit back and let our children wander into the world without preparing them for what’s coming.
No matter your race, these conversations can be painful and laden with fear. I wrote Bringing Up Race to empower people of all ethnicities with the confidence to talk about race in a way that’s honest, inclusive and affirming. In the book, I talk about kindness a lot too. Some people think being kind is weak or passive but that’s another misconception. Niceness is weak but kindness takes courage. It’s about doing the right thing even if it’s way outside your comfort zone. When you raise a kind human, you are raising a brave one too.
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The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t act. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.