I’ve been thinking a lot about my race lately, namely, what it means to be mixed.
I’ve always been aware that I’ve been ‘other’ to my mostly white friends. My olive complexion always being remarked on, what a “lovely colouring I have” and how I “must get a great tan.” Before people even read my last name, they tilt their heads at me and I can see the cogs turning in their heads as they try and figure out the most sensitive way of asking where I’m (or my parents are) from.
When I was 16, I was walking to sixth form one day when I was stopped by a man. I took out my earphones and the first thing he said to me was, “I can tell by the way you look that you’re not from here.” Very jarring, to be immediately cast as different before even engaging in any small talk (after he gave me a leaflet, I soon realised that he was a Jehovah’s Witness and he was trying to get me to come to his church – a very weird way to recruit someone, if you ask me).
At my graduation, when my name was called to go on stage, the Vice Chancellor gripped my hand and kept me on the stage for an extra minute and a half, asking about where my name came from and about my background. He didn’t afford this privilege to all the other white graduates, I noticed throughout the ceremony. Just those of colour, or with non-English last names.
Photo credit: Sian.
I’ve always been aware of my difference. I live in this weird grey area (brown area?) where my fair complexion affords me a degree of white privilege, yet I don’t feel fully comfortable identifying as Caucasian because, well, I’m not. My mother is black, and I have always been closer to her side of the family. While I never felt any less loved by them, I also never really felt like I belonged because I’ll never identify with the struggles they’ve faced all their lives, growing up in predominantly white areas. I’ve even had members of extended family remark on how ‘lucky’ I was to be born with fair skin and fine features.
While I’ve never shied away from my background and heritage, I’m always upfront about where I’m from when asked, I guess I’ve never really given myself the opportunity to properly embrace it. I had such a difficult time growing up, for various reasons – with bullying, mental health, homelessness – I didn’t want another thing that set me apart from everyone else. I wanted to blend into the crowd, not seen as ‘other’.
That is, until I met Laila. Well, I actually came across her Instagram first, and I watched in awe how she so unapologetically embraces her mixed background and doesn’t shy away from pointing out the injustices and contradictions in society concerning black and brown people. When she asked me to come record an episode for a podcast she was working on, talking about what it means to be mixed race in work and life, I was really grateful to be ‘allowed’ the opportunity to speak openly about my experience.
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Yesterday I spent some time in @lailawoozeer_’s kitchen with @laurenevie_, talking about what it’s like being mixed race in the blogging industry, and in general life. We covered topics such as growing up in predominantly white areas, how we relate to our families, privileges we get for being light skinned, making ourselves smaller and feeling like ‘half’ of something, cultural appropriation, and many, many other complex and thought provoking issues. I think I may have made myself sound kinda intelligent!? This was all for a podcast ‘draft’ that Laila is working on, so go follow her and keep your eyes peeled for that soon 👀 I’ve been wanting to talk about race and class and all sorts of other complicated and nuanced topics for a while but have always shied away from it because I felt like I didn’t have any authority on the matter. I didn’t want to say something wrong or step on anyone’s toes. Sitting and chatting with these two wonderful ladies has made me realise that my opinions DO matter, that my experiences are valid because they are mine, and I’m not alone. My blog is under construction at the moment, but I’m penning down some thoughts for when it’s back up and running… so, watch this space 🙌🏼🙌🏽🙌🏾
Laila, Lauren and I spoke for well over an hour about growing up in mainly white areas, not knowing many other mixed people – or people of colour in general – and having to shrink ourselves down to fit in with our white friends. Because as much as our friends loved us, and despite their best intentions, they were never going to fully understand what it was like living between two (or more) races and never knowing where you fit in within wider society.
Through Laila, I discovered the project Mixed Raced Faces, who celebrate mixed people in all of their different iterations. Because being mixed is not just one thing. It doesn’t only consist of being black and white – in fact, many mixed people don’t have any mix of white at all. But, as I’m coming to realise, a lot of people only recognise a mixed race person as white and something else.
I’ve always wanted to talk more about my race but never felt like I could do. Like, what right do I have, as a white-appearing person, to claim my half-black identity? For a long time, no word of a lie, I didn’t even feel comfortable referring myself as a woman of colour. Even though that’s exactly who I am!
I don’t want to be uncomfortable and shy away from who I am anymore. I want to take the time to learn more about my heritage, learn properly about colonialism, and fight against the deeply ingrained race issues that people of colour face every day still. It’s not that I never cared before – I guess I was just afraid of making waves.
But I’m not afraid anymore.