What’s your full name?
Olufunso Lily Foluso-Henry
How old are you?
Where were you born/brought up?
West London; born in Hammersmith, lived on a council estate in Chiswick until I was 10, then moved to Hounslow.
What do you do for a living?
Currently in my second year of university studying Anthropology with Spanish.
What’s your ethnicity?
Black/White African: Dad is from Nigeria, Mum is from Liverpool.
How did your mum and dad meet?
In Somerfield; my mum would go there to buy my (half) sister’s favourite yogurt and my dad could only get work as a security guard, despite having a degree from a university in Nigeria. They started talking and realized they had a lot in common, so my mum would go shopping there even though it was more expensive and my dad would watch her on the security camera!
How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?
When I was in year 1, I remember going to a sleepover and playing a game with everyone where we had to be different characters. There were animals to be and princesses, so obviously I wanted to be a princess. But the girl whose house it was said I had to be an animal because everyone else was a princess and that I didn’t have the hair or the look of a princess. It just made me try and be the “people person” from a young age and win them over with personality, seeing as my appearance was already a barrier.
Did you want to change your appearance when you were a child?
For the longest time I wanted straight hair (smaller nostrils too). Basically, to be like the girls I saw on TV and in magazines. One time I complained so much my mum went and bought relaxer while we were on holiday in Florida when I was 9. She put it on my hair and took it off straight away. My mum can be a softy, but straightening my hair permanently was the one thing she never let me do.
Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.
Think it has been when the first thing I’m asked when a lot of people meet me is where I’m from, then question me when I say London. “No, where are you really from?” Erm, the womb? How deep do I go?
Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?
Not really, but then again I don’t think they’d be able to. After all, they’re not mixed race themselves, and no one really talks about it being much more than just having a bit of each of your parents’ cultures.
What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?
When people ask me if I feel more white or black, like I can “feel” a colour.
What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?
My experiences with race as a mixed race person are valid. Just because you can’t relate to them, doesn’t make them untrue.
Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?
Recently I see the token mixed race model with an afro in adverts, but everyone else seems to be white. It’s like they need to fit a diversity quota so they put one mixed race person in these majority white campaigns.
Back in the late 19th century/early 20th century being mixed race held a stigma, as it was clear proof of interracial relations which was seen as an affront to society’s morals. Do you think it’s easier nowadays to be mixed race or is it more that racism has become subtler?
I think racism has become subtler and because it’s not so in-your-face, people don’t think it’s there. People often think mixed race couples are evidence of a “post-racial” society; that racism is none-existent because these people are putting race aside to be together. But in a society where everything is in favour of white patriarchy, there are still limitations which are harder to confront because people don’t believe they’re there.
Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?
Definitely a blessing; the ignorant comments and actions from people are really annoying, but being surrounded by the different cultures within my family has definitely shaped my personality and also made me want to use the privilege I have as a mixed race person to better things in anyway I can.
Have you felt a struggle with your identity? If so, how did you deal with it and if you are now at peace with who you are, how did you come to a place of self-acceptance?
For a while I never knew where I stood with my friendship groups, always being told by some black friends that I sounded “posh”, but then sounding “street” to some white friends. I still feel like that around different groups today. Almost like I’m the palatable entertainment for some white friends, and the boring one to some black friends.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t feel like you need to straighten your hair! Own the fro, you’ll love yourself for leaving it curly when you’re older.