Hazel Harvey

What’s your full name?

Hazel Caroline Harvey

How old are you?

30

Where were you born/brought up?

Leyton, East London.

What do you do for a living?

I work in marketing at a circus school. Honestly!

What’s your ethnicity?

I’m half black Guyanese and half Filipino.

How did your mum and dad meet?

My dad worked on ships and he decided to write in to a pen pal section of a magazine they had on board. I guess before the days of the interweb it was incredibly exciting to have someone you could write letters to on the other side of the world. He began corresponding with my mum and after two years of them writing to each other, he decided to fly out to the Philippines to meet her. They got married shortly after and they moved to Hackney, East London.

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How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?

I was only conscious of it when I hit adolescence. I went to a multicultural girls school in East London which I loved. But there were a handful of girls – some of them even friends – that made comments with the undertone that I wasn’t ‘black enough’, whether that was because of me not knowing about certain music, dances, foods, not wearing my hair in intricate styles etc. I put my hands up – I was guilty of the single ‘doo-doo plait’ on numerous occasions. But to me it was just hair. I was called 'Bounty' a couple of times, 'black on the outside, white on the inside'. I guess people feel more comfortable if they can categorise you, or slot you in somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I loved school! I was a happy person. But in those moments where yappy teen girls blurt things out for laughs, I felt horribly embarrassed when comments targeting my cultural authenticity were made. I felt like somehow my performance was subpar to my black peers, like there was something wrong with me that I needed to cover up.

 

 

Did you want to change your appearance when you were a child?

Not so much when I was little, but more so as I got older. I was and am of slight build and was always conscious of my body. I wanted the curves stereotypically associated with ‘blackness’, because ultimately that’s how the world sees me, a black female. I remember a friend of mine in secondary school told me I didn’t have a butt, but a ‘crack in a back’(!) I was constantly seeing and hearing messages about how ‘real’ black females should be built and it stayed with me. I went throughout college with a really long parka coat to hide my slim body, wore leggings under jeans to make my legs and thighs look thicker and drank protein shakes in the hope I’d gain weight. Sh*t didn’t work.

Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.

There was a time in college where I was seeing an Asian guy and I remember a black male acquaintance had just found out about it. He approached me in the canteen and when I confirmed that I was in fact going out with this Asian guy he started laughing really loudly, an overdramatic collapse-all-over-the-place 'Big Narstie' kind of laugh. His actual words were ‘that’s a waste...!’. He meant that it was a waste of a ‘good black girl’ like me on a boy that wasn’t black like ‘us’. I was really embarrassed about the whole situation, and that this scene was unfolding in the college canteen. And rather than getting really annoyed with him, I remember trying to pacify his hysterics with a calm voice and explain that I, myself was half-Asian anyway- like I needed to prove that it was okay for me to see someone outside of my own ethnicity. It still makes me pissed-off when I think of it. With his reaction, and with my lack of one because inside I was livid. Imagine if my parents had felt like him? I’d never have even been born.

Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?

I think they simply believed that I had the best of both worlds – what more could I want? Maybe they never really understood the unique situations I would come across because they had always fit-in within their own cultures. My mum never taught me her language so I’ve met Filipino people who have said that I wasn’t a ‘true Filipina’. It does hurt to be rejected by people you feel like you should be able to identify with. I remember being in the Philippines when I was seventeen and being told very politely by an aunt that I should try one of their many lightening creams to make myself look ‘more Filipina, more beautiful’. Of course I very politely declined.

What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?

I hate it when I overhear people that say that ‘he/she isn’t reaaally [insert ethnicity here]’ when he/she has a parent from that country. It annoys me that race has so many stereotypical ideas attached to it and that some people make it their business to try to pick apart the person that you’ve grown to accept and love just because you don’t match their ideal version of what a black/ white/ green person is ‘supposed to be like’. Screw your labels, man. I am black and I am Filipina. Period.

What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?

That there are positives and there are negatives depending on the social situation I’m in. Sometimes I feel like I’m free to experience the best of both cultures, and at other times I’m rejected by them because some individuals believe I don’t know the depths of either. I wouldn’t choose to have me any other way though, the good outweighs the awkward, the rude and the uncomfortable.

Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?

In my opinion, I think they’re better represented than other ethnic minorities - you see more mixed race families on TV these days, however that’s dominated by mixed-white families and not so much other mixes. I just think mixed-white is more palatable to mainstream media right now. In the future, who knows. How cool would it be to see a mixed black/oriental family that looks like mine? I’m glad we’re seeing more diversity in the media, but ethnic minorities are still a long way from being properly represented.

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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’ve lived in London all my life, surrounded by people of so many ethnic backgrounds. Thankfully I’ve not really experienced the effects of that stigma – I was never made aware of any negativity towards my parents’ relationship growing up. That’s not the same experience for everyone though. You still have people disowning family over things like race and culture for the sake of ‘purity’. I’ve had friends of mixed heritages who have said their parents’ experiences were less positive to that of my own parents. As for today? All you need to do is look at the commentary surrounding Meghan Markle and Prince Harry - there are still people out there that just don’t get it.

 

Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?

Neither. I just am, it’s all I’ve ever known.

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?

I’ve never felt like I’ve had to choose a side really… other than when Pacquiao fought Mayweather. In the past I struggled more with acceptance from both groups. Now, I just own who I am, culturally. I am not afraid to say, ‘show me’ if there’s something I don’t know about - or if need be, make it known that I won’t be happy with anyone trying to make me feel inadequate because I don’t meet their expectations. I feel better equipped as I’ve gotten older because I’ve dealt with it a lot.  

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t shy away from pulling someone up on their narrow views of what it means to be ‘authentically’ black or Filipino. You are enough.

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