Isabella Neergaard

What’s your full name?

Isabella Neergaard

How old are you?

20

Where were you born/brought up?

Born in New York. Brought up in Copenhagen, Denmark and Brighton, UK.

What do you do for a living?

I study Scandinavian Studies and Classics at the University of Edinburgh.

What’s your ethnicity?

Danish and Nigerian (with a bit of Irish).

How did your mum and dad meet?

They met when they were both on holiday in Greece.

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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 think I was around 15. I always knew I was a little different, but people actually brought it up when I was a bit older because they wanted to project what they thought was right onto me. I became so defensive and angry at others for not being educated in race and identity, I was this force that would explode if anyone brought it up! Not a good time for me. I've learnt to be more patient with others. 

 

 

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

When I was really young I had my hair straightened because it was easier, but also because I wanted to fit in. When I grew older, I wanted to be skinny and small to fit in with all the other girls. I was curvy by age 13, and I HATED that.

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

"I didn't realise you weren't normal!" People assume I'm Italian or Spanish, so when they saw my mom they had a few questions. I lived in a very isolated community, where I was one of the only people of colour. 

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

I think my mother did an excellent job at this. Because she is of colour, she thought it was vital to educate me about our history and what she has experienced. She taught me to be proud of my mixed heritage, and from then on, I wore it like a badge of honour.   

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

"Half-caste". Yikes, ok if people knew what that slur entails (*cough* slavery connotations), they wouldn't be saying it. 

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

Just because I'm half something, doesn't mean that I don't identity with the entirety of that culture. I'm technically half-Danish, but in my eyes I am completely Danish. My Nigerian side doesn't discredit my Nordic roots, I can be both! 

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

I mean... it's getting better. I feel like there's this 'mixed fever' going on right now, where every advert has a interracial couple with a mixed baby because they're 'cute'. This representation is something, but the people depicted in adverts aren't proper illustrations of mixed-race families! They're just used to advertise sofas! What we need is  depictions of mixed-race characters to illustrate our experience.

What reaction do you tend to experience from people when they find out your ethnicity?

They're normally like "well you don't look black..." which sometimes is quite upsetting because it erases a part of my upbringing. Although I have white passing privilege, and of course am aware of that, that doesn’t change how I was raised.  Before realising I'm black, some people have in the past freely said the 'n-word' or told 'black jokes' because they don't realise that they're offending anyone. When I was younger I always felt like I couldn't say something because I was 'ruining their fun', but now I know I can shut them down pretty instantly. 

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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?

It IS becoming easier, but at the same time, I'm explaining things to some of my friends that should have been established 10 years ago. No, it's not ok for you to say the n-word. NO, this isn't a restriction on your freedom of speech, you're just being a prick. So even though being mixed is 'cool', I don't think this means that we're not being racist anymore. 

 

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

BLESSING. I love that I can connect with different cultures and identities all around the world. At first, it was confusing. But now as a nearly-grown woman, I can appreciate and celebrate the connotations of being multiracial and what it means. 

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 learnt that I didn't need to pick a side. I can be a smørrebrød loving Dane AND a confident woman of colour. I think when I was younger, people would doubt my 'blackness' or 'Danishness' because I didn't look like a stereotypical Dane or black person. In fact in the height of multi-culturalism, recent immigration allows Danes to be of a myriad of different backgrounds! I still have moments of uncertainty about my identity, but as I get older, I remind myself that both identities can co-exist without sacrifices one over the other.   

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don't get so upset, those girls are twice as clueless about who they are than you. And stop plucking your eyebrows, girl. 

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