Isla Williamson

What’s your full name?

Isla Ronise Williamson

How old are you?

19

Where were you born/brought up?

All over the East End – born in Whitechapel, but I lived in Stratford & Bow growing up until we moved to Bethnal Green - I’ve lived here the majority of my life now.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a Fashion Student and I work for a little company called Jakss - we do designer children’s clothing.

What’s your ethnicity?

I’m Scottish & Caribbean, my father is Scottish, my mumma is Caribbean.

How did your mum and dad meet?

My mum used to work in an ex-seviceman’s home as a carer, when my dad moved in after serving in the army: he was always hanging around the office making conversation with every Tom, Dick & Harry that came by, until he saw mum. After that, he essentially pestered and stalked her (on one too many occasions) until she agreed to go on a date, and the rest is messy history.

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

For as long as I could remember, I knew I was seen differently. My dad’s side of the family, although it’s clear they love me, they’ve always been transparent. My nan treated my mum differently, occasionally I was given the same courtesy.

 

 

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

Entirely. I hated my nose, my lips, my curls – I would constantly straighten my hair. I never knew what features of myself to love. I would go from copying my “lighter” friendship group to copying my “darker” friendship group. I always felt too black for the white kids and too white for the black…

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

I don’t really remember a lot but the most stand-out moment I can recall is Parents Evening in year 7, I had just started secondary school. Almost every teacher felt the need to ask what my mother’s relation to me was, it was so noticeable that they were looking between the two of us for similarities, which is insane to me, because my mum has always been my mum.

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

It was never so explicitly said, but my mum always told me to respect those that respected me. I guess to some extent she was letting me know not everyone will accept me like that.

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

I’ve heard stupid things like “oreo”. My friend was recently called a cardboard coloured confusion. I don’t like the term “lightie”. All the connotations attached to the word suggest mixed race people are up their own arses – we don’t respond to texts, we think we’re better than just about everyone… things like that.

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

That we don’t necessarily need to “pick a side” so to speak. I was brought up and closer to my mother’s side of the family growing up, but that doesn’t mean I feel more black than white. I am happily both black and white, I don't want to decide which “side” I'm on.

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

Not at all. There's no normality for mixed race people (or people of colour in general, for that matter) in the media. We’re either represented as the “Hollywood” stereotype, where everything is perfection and the only allowed behaviourism is stereotypically “white” behaviour. Or, we’re represented to be “Ghetto”, bitchy and untamed, with no respect or awareness of others, like the over-the-top entertainment you see on Real Housewives Of Atlanta.

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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's simply more subtle. I hate to bring [upsetting] politics in to the mix, but a  lot of the people that didn’t pay much attention to the genuine arguments on Brexit, simply wanted to leave because they thought less immigrants would be coming to the country. A lot of racists showed their true colours during the EU referendum. Everyone hates everyone, it just seems no ones got the balls to say it.

 

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

A solid combination of both: perhaps more of a blessing, if you have the glass half full outlook. We still get hated by those that don't agree with “mixing”, regardless of whether they're black or white… But, I get to enjoy fried mars bars and haggis when I visit Scotland (or just, whenever) AND I get curry goat and salt fish & ackee, amongst other things – no one bats an eyelid. Plus, I can blissfully fail at both accents and still have both cultures in my veins either way!

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?

Always. I still do struggle with identity issues and self-acceptance. It's just a process of accepting each part of yourself individually and realising it doesn't matter what everyone else is doing, as long as you're moving forward on your own path, as cheesy as that sounds.  

What advice would you give to your younger self?

It's ok to not know what the bloody hell you stand for at this stage. You don't even need to know what you want in life, or how you're going to get there – you just need to know you're perfectly fine as you are, learn to love what you've got. And don't mess with your bloomin’ hair, please.

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