What’s your full name?
Joanne Wanagri Fielding
How old are you?
Where were you born/brought up?
Born in Nairobi, Kenya. Brought up between UK and Kenya.
What do you do for a living?
Entrepreneur. Personal Coach, motivational speaker, plussize model, singer & more.
What’s your ethnicity?
Black African (Kenyan) and White British (Geordie) Mix.
How did your mum and dad meet?
Met during a business trip to Kenya where my mum worked and lived.
How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?
From birth I was labelled as ‘mzungu’ meaning white person. Growing up in Kenya, it naturally gave me special treatment as the lighter your skin colour, the more you are revered/respected. It meant I never felt that my person was accepted as being a Kenya little girl was all I knew, yet other saw me as someone I had never experienced. Coming to England, I expected solace as a ‘mzungu’, only to be called ‘black’ and treated like an exotic animal. The ignorance on both side was/is astounding. It eventually led a to my understanding that fitting in is overrated, I then began understanding how to assimilate to all situations, deeming it as a kind of superpower to be able to fit into any world I chose.
Did you want to change your appearance when you were a child?
As a child in Kenya, I wanted to be darker to fit into my family, but as I grew up and noticed my unique complexion, I accepted it for it’s originality.
Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.
My second day of middle school in England, I was asked questions like, ‘did you swim with crocodiles?’, ‘Did you wear shoes?’, ‘Did you live in a mud hut?’ etc. Having grown up being called ‘half-caste’ which is a term I still don’t mind as the derogatory meaning was never a part of my world; It was only ever used as a descriptive term rather than a racial slur. I asked questions as to why people believed these things only to discover that the British media only portrayed Africa as poor and broken. I found myself feeling frustrated but then understanding of the ignorance. That was the first time I realised, I am not one or the other, but I am both.
Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?
I don’t believe so, I believe they prepared me to live as a White person. To fit into what is considered as the desired world.
What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?
- Mixed race people are better in bed.
- Mixed race people are like mongrels (I prefer to think of myself as a hybrid).
- Your beautiful because you’re mixed race (either meaning they desire to be as tan or as light as me).
- You sound white. (I’m half white so why is that a surprise?)
- Mixed race people have good hair (leading to surprised and often judgmental comment upon realising I have afro hair).
- Everyone is mixed race somewhere along the line (although true, it again removes a space for mixed race people to have a foothold of their own).
What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?
We equally identify and are ostracised by our heritage. We are equally a part of but not completely a part of any of our mixed background races. We deserve to be treated as human beings in our own right without be grouped in factions based on whichever cultural or racial group feels we belong.
Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?
I believe the various race, sexuality and religious political fights have put mixed race people on a back burner.
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?
Easier definitely. Growing up in a country where my parents couldn’t hold my hand in younger years, I feel a great sense of freedom and progress since the early 20th century.
Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?
Neither. It is simply a part of my person. Whether I was born darker, lighter or rainbow coloured, I would still strive to be who I am and do what I do. Every human deserves to be accepted as an equal being regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religious belief or any other media based fear tactic to divide and conquer. .
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?
Up until the age of 16, I had seen/known a total of 6 mixed race people other than myself. I took that to mean I needed to be a complete representation of my race. I learned a multitude of languages, cultural mannerisms and traditions so as to be able to assimilate with almost any heritage, removing the stigma of having to be seen in any one light. I am now at a place where I feel I can be in any group and be seen as a human rather than a mixed race person. It does however still take some work in proving I am not bias to either part of my heritage but am instead a wiser and more well rounded individual for it.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Keep doing what you are doing, keep the internal strength you have and pursue your goals with no personal/internalised prejudice on how you are supposed to behave based on your heritage or skin colour.
Is there anything more you would like to say?
Growing up with parents who are not mixed race, having to look to them for guidance and them not understanding your plight or struggle, leaves you having to guide yourself and make decisions yourself. In the era that I grew up in, there weren’t many mixed race people so there weren’t people to talk to about things like mixed race history. I often felt like my race served as a distraction to my purpose and my being.