What’s your full name?
How old are you?
Where were you born/brought up?
I was born and brought up in London but I count a lot of cities in the world like Beirut ‘home.'
What do you do for a living?
I’m a multi-award winning writer and journalist (I find that women don’t shout about their achievements enough so I don’t mind taking the baton!). I write for national magazines and newspapers including i-D, Vice, Broadly, Cosmopolitan, Time Out London, Refinery29UK, Stylist and more.
What’s your ethnicity?
I’m half-Lebanese, half-Pakistani.
How did your mum and dad meet?
At SOAS – my mum loves telling everyone the story of how my dad followed her around uni.
How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?
So many to pick from! I’ve always been placed on the periphery of the communities that I supposedly belong to. My predominantly Asian group of friends in secondary school used to always tell me: “You wouldn’t understand, you’re only half” and my Lebanese family would usually say the same: “You wouldn’t understand, you’re Pakistani”. In mainstream Britain, I’m perceived as the ‘other’ so I’ve learnt since I was young that ‘belonging’ isn’t experience that we all share. Maybe on a subconscious level, I’m drawn to giving marginalised communities a platform in my journalism as I understand what it’s like to be on the periphery.
Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.
When I couldn’t see my ethnicity on those forms that require you to fill it out so I always had to plump for ‘Other’. Granted, there was ‘Arab’ or ‘Asian – Pakistani’ but that’s not my entire identity. It’s frustrating that my heritage is reduced to ‘Other’ as if it isn’t valid. My identity’s incredibly rich and that I’m very proud of but I remember how frustrating it was seeing friends pick their own ethnicities so easily comparatively and how it wasn’t called into question.
Also, I’m sure most mixed-race girls can identify with this but how our identities are exoticised or fetishised. From my experience, men use the ‘where are you from?’ line as a chat-up line! It doesn’t matter where I am – answering the doorbell, on a night out, meeting someone for the first time. I make it fun by getting them to guess as no one has ever got my heritage completely accurate but it’s exhausting. I don’t owe my heritage to people I’ve just met, especially as I then have to answer follow-up questions like “where did your parents first meet?”. If someone mistakes me for Brazilian or Spanish and I’m too tired to contest it, I’ll let them get on with it.
Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?
They don’t quite understand the intricacies of being mixed race – they’ve never had to question ‘belonging’ to a community or culture in the same way I’ve had. It’s also interesting that both my parents come from Muslim backgrounds which you’d think would enable me to be accepted more easily but as I’ve got older, I’ve noticed that faith doesn’t ostracise you in the same way that race can and does.
What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?
The worst ones are the fetishisation of mixed race babies. There’s also preconception that mixed race identity is limited to black and white heritage, which is incredibly frustrating and invalidates identities like mine.
What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?
That it’s more diverse than simply being a ‘blessing’ or a ‘burden’. Each of our experiences are incredibly multi-faceted – one mixed race person’s experience can wildly differ from another. We’re not a monolith – I feel like people struggle to see past that.
Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?
Compared to five years ago, absolutely! Now I see mixed race families on TV, which I never used to. But there’s still a very narrow idea of what constitutes as the ‘acceptable’ face of mixed race, particularly in regards to women. From what I’ve seen on Instagram / TV adverts etc., light-skinned mixed-race women are the acceptable face of the ‘other’. We’re still not seeing the full diversity of mixed race identities and face in the media beyond black and white.
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?
On the surface, mixed race identity seems more ‘acceptable’ – we’re the faces of adverts, more models are ‘racially ambiguous than ever before and mixed race relationships aren’t so scandalous the way they once were. However, I don’t think it’s in any way ‘easier’ – mixed-race identities like mine are still fetishised and those that deviate from ‘black and white’ heritage run the risk of their identities being invalidated.
Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?
A blessing, without a doubt. Understanding the unique intricacies of so many communities has had a profound impact on my journalism: I’ve investigated everything from dual British-Asian identities, the unique challenges of having an eating disorder during Ramadan to the legacy of war on memories among the Arab diaspora. All of this might not have been possible without the multiple communities I’ve been exposed to.
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?
It’s a journey. Some days I’ll feel very Desi, other days my Arab side comes out. Some days I don’t feel like either, other days I feel like both identities aren’t conflicting and work in equilibrium. I don’t feel like I need to make ‘peace’ with it though as I love my identity.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
That it’s OK that there are times that you don’t feel like you belong. Also how amazing is it to have been exposed to so many cultures and communities at once.
Is there anything more you would like to say?
There’s so many faces and experiences of people that identify as ‘mixed race’ – don’t let narrow mainstream representations fool you into thinking otherwise.