What’s your full name?
Elizabeth Mary Ward (but I go by Liz).
How old are you?
26 years young!
Where were you born/brought up?
I was born in Birmingham – Dudley road hospital overlooking the prison. During my early years I grew up in Handsworth and Aston but after incidents that happened in my childhood my mum and I fled to my grandma’s house in St Helens – a tiny northern town situated in-between Liverpool and Manchester. I spent most of my misspent youth up north.
What do you do for a living?
I manage a youth project in north London supporting victims of child exploitation.
What’s your ethnicity?
Mixed white and black Caribbean. My dad’s from St Kitts and my mum’s Irish. Pretty much as British as you can imagine.
How did your mum and dad meet?
My dad was a black liberation activist in Birmingham in the 80s. He decided to run for MP in the 1983 general election – my mum was his election agent. The rest is history…
How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?
I started school in Birmingham and I remember there being a few jokes in the playground about being lighter skin than other kids, but it didn’t really affect me much. When I moved up north though and I became the only person of colour in the school, I used to face questions like ‘Are you adopted? Why are you chocolate coloured?’ and a really early memory for me was my mum reassuring me by showing me baby pictures from the hospital or rehearsing answers to these questions. In terms of the impact it made me quite anxious about meeting new people, especially when I was out with my mum. Even as a teenager I would feel uncomfortable going out for lunch with my mum in case people couldn’t understand we were mother and daughter. In terms of how I reacted for a long time in my early teens I rejected my blackness fully – relaxed my hair, dropped my brummie accent, and would hate whenever anyone mentioned anything black. Looking back it was a really sad time for me, but came out of a place for survival
Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.
Race is a social construct, and so we have little control over how people see us. Growing up in the north I was always seen as black – the black girl, black Liz, black one on the netball team etc and it wasn’t until I moved to London when people questioned my use of the term black to describe myself. A colleague of mine responded to me once saying it was ‘interesting’ that I thought I was black, and this really affected me. It made me feel quite uprooted and lost, especially as towards my late teens and early twenties I began to fall in love with my blackness again.
Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?
I didn’t have much contact with dad or my dad’s side growing up, which was hard. My mum worked tirelessly to educate me on my roots and I’m fortunate to know my family history well and be proud of it. When it comes to being mixed-race directly, I think my mum tried to protect me a little too much when I was a child, she was very much of the ‘I don’t see race’ view, which can be harmful.
What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?
Eugh where to begin! The comments that get me are ‘but you’re not really black’ or ‘I bet you don’t know your dad’ or ‘I bet you don’t know your history’ or other such comments ‘lightskin girls are hoes’ etc etc. That really gets to me.
What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?
To span across two distinct and unique identities can be tough. I understand white privilege as much as I understand black oppression. I’m as influenced by my Catholic Irish culture as I am my black Caribbean culture – both are part of me and both are precious. It feels as though sometimes you’re never accepted by either side, but for me there’s a beauty in being in the middle.
Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?
I think it’s got better. Sometimes on the tube or TV you’ll see an advert with a mixed race family – and that’s very affirming. I wish I had seen families like mine on television growing up, I think young people today have more opportunity to feel seen.
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 think the racism has become more subtle. Whenever I have had white partners, I have suffered comments from both the black and white community. Like I’m somehow letting the side down, or I should be lucky that I’m ‘moving up’. When I was born my mum faced stigma from my own family – when she returned from Birmingham with a brown baby, we were cut off by some family members. That impact still resonates with me to this day.
Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?
Now – it’s a blessing. The pride I feel when I talk about my identity is unrivalled. If I see a St Kitts flag, or an Irish name, I feel the same feelings of joy and belonging. I love that I can speak openly and freely about who I am and connect with other mixed race people who feel the same.
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 felt an internal struggle about my race from being a young age, and it took me until adulthood to come to a place of acceptance. I’m now at peace with who I am and I feel part of that comes from my hair journey. The amount of damage I inflicted on myself from a young age – straightening, relaxing, blow-drying it so much the walls of my bedroom turned grey! I began to go natural in around 2012 and fully embraced growing locs in 2015. The love I began to show my hair, I began to show myself, and accept every part of who I am, despite how others wants to label me.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Embrace your hair, embrace your body, embrace yourself and everything you are.