Naomi Naidoo

What’s your full name?

Naomi Naidoo

How old are you?

26

Where were you born/brought up?

I was born in Oxford and then moved to Glasgow when I was 10.

What do you do for a living?

I work for a finance innovation charity, working to improve the financial system for people and planet.

What’s your ethnicity?

Mixed race white/ Indian. My mum is white Scottish, my dad is South African of Indian origin.

How did your mum and dad meet?

Okay, this is kind of a crazy one… My dad was exiled from South Africa in the 80s for his involvement in the anti-apartheid movement. He was fortunate to get a scholarship to do a PhD at Oxford, so spent his exile there. He didn’t know anyone in Oxford but had been given the contact details of a woman who led Oxfam’s work in South Africa at the time from a mutual friend. They met up when he arrived and became great friends. My mum was also working for Oxfam at the time and was close to this woman, so I think my parents met a few times at social and work events. Several years later, after the end of the Apartheid regime, my dad was living back in South Africa and his friend was there for work, elsewhere in the country, and called to say she’d come to visit him in a few weeks. A few days before she was due to arrive, she was involved in a car accident and tragically died. My mum came to South Africa shortly afterwards to temporarily pick up some of the work she had been doing whilst they appointed a replacement, during which time she spent a lot of time with my father…

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

Growing up in Oxford, the schools I went to were pretty diverse and I had friends of all races, including mixed, so never really thought about it. This changed dramatically when I moved to Glasgow at age 10. My school was predominantly white, with a large Scottish-Pakistani population, and a small number of black pupils who had moved to Scotland recently, but it was very segregated and these groups barely mixed. All my new friends were white and so I quite suddenly got this sense of being different that I really hadn’t had up until that point. I was young then so didn’t necessarily process this fully or the impact it was having on me consciously, but as I went into high school I was definitely well aware of it, sometimes liking that difference but often not.

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

As a child I have so many memories of white women telling me how cute mixed children are/ how much they want mixed babies I’ve lost count.  

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

Not really, but I guess they wouldn’t have really known how to. I think my experience of being mixed was also very much shaped by the fact that my family were spread out, my mum in the UK and my dad in South Africa. My mum’s partner is white and my dad’s is black, and I have siblings on both sides, so there was this huge contrast between my life with my white family (and after having moved to Scotland, friends) at home and then my life with my Indian and black family in SA, where I spent most of my school holidays. I always loved having this huge, complicated family with so many siblings but it created this kind of dichotomy in my life, which probably still isn’t fully resolved. Moving to London at 18 for Uni helped with this a lot, as I was surrounded by a diversity of people again, including all sorts of mixes, as did going to/ creating a relationship with South India, where my dad’s family originate from many generations ago.

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

I think the most common and frustrating is when people assign a racial identity to mixed people without their consent i.e. if you’re part white/brown/black you are fully white/brown/black or if you’re part one race you can’t be at all another.

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

We’re not all a walking identity crisis, though my answers to previous questions may contradict that somewhat.

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

Yes and no. I think the experience of being mixed race, and all the identity issues, family dynamics, etc., that come with that, are not well represented in media or in culture more generally, which is why projects like this one, writers like Zadie Smith and plays like the recent Hashtag Lightie at Arcola are so important. At the same time though, because of colourism and fetishisation of light skin, mixed race people are hugely overrepresented when it comes to people of colour in general. So many POC in the spotlight are mixed, no doubt largely because light skin is the only sort of colour deemed to be palatable to society/ a white audience - whether that’s as a princess, a president or a vogue cover girl. Even now when all brands and magazines are trying to capitalise on diversity, you still see so much of that space taken up by mixed race people. So, although the actual experience and politics of being mixed is still underexplored, and deserves more attention, I think we need to acknowledge that we’re also disproportionately over-represented in comparison to other POC, which I think is an even bigger issue.
 

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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?

I guess the more of us there are the easier it is, but there’s still a lot of challenges, largely around fetishisation rather than stigma.

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

A mixed blessing!

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?

Because of my family being spread out in the way they were, I never really felt I had to pick a side, more that there were these two sides that were separate. I think as I’ve got older I’ve managed to bring these together more, and found the ways they interact, complement each other etc. but it’s a continuous process which I think/ hope is useful and educational in itself.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Stress less.
 

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