What’s your full name?
How old are you?
Where were you born/brought up?
Born and raised in West London.
What do you do for a living?
I do temp work in nurseries to keep me afloat whilst I play in a band and draw for my comic book.
What’s your ethnicity?
I am half British Black Caribbean and half British White. My dad’s family is from Jamaica.
How did your mum and dad meet?
My mum and dad met through their friends who were a little group of musicians. They joined the same jazz funk band and my mum sang and my dad was on bass guitar.
How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?
I was lucky to live in a fairly diverse part of suburban West London. Everyone was different in some way. The impact came from how, as I grew older, there were spaces I wanted to fit in that weren’t built with my differences in mind. The realisation became subtle through the years but I was as young as 8 when I realised I was too different for certain people.
Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.
I can’t remember specifically but I was talking with a group of friends about being a certain race. I said something and my white friend exclaimed “but you’re black!”. I remember feeling uneasy with that description of me. As if it showed how white people viewed what I am because I am black. I feel more comfortable saying I’m both black and mixed race. Although white is a part of me, I don’t think I am white in this world because people are more likely to view me as a type of black, than a type of white person. People who do view me as white don’t view it as a racial identity. It’s more of a funny surprise to discover parts of my personality that fit a stereotype of whiteness because I can’t fit in to that stereotype of blackness. That or a traitorous choice to distance myself from a community I never grew up in to become familiar with.
Did you want to change your appearance when you were a child?
As a child, I wanted milky skin. Straight blonde hair. Blue eyes. A petite, slim body. Delicate, European, “fairy” features. I wasn’t just brown skinned, with dark frizzy hair but I developed earlier than other girls I knew.
I grew armpit hair when I was 9 and my mum got it off with hair removal cream. My body type wasn’t/isn’t slim either, so I grew up confused on who to feel empowered by. You regularly see curvy black girls as sassy. Not delicate fairies.
I’ve noticed plus size models are mainly seen in “we’re brave to own ourselves” campaigns and brands specifically made for their sizes. They aren’t a conventional beauty seen on a Vogue cover. So there’s been a low key feeling of not being “the good woman of colour” who “even if she isn’t white, at least she isn’t fat and hairy.” I think the identity of fat black women says a lot about not feeling visually white and acceptable. Because it’s built in to historic, supremacy. She is the mammy. The Sarah Baartman. Two extremes of being completely de-sexualised or scarily hyper-sexualised. I feel very strongly about that and am always disappointed when modelling agencies “celebrating” diversity draw the line at different bodies. Whether they be disabled, different in size or non-conforming to the gender binary, it still carries on the powerful decision of what identities deserve respect.
Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?
No. I feel like their understanding was that I was part white and part black but not really a mixed race woman of colour. Neither could empathise with those experiences to know that I would live with certain feelings. They could sympathise, but weren’t able to prepare me for feelings or questions about my identity, because sometimes I'd be the first to find them.
That’s not their fault but sometimes interracial parents have to admit that they won’t know and they can’t provide a perfect life for their mixed race child based on these issues. Whether that be the most dedicated approach to educate and understand, or a “colour blind” approach that ignores the potential for them to experience different issues due to their different identity. What I suggest to parents is to ensure that their child has as much access to their background and people like them as they can. If they can’t provide that, it’s ok. Their child will have their own journey of self discovery to dedicate for themselves and their needs.
What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?
There are two main ideas about mixed race identity that I’ve encountered that really hurt me.
1) During a mental breakdown I was researching in to therapy that was specific to mixed race identity and I came across a chat room that had people making extreme comments about interracial couples being a toxic effect on “pure” families and having mixed race children will mean they will grow up messed in the head.
2) I understand why this second idea I’m going to mention is believed, because colourism is a toxic part of racism that goes ignored or unheard of in coloured communities, but the idea that all mixed race people are privileged light skin people is something that really annoys me. Especially in areas of the black community. I don’t have doubt that light skin people have privilege, but the idea that ALL mixed race people have light skin is false and that the confusion over our identity issues (which all shades can experience) doesn’t deserve healing or to even be recognised because of some of our privileges, is very annoying.
What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?
Mixed race isn’t specifically an identity based on people who are half black and half white. You can be a mix of many races. Discrimination due to colourism can target a dark skinned mixed race person. Whether they’re the darkest of their black/white mixed siblings or e.g. part Asian, part black family. The assumptions of what mixed race people are is something which has made it very hard for us to find belonging and acceptance.
Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?
I think mixed race people and interracial families are represented in the media in quantity but not always quality.
The image of some mixed race actors, who are light skinned, is appreciated more than our fellow dark skinned people of colour. It’s something where if we’re prepared to call out, white people’s privilege in the industry, we have to understand our own.
I also think (white+POC) interracial families can be an annoying use of representation because it can be an image used to be fair to white people when they don’t see themselves represented in a piece of media that includes people of colour. It says “here’s proof we’re not not racist but HEY! Fellow whites! We didn’t forget you! Look! We don’t suddenly hate you now that we’ve decided to like people of colour!”
It’s very “all lives matter” and this is why the majority of the time you don’t see an interracial couple/family where they are all people of colour. I think it says a lot about white people’s ideas and understanding of race relations. A black vs white issue.
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 believe it’s easier than the past but it is more subtle because people want to ignore the complexities on psychology that racism has had as it’s outcome. I hate that a very large number of white people view racism as a dictionary (descriptions of present semantic use, written by white Europeans and not psychologists/historians/sociologists) definition of “the discrimination of a person based on their ethnic background.” Because of this, a lot of these white people proudly say “I’m not racist!” and I always think. “Wow! I’m so jealous! Because nobody called me a n****r for me to hate my blackness and internalise this idea that if white people are better than me, whiteness is something I should aspire to and blackness is something I should view as inferior and not want as a part of my identity.”
As a mixed race person, I have to admit that that was something I did grow up subconsciously believing and it cost me deeply. I was deeply infatuated with a toxic culture and groups of people who systematically didn’t care about me, and distanced myself from a diverse community of cultures that wanted to love me. Because of this, it feels strange to try and come back to those communities. I feel like they can see me as a fake who’s “too white” to fit in and a traitor for abandoning them in the first place.
There’ll be white people who know my culture more than I do and that feels hard because as a system: 1) they can fit in to a culture they told me I shouldn’t want and 2) because I don’t fit in blackness, now BOTH white and black cultures won’t want me. I don’t know how true that is but it’s a feeling. I believe that the most successful form of racism, is teaching oppressed groups that they shouldn’t love who they are. Therefore they shouldn’t love their families and communities. They should want whiteness. That way you can be used more efficiently to make sure racism continues to oppress yourself and other people. And you will do this through your own self hate.
Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?
I think it’s both. Some days I can be shoved in to this rut of looking at the worst of both worlds that make my identity a burden. It makes it hard to feel upset with one thing (a victim of white supremacy) whilst you feel the shame of the other thing (colonial history and middle class, light skin privilege). But I’m teaching myself more and more how to choose who I am and not let a binary say I can’t be me. My blessing is being different because some times jumping in to different groups of people can be so much better than staying in just one.
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 don’t think I’m at peace with being either side of my racial identity yet. It’s hard because I’m trying to find life, communities and cultures in that in-between. By finding that, I hope I’ll find a stronger sense of belonging but it’s difficult when I think a lot of identities try to brand themselves as one thing.
A lot of people’s journeys are to feel pride in their singular cultures and I understand that, in a world that tells many black people, that afrobeats, hip hop and grime are inferior or tells the white kid with blue hair who listens to punk music that they’re weird.
But I do want the punks to stop viewing hip hop artists as thugs and the rappers to stop calling the alternative black kids white. I want to find a salad bowl of difference where we can find pride in our identities and be together and respect our origins whilst we share.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
To my younger self I’d say, spend more time with your grandma. Ask her about her life in Jamaica. Ask her about how to cook her food. Ask her about her favourite music. Ask her about what it feels like to be a black woman.
Ask your granddad about what he thought of your father and his family when they met. What was Notting Hill like when he travelled there to establish a fair, equal church in a community of different people.
To tell myself that you can listen to both Avril Lavigne and Missy Elliot. You don’t have to pick a side.
That there’s no shame in finding out about different areas of black culture. It’s all so different. It’s not all one thing and it’s not the stereotypes whiteness has taught you.
You can be friends with whoever and as many different people as possible.
Is there anything more you would like to say?
We need to start celebrating difference. To start challenging the boxes we’re put in. To be happy to try and branch out in our friendship circles and understand some times that comes with responsibilities, demands for respect or seeing through a different lens to appreciate different things.
We need to address that privilege isn’t about taking the blame for history. It’s about realising our existence on it’s own is enough to make someone feel upset with their own identity and that’s due to the toxicity of a powerful system we live in and need to dismantle. We can’t help existing in a system that decides how valuable we are, but we can help the ways we can destroy it and we need to work out what we’ve internalised, to ensure we don’t subconsciously contribute to that system.