What’s your full name?
Oluwatobiloba Obisanya or Tobi
How old are you?
Where were you born/brought up?
Born in Bucharest, Romania and parents went back & forth between the UK. Brought up from the age of 4 in Malawi – SE Africa. Moved to London for boarding school at the age of 13 and am unfortunately still here and not in a tropical country.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a junior doctor – have got a few more years of professional training left and I’ll be a GP. I also dabble in health tech and startups.
What’s your ethnicity?
I’m mixed race Nigerian & Romanian.
How did your mum and dad meet?
They met in medical school in Romania in 1975 at a house party.
How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?
I think it was when I came to boarding school in the UK aged 13 (having grown up in Malawi and only visiting the UK and Romania for holidays). People used to make fun of my ambiguous “African” accent in the primarily black school I went to but were confused by the fact I claimed to be Romanian. I really made an effort to fit in and succumbed to peer pressure more than a few times and got into a lot of trouble at school for it in the end.
Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.
The immigration desk whenever I land in Nigeria is always a fun experience. Mainly because I have a distinctly Yoruba sounding name but my place of birth is “Bucharest, Romania”, and this is all written in a British Passport. So I always get suspicious looks and am always asked if I know how to speak Yoruba. When I say no, it almost always prompts the immigration officer to say, “ehenn, so you are Oyinbo (white) after all”. Similarly, whenever I spend time in Romania, people always refer to me as “the black guy”, which I don’t take offence to, but it always reminds me of how we often prefer to accentuate our differences as opposed to our similarities.
Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?
I think they did their best to raise me to be a balanced, hardworking individual. But I don’t think they could foresee the complexities of existing as a person of dual heritage in today’s modern world. Neither of my parents have ever been very keen to discuss race, so it’s been mainly through literature, personal experiences and pop culture that I’ve learned about the ups and downs of being mixed race.
What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?
I think the most irritating thing is the erasure of your diversity. When you’re expected to or are punished for not fitting into a particular box.
What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?
There are many different ways to be mixed race and one’s perception of themselves will be coloured by their life experiences. Don’t assume. Ask, learn and try to understand how complex and fun the lives of racially ambiguous people are!
Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?
I think it really excites me to see more and more people that don’t fit into neat categories in prominent places. I think globally, we are becoming more switched on to the importance of diversity, even in places where people actively resist it.
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?
It’s definitely easier! You should hear some of my parents’ stories of the nonsense people used to say to them.
Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?
It is such a blessing! I’ve been forced to learn about and be able to interact with very diverse groups of people and speak multiple languages from a young age. It’s made me resilient, open-minded and a good communicator.
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?
Definitely did - people will often ask me, which country I prefer and I always respond with: London. I’ve found the global exposure and constantly shifting demographic of England’s South East to feel more and more like home. But that might change! I’ve also learnt how to be my own person and code-switch depending on where I find myself. I feel as much Nigerian as I do Romanian.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Be patient with yourself in finding and exploring your identity. You don’t need to have all the answers straight away. Enjoy every bit of the journey! It’s as important as the end result.