What’s your full name?
Ester Maria Turri.
Where were you born/brought up?
I was born in Italy and was raised there and in Nigeria for a period of time, but my adolescence was spent in London so I feel very much like a Londoner than anything else.
What do you do for a living?
Currently study, and work part-time as well as freelance.
What’s your ethnicity?
I never know what this actually means, haha but I guess I am mixed Italian-Nigerian (White European and Black African).
How did your mum and dad meet?
They met in the U.S and then reconnected through mutual friends my mother had in Italy.
How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?
I think it was around 5 years old, when I was In preschool and nobody seemed to want to speak to me, play with me. This was when I lived in Italy. The most vivid, earliest memory I have was a specific incident of me not being allowed in the sandbox, and I was held back by two other kids and when I finally insisted and got in the sandbox everyone just got out. It was confusing and I only really processed the whole thing fairly recently. To this day I am unsure if it was because I was different or maybe I just wasn’t likeable or the latter. All I know is there was only one thing that differentiated me from the rest of my classmates.
Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.
I never actually thought about it, I would look at my parents growing up and would think absolutely nothing of it. I don’t think I realized until I came to London, and there were 2 other mixed girls in my class and they insisted I joined their ‘Lightie Club’. I never activated my membership.
Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?
I do not. But in actuality I don’t think there’s much they could have done to control how I felt or what people would say to me, or stop me from experiencing subliminal messages. My dad (white, Italian) has never really spoken to me about race or acknowledge the fact I am different to him, I think this is his way of making me feel loved and accepted, by focusing on how we are similar, but it didn’t prepare me for how I would be perceived in society as a minority within a minority. I remember him once telling me, “What are you talking about, you’re white like me”. As for my mum, she acknowledges that us as her kids, we are mixed, she makes a point of differentiating that we are mixed and not black. In that sense, I don’t think that helped because often I think I have offended people when my immediate response to someone calling me black is me saying “ I am not black I am mixed’. It’s not because I don’t acknowledge my Nigerian heritage, in fact I am more than proud of it, I show it off, it’s just that I never felt as though I can entirely relate to the black experience, in this case the Black British experience, especially having lived in 3 different countries. Either way, I acknowledge why it is I could be considered black, but to say “I am black’ does not come naturally to me at all.
What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?
People assuming that I think I’m better than them, and assuming I am an airhead. I never understood because I feel like I live my life separate from my external appearance, but then I am brought back to reality by these comments.
What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?
That we do not have to pick a side, we are not one or the other, we are just as complex as they are, I wouldn’t even say that we are more complex to be very honest, I think people picture it being more exciting than it is, this probably stems from the exoticization of mixed race people, so I can understand.
Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?
Not really, I feel represented when I see an obviously mixed person in media, but depending on how their character is depicted or described, I don’t always feel like I can relate entirely, because as mixed person I feel as though each of our experiences with identity are extremely niche, so it can never be super accurate to me personally. I do often feel like the mixed/interracial narrative feels a bit forced in TV and film.
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 definitely think there is less of a negative stigma to being mixed right now but I feel as though it’s masking the actual issues we are facing. One of the issues I think about a lot is the fact that we are represented in media as being physically attractive, 'cool' and different, but these representations are quite superficial. There is a lot of outside pressures that we are dealing with (not just from things like white supremacy, but even from our own communities) as well as our own internal conflicts, and I don't feel as though these are ever properly depicted, we are usually just a pretty face and nothing more. I think is a dangerous picture to paint as it makes it seem as though we are free of oppression because of our physical appearance when this really isn't the case, not to mention there are those of us that are of mixed heritage but don't fit into the 'conventionally attractive' model, so what then? Being reduced to such a stereotype isn't the worst thing but it's not exactly helpful. It's not so black and white, there are so many layers to us (obviously), and although representations of us are usually coming from a good place, the effects these representations have don't always resonate positively or shed light on the deeper issues.
Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?
I definitely view it as a blessing, I am who I am and I can’t change it. I’m in this body the rest of my life so I’m going to love everything about it, but growing up I felt as though it was a burden at times, but as I’ve grown I have realized that it was a mixture of being generally insecure, dealing with puberty and the subliminal messages within media that pushed standards of what is ‘normal’ and ‘beautiful’. In this case (growing up in the UK) the norm for me was being skinny, white and blonde – but now I wouldn’t wish to be anything else
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?
The one aspect that I don’t think I ever struggled with was the whole ‘pick a side’ angle. I was raised in both Italy and Nigeria so I always felt very involved in both my cultures and both my parents were present in my childhood. I would get asked the question often of whether I feel more black or white and I never know how to answer because I just don’t feel like I’m a half of anything, I’m just a whole me.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Stop caring about what other people think so much and don’t be so trusting of everyone.