Jessica Thornhill

What’s your full name?

Jessica Thornhill.

How old are you?

25.

Where were you born/brought up?

North West London.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a voice designer and product manager- think Amazon Alexa. 

What’s your ethnicity?

½ India (mum), ¼ Barbados, ¼ England (dad)

How did your mum and dad meet?

My dad was a DJ at a party that my mum was at with some friends.

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

I’d say I was around 12 or 13 when somebody pointed out to me that I was the darkest person in my friendship group. It was quite an eye opener because I’d never really considered the colour of my skin before. Suddenly I was made to realise that I looked noticeably different. It was also around this time when I became more aware that I was always being asked where I was from- or where I was really from if I’d answer “London”.




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

When I was around 15, a girl in my class felt it was necessary to point out that my skin was the same colour as the wooden tables in our classroom- ‘orange’. Having to tick ‘mixed other’ in ethnicity forms when getting vaccinations at school also confused me. It seemed as if society had accounted for people of (some) mixed bi-racial backgrounds- but what if you were made up of three races?

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

Despite my dad being mixed race as well I can’t say my parents did too much to prepare me. However, I’m not sure what they could have done. One thing I am grateful for is their decision to raise me in London- the city is so diverse and multicultural that I think my experiences are quite tame compared to others.

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

I was once called a mutt.  But the most ignorant comments I receive pretty often are from people that apparently haven’t processed I’m mixed race at all. Frequently people just pick one of my races and forget the rest. I once had two work colleagues ask me to settle an argument between then- one was saying that I was ‘black Jess’ and the other that I was ‘Indian Jess’. Apparently it was impossible that I could be both (and white). If people have somehow miraculously managed to grasp that I am a threeway mix, then the only comment I’ll get is ‘well at least I tan well’. It irritates me that being mixed race is so frequently reduced to my ability to tan.

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

This is something that I’ve only experienced in the last few years, but girls please stop telling me how much you wish you were mixed race. There is so much more to the experience that you’ve not begun to think of so please just stop. Cheers.

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

It’s better than before, but still in a very basic sense. The mixes you see on television shows or films are all still quite ‘safe’ or ‘socially acceptable’- mainly black/white. To be honest, this probably reflects the lack of diversity in the industry. Sadly this is the case for many industries. In the tech industry we’re still struggling with female representation, let alone POC/female POCs.

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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’m always really impressed that my grandad, a Windrush immigrant from Barbados married my English grandmother in the 1960s. My dad also experienced some forms of racism growing up mixed race in the 70s and 80s. I’d say on the surface it’s definitely easier to be mixed race today, but being made to feel like an alien every time I tick ‘mixed other’ on a form doesn’t exactly suggest that society has accepted us yet.

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

They say that people judge you in the first seven seconds of seeing you and it used to worry me that the colour of my skin was burdening that judgement. Now I see it as nothing but a blessing. I am grateful and proud to be mixed race, and although it took many years, I think that looking different has forced me to have a thick skin that is useful in all areas of my life.

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?

Yes. I’ve found that the culture I’ve been raised in has affected my perception of myself far more than my race, which is why I feel justified to say I’m British or a Londoner when people ask where I’m from. In reality, I’ve never really associated with one particular race. I can see physical traits in myself from my English, Bajan and Indian parents and grandparents, but I’ve been to both India and Barbados and struggled to feel any meaningful connection to the country. Equally, despite growing up in England, I can’t say I felt English, possibly because I don’t look English enough. Now I’ve accepted that I don’t have to pick one to identify with more - I can be all of them.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

For most of my life I’ve somehow ended up the odd one out in non-diverse, white social groups. Despite being in London my school was predominantly white, and whilst studying History at UCL (self-dubbed as London’s ‘global university”) I was one of two black people in my course of 150 people, and this is me being ¼ Bajan. (The other black guy was also mixed race). I would tell myself that I should never be anything but proud to be different or the odd one out.

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