British | Indian
I’m a half-British, half-Indian female, although the mix is much more complicated than this if all my Mum’s research into our ancestry is correct. I’m a mother of two (15yrs and 12yrs), living with my White, male partner in Sheffield. I work in a culturally diverse secondary school as a teaching assistant. I’m called Abby, but my actual first name is the Bengali name ‘Renu’. This was dropped when I was about 3 or 4 years of age as people in my village struggled to pronounce it correctly, saying ‘Renault’ mostly.
My Mum was born in England in 1941. She lived in London during WWII and then moved to Somerset. My Dad was born in India in 1929 in a village not too far from (what was) Calcutta. They met whilst they were both working at the same psychiatric hospital just outside Worcester. My mum was a trainee psychiatric social worker and my dad was a Doctor, training in psychiatry. I was born in Cheshire and grew up in a very, very White village. Families of colour could be counted on two hands at the very most, so we stood out. Although I didn’t feel like we were stared at. I think people got used to us being there.
I suppose my awareness of our family being a bit ‘different’ started when I was around 4 or so. My dad would speak in Bengali to his friends, me and my siblings were never taught the language, but this was the norm for us. I think the feeling of being different was more amongst gatherings of lots of Bengalis, because I didn’t feel part of that whole culture particularly. But I didn’t feel excluded either, just a sense of not quite fitting, or not being on the same wavelength. My dad had a Bengali friend who also married a White woman and they had two children. I think it’s fair to say that we felt a more natural connection with this family, although at the time I wouldn’t have identified it as being because we were mixed-race especially. I imagine their experiences would have been different to ours as they lived in a city, not a village. This is something I must investigate.
Another memory which highlights the difference was when I used to have friends for tea who would panic if my dad spoke to them, they would immediately think they weren’t going to
understand him and they would look at me desperately for help. I always found this a bit odd as I could understand him perfectly.
We were lucky enough to be taken on holidays to India to meet our large extended family. My dad is one of 10 children so there were plenty of uncles, aunties and cousins to visit. Going from a young age was a huge culture shock and I remember finding it extremely overwhelming at times. We would be followed around my dad’s village by crowds of inquisitive children and some adults too, who wanted to catch a glimpse of the westerners, almost like we were celebrities. This was quite a weird experience for a shy child! In fact, we have taken our own children to India and similarly, people asked us if they could have their photo taken with our White, blue-eyed son, very bizarre.
The older I have become, the more I have embraced my visits to India. I feel so lucky to be mixed as it has given me the opportunity to experience India in a way that is normally out of reach for a tourist. Myself and all of my siblings are doing our best to gather recipes, stories and family history from both our parents to pass on to the next generation and beyond, to help us understand ourselves a bit more. It’s fascinating.
The majority of my friends are White, British but not through specific selection. I live in a mainly White community and probably have done most of my life. I’m much happier, however, living in such a diverse and friendly city where there are lots of chances for cultures to mix and learn. I do tend to gravitate towards people who have moved around from place to place and I’m quite inquisitive, so I love to hear about other people’s experiences. The broader they are, the more interesting and engaging it is for me. However, first and foremost I choose to spend my time with warm, kind people who can make me feel glad to be here. Race, sexual identity and religion are all irrelevant in this selection.
The partners I have had have all been White and male, but again, this is not a conscious decision I’ve made. My choices have been made based on whether I have a connection with and attraction to that person who is ideally warm, kind, thoughtful, respectful and funny. Not based on race or culture, although I guess it’s fair to say that I’m more likely to connect with someone who has had similar experiences to me. My partner now is from the same village that I grew up in, although we didn’t meet until we had both moved away from there.
Based on my own experience, I don’t necessarily feel that there are still bias attitudes or stereotypes towards mixed-race people. If I’m asked about my heritage, I take this as a positive starting point for a conversation and a good opportunity to share knowledge and experience. However, having spoken to my parents, whilst they stressed that problems were minimal for them, when they married and embarked on having a family, there were some family members who questioned how wise it would be to have mixed-race children as they worried we would be at a disadvantage due to others’ attitudes. My mum was asked, when pushing my big sister around in a pram ‘whose is she?’, I think Mum happily put them straight! I also have a vague memory of girls at school in the late 80s/90s saying how they’d love to have a ‘Brown baby’, like we were some kind of accessory.
Thinking back, my experience with one ex-partner made me feel like I was ‘selected’ as a token Brown and slightly exotic girlfriend (in his eyes). He had quite stereotypical views about what he thought I should know about Asian culture and history (I didn’t know what he wanted me to know). He also wanted me to arrange for another of my Asian friends to pair up with one of his White friends, this relationship did not last too long (although long enough).
However, it’s not always obvious that someone is mixed either, so any racist or derogatory comments or attitudes that someone experiences could just be down to plain ignorance and bigotry. My children are mixed-race, but visually, they look like two White children. However, they are fully aware and proud of their heritage and wouldn’t stand for any nonsense towards them or, more likely, anyone else.
I’ve had snide comments on the days when the EDL are in town, for example ‘You’ve caught the sun, haven’t you?’, but I don’t pay much attention to that sort of thing. I’ve had to explain my tan to people on numerous occasions, most recently on holiday in Wales, but I actually don’t mind this. I’m not offended by people asking me about my heritage, it just depends how it’s asked. At school, I remember friends talking about ‘Pakis’ but not understanding why I would confront them about it or get cross with them. Their response being ‘I didn’t mean you!’ or ‘you’re not one of them’ etc. So, it was rare for me to directly experience negative comments or attitudes, but they were quite clearly there.
On the whole though, my experience has been massively positive. I love that it allows me to have a breadth of experience, to feel part of two quite different cultures. I also quite enjoy the ambiguity of my appearance, I’ve been mistaken as Greek, Italian, Israeli, Spanish, South American, probably more. This creates a space within which I can talk about being mixed-race and how great that is! I realise I’m lucky to have had such an easy time.
If I were to be born again- me please, with the ability to fly.
The future for people from a mixed-race background? Well, I must say the day that this country voted for Brexit, I felt sick and I sobbed. I felt scared to even walk out of my front door on that day, for fear of what might happen to me for being Brown. I’d never experienced this awful feeling before. However, nothing bad has happened to me directly because of this and I feel like there are so many good, open-minded, non-prejudiced, kind people out there that will counteract the people who want to be divisive and who hate-monger. The world is getting more and more mixed every day, which should be celebrated. Your amazing project brings awareness and a sense of connection and it shows just how many of us there are out here in the world. Much love and thanks.