British | Indian
My mum was born and raised in South East London / Kent. Her mother was Irish Catholic from Dublin and her father was from London of English and Scottish descent. My dad is ethnically Indian and was born and raised in Uganda and Kenya before coming (alone) to school in the UK in 1954. The story goes that they met on Curzon Street in London. Dad was driving a red sportswear and Mum was out with a friend. The three of them went for a drink at the Hard Rock Cafe. I grew up in Surrey, just outside South West London. My parents bought the house I grew up in before they married and moved out when I was 22.
As a kid I was quite pedantic about ages and amounts so growing up I’d always say that I was half Indian, quarter Irish, an eighth English and an eighth Scottish. Over time I’ve tried to find simpler ways to say that but the rest I can do is to combine the English and Scottish into White British. I’m straight. I don’t follow a religion, but my mother is Catholic, and my father is Muslim. Their religions are culturally important to both of them and play a role in our family history, so I identify with both culturally to a certain extent. I have been told that isn’t allowed/possible in the past by people with much simpler family histories.
Honestly, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of my mixed identity. There was one other set of cousins in the family that was mixed but otherwise everyone else was one or the other. When I was 10 we were told to write a letter for a competition run by the Royal Mail. It had to be on the theme ‘letters of change’ and we could write to anyone. I addressed my letter to Racism. So, it was something that was already present for me at that age. I won £50 and was asked to read it out at the prize giving on my last day of primary school. The headteacher skipped past my reading in rehearsal and at the event but my form teacher made sure that I read it out. I remember the parent of a girl I knew coming up to me in the chapel afterwards to talk to me about what I wrote. Shortly afterwards, she and her family moved back to Northern Ireland and soon after that, one of her children died in the Omagh bombing.
I grew up in very White spaces and there were not many people of colour in my life except for my immediate family. One girl at primary school was mixed and none at secondary that I recall. Although there were a few people of colour from different ethnicities. At university, there were a few of us on my course who were mixed-race and that was really the first time I’d had a chance to meet anyone, but I wasn’t especially close to anyone.
My most significant relationships have been with White guys, but I have dated other mixed-race people. It’s not something that’s especially key for me. An open mind, thoughtfulness and intelligence are more important to me. People of any shade can have or lack these traits.
I’m not sure I’ve encountered many stereotypes that are aimed at mixed-race in particular. Although you don’t belong in one ‘camp’ or the other, so there’s always the chance that you’ll be welcomed or rejected. You’re a curiosity for both groups. A lot of people make assumptions about how I identify and how I might feel about my background. That’s based on their experiences, their lenses, their stereotypes, not mine. A number of people have commented to me that I look more Indian than my sisters, that I have an Indian nose, for example, which is factually incorrect. I have my mother’s nose, including her freckles. It’s an Irish nose that she got from her mother.
People have commented that I ‘pass as White’ as though that’s an inherently good thing. But it isn’t. Because I ‘pass’ I overhear conversations that people would not have in the presence of someone more obviously of colour than me. Every mixed-race person is different, their stories and journeys are different. To assume that we have anything in common is naïve, but people haven’t learnt that yet.
I remember at school people used to ask, ‘if you could be born any time in history, when would you be born’. As I grew older, I realised that actually if I was coming back in the body that I have, I wouldn’t want to come back in another era. Having a White mother and a Brown father would have been utterly unacceptable in most of our history unless you happened to be born to specific individuals in history - which, of course, I am not. I recognise that there has been progress but there’s a long way to go.
People of mixed-race are uniquely positioned to bring groups which - in many cases - remain segregated together. We neither belong wholly to one group or another, nor are we dismissed. We are less scary because we are familiar despite our difference. That gives us a power if we can learn to use it for good.