British | Ugandan
I identify as White British / Ugandan Asian, agnostic (but with exposure to Catholicism and Islam growing up). My mum is White British (born with the surname ‘White’ which amuses us greatly) and grew up in Suffolk as one of 6 siblings in a relatively Catholic family. My dad is Ugandan Asian, he and his two brothers were born in Kampala but lived in Mumbai for a few years before moving back to Uganda. His parents grew up in India and South Africa, so in spite of being completely ethnically Indian, there’s a strong feeling of connection with Africa on Dad’s side of the family. After Idi Amin expelled the Ugandan Asians in 1972, they ended up as refugees in Wales before moving to London. The majority of the family are practicing Muslims, though my dad isn’t. My parents were in the same friendship group at university but didn’t meet properly until a mutual friend’s wedding a few years after they graduated.
I grew up a predominantly White area in Hertfordshire, pretty close to London with both parents and two younger sisters. It wasn’t uncommon to be thought to be related to the other two Asian looking kids in my year at secondary school and teachers would occasionally speak to the wrong parents at parents evening, assuming that the one Indian woman present was our mother.
I think I was probably about 11 (around the time of 9/11) when I properly realised that I wasn’t completely White. It was always slightly annoying when people described me as ‘the Asian girl’, because that’s just not how I thought of myself. It seems funny, but race really wasn’t spoken about at home and I innocently thought that lots of people had a Dadima (Indian grandmother) and an Indian family.
Watching ‘Bend it like Beckham’ was a pretty eye-opening experience for me, there was so much about Jesminda’s family life that I recognised, but equally so much that I didn’t. It was both really comforting and really confusing. Similarly, watching East is East many years later, I didn’t recognise any of my experiences with my Dad in the tyrannical Muslim father character.
By going to a predominantly White school, British culture sort of becomes the default and then the ‘other’ side becomes a sort of added extra. There wasn’t too much combining, more living a very British life with occasional trips into the ‘other’ side. Dad’s culture mainly came through when we would go and visit family or have our Dadima come to stay. My sisters and I would help her to make chappatis and gulab jamun and she’d try to teach us to speak Gujarati or Africaans, but we always resisted!
Being mixed as a young person was tough because there was something that made me and my sisters different and when you’re growing up, you just want to be the same as everyone else. Now, I embrace being mixed, I’m proud of my complicated and sometimes confusing heritage. I love subverting people’s expectations, we’re ethnically Indian but nationality wise we’re two generations African, we’re also Muslim and Catholic.
I want to be around people who share an understanding of what it’s like to be different, which means I often gravitate towards people who are mixed or second generation. In both aspects, I often find myself in the role of unofficial ‘diversity champion’, which can be tiring, especially as someone whose mix affords them with a lot of white privilege I don’t feel best placed to supply answers about lots of issues about race, but almost feel duty-bound to start the conversation.
I would say that there’s a lot of ignorance; people tend to read you as the darkest part of your mix, which I found particularly hard as I identified more with the lightest side of my mix. Then there’s the outright stupidity, I remember a conversation from my early twenties where a (White) friend was marrying a Trinidadian guy and she was asked by another friend if they had to be careful when they had children because two races mixing might result in ‘genetic diseases’ or ‘mutations.’ I was pretty shocked that people actually thought that about me, when scientifically, a wider gene pool tends to mean that you’re healthier on the whole.
I think there’s also a fetishization of some of the features of being mixed, particularly about having lighter skin.
I only speak English, not speaking Gujarati created a bit of distance between us and my Indian family growing up. Not being able to communicate in any language other than English emphasized the fact that we were a bit different.
Growing up with White British culture as the ‘default’, connection with that side comes more naturally to me. But the older I get and the more comfortable I feel in my own skin, the more I connect with my ‘mixed-ness’ and that that in itself is a unique culture that’s a blend of all of the other influences.
When asked where I’m from I try to respond with humour. I start with ‘Hertfordshire’ or sometimes ‘Uganda’ and then wait to see if that will satisfy the questioner or whether they’ll follow up with ‘I mean where are you originally from?’.
The negative of being mixed race is that people often identify you as the darkest part of your mix, but that you’re never fully part of that group. A massive positive of being mixed is that I can slot into lots of different places. In Sri Lanka, Spain, Greece, Portugal and America, I’ve be assumed to be a local and empathise with people from all different backgrounds.
Overall, I think being mixed is a hugely positive thing. There are more of us, with increasingly interesting mixes and backgrounds, particularly in London. I think I would struggle in other less multicultural areas and I take a lot of the open dialogue about race that I am able to have for granted.