English | Jamaican
My dad was born in Kingston, Jamaica. My mum was born in Horseheath, a village in Cambridgeshire. They met at a dance, beneath a glitter ball, in Bigmore Hall, above the co-op in the High Street, Haverhill. My dad was a fireman in the Royal Air Force and was stationed nearby.
I was born in Newmarket, Suffolk. I grew up in various places in the UK as our family moved from one RAF camp to another. When I was too young to remember, we were stationed abroad, in Changi, Singapore. My mum says I was treated like a princess by the locals who were fascinated by my tight curly, sun-bleached, blonde hair (hair, and how to handle/style it has always been a challenge growing up, as I’m sure is common in many similar families). My sister was born in Changi. She had a full head of straight jet-Black hair which I loved to brush. We moved back to the UK before the sun could bleach hers, although, and I think this is a slight family exaggeration. Apparently, I’d brushed it so much by then that it had pretty much fallen out.
Primary school years were spent at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. I was unaware that my Brown skin stood me apart from the other children at this stage in my life, and never felt I was different from anyone else. From Oxfordshire, we moved to RAF Marham in Norfolk. It was more remote. I walked across fields, wheat fields in summer, sugar beet in the winter, to attend Marham First and Middle School. I spent holidays wandering in nearby Thetford Forest. I loved the countryside, nature and solitude. I still do. To this day I consider myself a country girl and have begrudgingly settled in a town.
It was at Marham First and Middle that I was first aware that I was different. I was the only ‘Brown’ girl in the village and although the taunts, cruel remarks, pushes, shoves and trips were a rare occurrence they nevertheless hurt. I couldn’t tell anyone, especially my parents. I just got very good at defending myself. And I could run. Very, very fast! I showed an aptitude for competitive sport, especially athletics and this played a huge part in my younger life.
Each new posting brought upheaval and not just in what needed to be hauled on and off the removal van. It meant having to leave friends and knowing you would never see them again. I think this contributed to my future feelings of a lack of sense of belonging - not knowing where home was - wanting to put down roots and struggling, as an adult, to make friends.
Eventually, to help provide stability and the best chance of achieving academic success, my parents decided to send me and my siblings to Boarding school. I went first. I arrived one September, apprehensive and tired from the long drive from Norfolk to Somerset at an all girls school, 120 of us in total, and this became my home for the next few years. We were all homesick, we slept 12 to a dorm and we quickly made friends. My friends came from all corners of the globe and at last I was not the only ‘Brown’ girl. It was my first experience of multiculturalism and I found it liberating. My best friend was mixed-race though I wouldn’t have labelled her that. She is half-Dutch, half-Japanese. She lived in Bangkok. I would spend some holidays in Thailand. She would stay with my family in Norfolk. It was my normal and I thrived in my international bubble.
From there my dad was posted to RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire and I boarded at a Grammar School for sixth form. It was there that I experienced overt and regular racism. I don’t think this was because of my mixed-race but because I was not White. Nevertheless, the racists were few and far between and I wasn’t the only mixed-race girl in school. Interestingly, she was not one of my close friends and we never talked about our shared experience of being of mixed heritage.
At Middle School, that was when I fist remember being aware that I was of mixed ethnicity. The fact that my appearance was different was made quite clear by one of the children who would sidle up beside me, call me chocolate drop, and whisper that I’d better get out of the sun before I melted. It was only ever that one kid. What was his problem??!
Growing up, I never really noticed the difference between me and my friends in terms of colour. My parents never talked about it. Dad was dad and mum was mum. My sister and brother shared the same skin colour and afro hair style.
I will be friends with anyone. When I was younger I always had ginger friends. Ginger kids were mercilessly teased, and I think we were drawn to each other through shared experience of prejudice I guess. As an adult, I have a diverse group of friends, but they are predominantly White because of the area I live in. I gravitate towards people with similar likes and interests to me. Outward appearance has never factored in my thinking. People are both fascinating and beautiful from the inside out. Sometimes I wish everyone could be viewed from the ‘inside out’.
I have dated across racial groups. I am attracted by quiet intelligence, a sense of humour, a sharp wit, an empathetic nature and a strong sense of morals. I ended up marrying a British born Sikh. That was over 30 years ago. He was and still is my soul mate. We couldn’t have had a more different upbringing, with glaringly different cultural influences and educational experiences. We seem destined to find each other and our kids are a wonderful mix of us both, in looks and personality.
Yes, there is still bias and prejudice towards mixed-race people. As long as the human race exits there will always be prejudice towards minorities.
One positive thing about being of mixed ethnicity is that I don’t feel defined or confined by race. I like to think of myself as a free spirit hovering around the edges and getting a taste of the best of all cultures. And I definitely feel it has made me hyper sensitive to anything I perceive as being unfair. I fight for the underdog, tackle injustice and get easily enraged by prejudice.
A negative? I suppose it must be the time when I wasn’t sure where I belonged. Being neither one nor the other can create a sense of loss; feeling ‘lost’. I didn’t feel part of the Black community at all. This was most acute when I was at University and out with my South London girlfriends. I don’t think they had any idea how inadequate I would feel when I didn’t understand their Jamaican patois and cultural idioms.
If I were to be born again, how would I want to return? Now that’s an odd question. I would like to be exactly as I am but with more confidence. This has nothing to do with my ethnicity. It’s just me. OK, perhaps I would have liked to have chosen better glasses at times, there are some hideous photos of me wearing Dame Edna-‘esque’ frames and life may have been easier if suitable hair care products reached beyond the London suburbs in my teenage years.
The future of mixed-race … need it be said? Mixed-race IS the future. I have witnessed a steady increase in mixed-race faces on the streets of my local town. Diversity is changing communities for the better.
Interestingly, being part of this project has sparked a lot of conversation in my family. I encountered minimal prejudice growing up and for that I am grateful. The fact that my mum has no recall of prejudice when she married my dad and years later when she was walking along the streets with her three little ‘Brown’ kids, seems incredible to me. This was in the 1960’s.
My sons have shared their feelings about their racial heritage. My youngest (20 now) told me that when he reached Secondary School age there was a time, as he searched for his identity, that he wished he were one race or another; either Asian, Jamaican or English. That revelation surprised me. But the more I think about it the more I believe it is a natural part of adolescence. His question was around racial identity. For others it’s about sexuality, or religion, notions of beauty and whoever knows what else. He now is happy to identify as British Asian because, as he explained to me, growing up next door to his Indian granny meant he connected with his Punjabi roots. I wonder if things might have been different if we’d lived next door to my mum. My eldest says colour rarely features in his life. He is simply British.
I believe what this project will show is that, yes, we (mixed-race people) are a unique group, belong to our own ‘tribe’, but as people we are just so different. And in the future the difference, in terms of a visible hue of Non-White, will diminish as we blend more and more. We must all fight prejudice. Injustice. Inequality. We must strive to live peaceably in this world where everyone must accept and embrace everyone for who they are not what they look like.