Northern Ireland | Guyana
I would describe myself as mixed-race and always have, I am heterosexual and interchangeably describe my religion as either Catholic or Christian. My mum is from Georgetown, Guyana. My dad is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Both were raised in South East London from a young age. My parents both went to the same secondary school but didn’t begin a relationship until afterwards. They divorced when I was 6 and my father has been very absent in my life so there’s a lot about the time before their divorce that I don’t know and that we don’t discuss.
I grew up in South East London where I still live today. It was a very challenging time to be mixed-race because there was a lot of racial tension in the areas I lived in. This was in the aftermath of Stephen Lawrence’s tragic murder (and many other similar situations) and I was very much aware of the tension. During my teenage years I was afraid of racial abuse from both Black and White people as a result of my appearance, because there were clashes between Black and White gangs in both my school and the local area.
I remember being around 6 or 7 years old and being told by another child in my class that I was actually from Ghana (because they hadn’t heard of Guyana). I actually thought Ghana and Guyana were the same place for a short time because of this! This was when I started to realise my mum and dad where from different places and had different ethnicities. I had similar experiences of gradually realising my Irish heritage too although this took a lot longer because of the difficult/ now non-existent relationship I had with my dad.
I would define my friendship groups as being fairly mixed (in terms of race and sexual orientation) and I also find that I have several very small friendship groups rather than one large group. I typically spend more time with people who have an open, relaxed and/ or nuanced understanding of race, sexuality and faith. For me it’s the awareness and attitudes that someone holds, rather than their social identity, that is the biggest attraction or barrier to friendship.
When it comes to dating, culture definitely plays a big role although I wouldn’t say race is as important. I need to be with someone who can appreciate my cultural experience without me having to introduce them to it. My partner doesn’t need to have had the same experiences as me; in fact learning about the similarities and differences of our experiences is quite beautiful. Nevertheless, we need to be on the same page even if our handwriting is different.
I think there are definitely still biases and stereotypes about mixed-race people, however I feel what’s more pervasive is a general lack of understanding about mixed-race identity and experiences. I still think many people try to reduce the mixed-race identity in some way, either by saying that our heritage is somehow diluted or that we’re really more one race than another. I think that these binary thought processes occur because it forces people to question their own biases and racial prejudices and often disproves them.
I have had many positive experiences of being mixed-raced. I have been embraced by people from a variety of backgrounds very easily. I feel my mixed racial identity makes me approachable to people who have limited experiences with people from other races, or for people who don’t adhere to the stereotypes of their own race. I also often have an instant closeness to other people because I “get” their experience very instinctively. On an interpersonal level I have had so many beautiful interactions as a result of my mixed-race identity.
The negative experiences primarily revolved being in awkward situations or as the recipient of racist attitudes. I have been told to pick a side (Black or White), been at the center of a debate between my classmates as to whether I was Black or White, been accused of shoplifting, been asked if I speak another language (in a way that made me feel foreign). There was also an occasion where I tried to get a very expensive ring repaired and was accused of having costume jewelry. These experiences span from the ridiculous to the very hurtful, particularly during my childhood.
If I was to be born again I can’t imagine returning in any other way. I think it’s a blessing to be the person you are, and my mixed-race identity cannot be separated from the other expects of who I am as a person. To return in any other way would be to not return at all.
I think the future of mixed-race is the greater identification of people as mixed-race. I think there are an increasing number of people who aren’t afraid of denying or hiding their heritage to fit into a box. I also think there are more people who want to be honest about their heritage and want the wholeness of their existence to be public knowledge. I think the future of mixed-race is similar to the future of other aspects of personal identity, namely, openness, self-awareness and acceptance.