Swiss | Guinea-Bissau
I identify as mixed-race, spiritual/agnostic/atheist, and bisexual. My Mum was born in Guinea-Bissau, a tiny country in West Africa, but grew up in Portugal. My Dad is Swiss and has lived pretty much all over Europe. They met at a restaurant they both worked at in the Algarve in Portugal. I was born in Portugal but moved to the UK with my Mum when I was 6 after my parents split up and lived in Brighton up until I went to university.
I’ve pretty much always been aware that I was mixed-race: growing up with a Black Mother and being closer to her side of the family, but being lighter skinned compared to them all, I was always aware of my difference.
My parents didn’t really combine their cultures, despite having African parents and being born there, my Mum had a very ‘European’ upbringing. My Mum is a great cook, so she cooked a lot of African-Portuguese food, but my Dad never really brought much to the table (except chocolate, because Swiss chocolate is the bomb). My Dad disappeared from my life when I was around 12 or 13, and I was never as close to his side of the family, so I don’t feel as connected to my Swiss roots.
When I first meet people, despite the fact that I now have a very British accent, I do get a lot of head tilts and people asking, ‘where are you from?’, but a lot of the time it’s just innocent curiosity. Once, when I was 16 and walking to school, I was even approached on the street by a Jehovah’s Witness, who’s opening line to me was, ‘I can tell by your skin tone that you’re not from here’. That was quite jarring.
I grew up in mainly White environments, Brighton and Sheffield (where I went to university) are not as diverse cities as you would expect. It’s not until I moved closer to London that I really started making friends from more culturally diverse backgrounds, which is great. I’ve started meeting more and more mixed-race people like myself, and it’s great to talk to people who identify with the kind of things I’ve lived through.
I don’t think being mixed-race has had a huge impact on my career, but I have always been the ‘not quite White’ one wherever I go, and it always has been brought up at one time or another. Not in a negative way, usually, but it is weird always being tarred with the brush of being ‘different.’ When the Brexit vote happened in 2016, I had a lot of work colleagues approach me and say things like ‘I voted leave but not because I’m racist or xenophobic’ and that made me uncomfortable, because you went out of your way to tell me.
I was in a relationship where my ex-partner often introduced me to friends/family/colleagues with a long list about my background and how ‘cool’ it was that I was so different. I know he didn’t mean this with any malice and had the best intentions; it just interested him because he was from a White Scottish/Irish background, which he felt was quite dull. But it made me uncomfortable because it occasionally felt like he was fetishizing me being mixed-race at times. I think mixed-race people in general are thought of as ‘exotic’, which is weird because I don’t feel any more exotic than anyone who is Black, White or Asian.
I do still speak a little bit of Portuguese (although not as fluently as I should!) but I’ve completely lost my German since I don’t have contact with my Dad anymore, which is sad. I do feel like I should make a bit more of an effort in keeping up my Portuguese as I feel like I’ve almost complete Anglicised myself living here for so long!
Because I grew up here, I do feel very British. But when it comes to my parents’ culture, I do connect more with my African-Portuguese side than my Swiss side, especially since losing contact with my Father. My Mum hasn’t been back to Guinea-Bissau since she was 8 years old and wants to take me with her in the next couple of years to reconnect with family she still has there. I’m looking forward to this and learning more about my Mum’s heritage (and I suppose mine as well).
When asked where I’m from I usually answer, ‘I grew up in Brighton, but I was born in Portugal’. Being different is both a positive and negative thing. I love my varied background because it’s given me experiences that influences my opinions and worldviews. However, being different has its disadvantages too: I have always felt ‘other’, never quite fitting in White or Black spaces. Luckily, I’m starting to find more mixed-race spaces which feels great.
Being mixed-race is a weird one to answer, because people have this idea of what mixed-race looks like (tanned olive skin but ‘white’ features and hair), but really, there is no ‘one’ mixed-race look.
If I had the opportunity to be reborn I would still want to be mixed-race, as I am. Although, once I said to my mum that I wish I was a bit darker so that I could identify with her more, to which she responded that she was glad that I was born the way I was, because my lighter skin means that I won’t face as many prejudices in White spaces like she’s faced. This made me really sad, because you can’t really dispute that we still live in a society that favours light skin, and I guess I carry a bit of internal guilt about never fully empathising with my mum’s struggles, and in some ways, benefitting from White privilege.