Trinidadian/Irish | Jamaican
I am Francesca Seetal. When I tick a monitoring box that asks me to define my race, I identify as being ‘mixed - Afro-Caribbean / White’. However, my ethnicity spans far wider than what the boxes accommodate for. Using a superficial lens, I am Jamaican, Trinidadian and Irish, add magnification and you will find, Indian, and Chinese in me too.
Both my parents were born and raised in London. They are both of mixed ethnicity and are second generation migrants. My mum is half Trinidadian and we are told Irish, but my grandma (dark hair and bright green eyes) was left on a church doorstep so it’s somewhat unknown. My father is Trinidadian and Jamaican. They met in Kensington and Chelsea, London and spent many years together before parting ways. I grew up in Yorkshire with my mum and two siblings. From the age of 3 we grew up in Hull.
I am 26 years old and I’ve spent the last 6 years dedicating my life to working in the NHS’s mental health services. I am now a programme coordinator at a charity that works towards eradicating generational disparity, loneliness and isolation within communities, amongst other social issues. I am daughter of Lizzie, I am a sister, a niece, an aunty, a partner, colleague and friend. I’m a bold free-spirited character, who cares about others and has a passion for social change. From a young age (9) I’ve fluctuated through periods of self-love/confidence, to low self-esteem laced with flare ups of insecurities. Much of this comes from how I identify with myself.
My mum brought us up knowing about our Trinidadian heritage, and I knew there was Irish in us because of my mum’s skin colour. I think in only the last few years I have really started to understand properly what that means, but I was in primary school when I first realised I wasn’t the same as my peers. It began with the other kids pulling my hair because it was ‘different’, and then it was questions about why I was Brown and not White. We were brought up by my mum who looks more Spanish in heritage oppose to Trinidadian and Irish and speaks with a London accent. The tipping point which led to my family moving from East to West Hull was when the neighbours put dog poo through our letterbox. My mum knew this was aimed at me and my siblings, who were all under the age of 11 at this point. I remember moving to a new house and being told it was to do with the neighbours having problems, and the word ‘racism’ being used. It wasn’t until later in my life that I began to dissect and understand what that all really meant.
My friends are so diverse now. It was different when I was growing up as my home city is much Whiter than London and this was reflected in my peers. I struggled with the normal teenage urge to ‘fit in’ much earlier in life primarily because of my skin colour. In hindsight, I wanted to fit in so much that I rejected a lot of my heritage. My mum would recount stories of our ancestors, our house was decorated with many Afro-Caribbean pictures, and music of the world would be playing, particularly soca. But I would close my eyes and block up my ears to it all. I would request for my mum to not cook trini-chicken when my friends came over, I’d beg her to play some ‘normal’ sounding music and pair it with some fish and chips for dinner - just like everybody else. For years I learnt to reject myself whilst I tried to assimilate into White British culture. There weren’t many people around me who looked like me, not in the books I read, the shows I watched and so on. So, I learnt to be ‘more like them’.
A person's cultural background does not affect my choice in who I date. What affects my choice, is people’s prejudices and ignorance to acknowledging their role in social matters and the experience of others - positive and negative. I am here today as an illustration of my experiences. These are experiences that have shaped my internal and external world. A world that has offered me a kind hand and used the same one to knock me ten feet back. If somebody is unable to acknowledge and appreciate the shaping of the person that stands in front of them and the role they also play, I wouldn’t want to date them. They are blind to my character and would cause more denial and suppression of my experiences and freedom - offering more harm than good. If the person can share both laughter and pain with me. If, instead of offering to, they come in holding my armour, AND fight alongside me through the structural ties that bind us in our own ways, I have no reason not to want them beside me.
I feel people haven’t fully learnt what it really means to be prejudice and discriminate. We still live in a society where structural and systemic racism is woven from the top down throughout the economy. As long as that exists, so does biasness. The bias attitude of society is internalised by us all in some way, whether that be race, disability, sexuality, religion etc. It’s our job as individuals to become aware of how it’s ingrained in us, and how we work to change that. Don’t get me wrong though, there are some amazing people out there who know this fight is not just for people of colour, but a battle for all of us - and they are doing their bit to make small, but great changes.
Moving to London has definitely been the most profound experience in my journey. Since moving I’ve learnt more about the cultures I’m from. I’m more open in discussing my ethnicity, culture and racism, and it has ignited a journey of self-acceptance. There are more reflections of me here; from the people I pass in the streets, to the restaurants around, and the friends I surround myself with. My archive about all cultures is forever expanding, and I have London and its diversity to thank for that. The biggest achievement for me has been my new-found comfortability in my skin. I mentioned earlier how I first noticed I was different because of my hair. Well, I used to straighten my hair to fit in, and give me confidence. Now I wear my hair natural as I’ve learnt to love and see the beauty in being a mixed Afro-Caribbean woman. Just like my story my hair carries depth, texture, smoothness and an unruly nature, which now, I can’t help but love.
My partner is White, and we are learning together to be open in our discussions about the present and future. We have long and deep conversation, where we try to learn about each other’s heritage. He is half Irish and half Israeli, and he is Jewish - which means we have a lot to discuss when we think about the future, especially when this could involve children. We cannot afford to be ignorant, and we have to remain respectful of each other’s’ intersections, and sometimes this means reminding ourselves, that this is a vertical battle, not horizontal. Our power lies in unity.
Whether it’s with my partner, or my friends I have to be bold when I hear or see micro-aggressions and prejudices. With that I run the risk of hearing back ‘alright Fran... here she goes again’ - but I know now more than ever if I suppress that voice I used to run from, it’s only going to comeback reaping terror for me.
I’d return exactly the same way I entered the world, only maybe with a little more money so my family and I could’ve travelled more when I was younger. My mum wouldn’t have had to worry so much and I could buy a yacht. But honestly, I wouldn’t make any changes, I’d like to think what I have done, and what I am doing now will have a lasting impact for at least one person out there, and if not, well I guess we learn from history, not from wiping it.
You are mixed-race but remember someone in your own family may not have agreed with your creation. I think we need to be honest, open and strong. It’s not wrong to admit we don’t know something, it’s not wrong to open up about our prejudice and lack of awareness. What's wrong is to remain silent and ignore social problems that affect us directly and indirectly - we have a role to play in both. It’s up to everybody, as a community to stand for each other. Just because the mixed-race population is growing, please don't be naive and think this eradicates racism. Mixed-race people have a platform across their cultures, but that doesn’t mean to say it’s easy for their voices to be heard. We need to work together in our communities to see change. Society may see you as a Black person but doesn’t negate you being mixed. Stay educated in the cultures that make you whole, don’t leave one out in hope you’ll fit in more. Educate others as you move, because we still have quite a journey on our hands. Never forget.