Indian | Congolese
I am half Congolese African, half Indian. I am agnostic and identify as heterosexual. My Mother is Indian, although she left India when she was seven and her family moved to the UK to have a better life. She retains some of her Indian culture but in many respects she is culturally quite English. My Dad originates from The Congo. My parents met in Nigeria at a school where my Dad was teaching after he’d finished university and my Mother was volunteering for a year. They fell in love and Dad ended up coming back to the UK with Mum a few years later.
I was born in London, but I spent most of my childhood and young adulthood in a small seaside town called Felixstowe in Suffolk. At the time it was a predominantly White area and I was extremely aware that I didn’t look like pretty much everyone else. I went to secondary school in Ipswich a town nearby and that was a bit more diverse. So it wasn’t really until I was 11 that I met many other kids that looked like me.
I think I always knew I was mixed, but it wasn’t always clear to me what my heritage was exactly. I knew I was Black because I think that’s how everyone viewed me anyway, but my Mum is so light skinned she could probably pass for being Spanish or Portuguese so it didn’t really occur to me till I was about seven or eight that I was half Indian and it probably wasn’t something I have embraced Mum until I got a lot older and wanted to know and be proud of my heritage.
I think it was hard. Not only where my parents both from other cultures, but we were growing up in a third culture; British/English culture. I think my parents were very aware of the hurdles non-White people face and wanted us to blend into the culture as much as possible. We had a pretty English upbringing. For example, we only ever spoke English at home and as a consequence I don’t know either of my mother tongues. We weren’t really told much about either of our parent’s cultures till we were older, something I didn’t realise until I got to Uni and realised how much more some of the Black kids knew about their parent’s culture, like the food, clothes, those subtle things that you only know if you’ve been brought up in that culture.
There were times where we had culture clashes, I don’t think particularly my Dad really understood young English culture like house parties, so I can remember having a lot of arguments about what I could/couldn’t do as a teenager. My parents come from different religious backgrounds (my Dad was brought up a Catholic and my Mother is Sikh) but that wasn’t ever really an issue. Neither of them are hugely religious and both of them really cared about their kids having a great education above anything else.
Sometimes you have this feeling that you don’t really fit into anything? Some Black people will tell you you’re not Black enough for example. I’ve been told by some White people that I ‘don’t sound Black enough’ which is ridiculous because how am I supposed to sound? I know that despite being mixed-race I will predominantly be seen as a Black woman; a label I’m very proud of but I feel ignores a whole half of my culture and history.
I’d say that I get a mixed reaction sometimes from other people of Indian heritage when I say I’m half Indian. Some are surprised but welcoming, but unfortunately some are cold and awkward about it. I know that some Indians wouldn’t be supportive of an Indian mixing outside of the culture. But I think for the younger generation that’s becoming less of an issue and hopefully things will continue to improve.
I’m aware that as a mixed-race person with lighter skin, straighter hair and more Eurocentric features than a lot of other fully Black women that affords me certain privileges. It makes it more likely to be taken more seriously in job interviews for example and I am more likely to be considered ‘pretty’. I’ve had a taxi driver tell me once I was pretty because ‘I was darker skinned but not too dark’ which isn’t really an ok thing to say despite him probably having good intentions.
However, you still hear people say things like ‘mongrel’ or ‘half-caste’, and a lot of people aren’t very understanding of what it’s like to straddle two cultures, whilst also trying to be British too. It leads to some awkward conversations when someone says something that’s ignorant and it’s hard to know if you really have the emotional energy to tackle it and try and correct them.
I always joke with my parents that I’m hugely resentful of not being able to speak any other languages. Between them my parents know at least four! I think it would have allowed me to feel closer to my cultures if I could, particularly as I have so many cousins on my dad’s side who only speak French. I feel like I’m missing out on knowing my relatives with the barrier of language.
When asked where I’m from It really depends how someone’s asking it. Most people of colour can normally gauge what someone means if they are asking it, so I have to just interpret it in the moment. In my experience it’s mostly other people of colour who ask me and they normally mean my ethnicity. I think white people might be curious but are too afraid to ask in case they seem racist? But it’s not racist to want to know someone’s origins I’m very proud of my heritage!
I think just the feeling that you’re a living breathing example of diversity. My parents had to overcome a lot of prejudice and adversity to be together, so I feel very special and privileged that I’m a result of that.
I feel like we’re moving towards a culture where being mixed-race is quite desirable to be honest. However, with that comes a certain level of privilege that I think mixed-race people have to acknowledge. I don’t want to feel like I’m on a pedestal above women of colour who aren’t mixed. Colourism within the non-White community is real and I want to make sure do everything I can as a mixed person not to play into that.
If I had the opportunity to be born again I would return exactly as I am. I wouldn’t choose to be anything other than the mix that I am.