British | Caribbean
I identify as mixed-race, White British and Black Caribbean. My parents were both born in Birmingham, their schools were brother/sister schools that joined for certain subjects at A-level, they had chemistry together!
I guess there were different stages of recognising I was mixed-race; as I grew my understanding of the world around me, and my place in it, became more complex. I recognised myself as mixed within my own family first. At a very young age the difference between my thick afro hair and my mum’s bouncy wavy hair was a big focus. She was learning how to best care for it as she went, but my father’s mother knew exactly what to do, and I noticed that that was because she had the same thick curls. I attended a predominantly White prep school, and at that age my difference didn’t seem to feature that much. It was when I began secondary school that it suddenly seemed to be a novelty for friends, who would joke I was the ‘token Black friend’. That label sparked an interest in the notion of political Blackness and mixed erasure that has only developed since.
I was raised in Manchester, away from both sides of my extended family, which meant being further from the Caribbean side of my heritage. Caribbean culture, and the way I identified with it, then became very linked to family in my eyes. I didn’t see it as a part of my immediate environment, which made it more special when I got to enjoy it. Jamaican food, music, etc, always conjures warm memories of family. My parents have been together for so long that their cultures have kind of amalgamated into one, so there was never really a pointed effort to overcome any differences.
It’s hard to comment on challenges that I’ve faced based on being mixed, because it’s all I’ve ever known, and to some extent all my experiences will be somewhat shaped by it, whether that’s for better or worse. I think unfortunately there is an array of challenges faced by young mixed-race people still today, and most mixed-race people will have experienced them. Especially for girls, there can be a continuous stream of comments about your appearance, whether you’re fetishised as being exotic and unique, or told that you think you’re too good for someone because you’re light-skinned. Having that kind of rhetoric present for your entire life definitely effects the way you view yourself, especially in those formative teenage years where all I wanted was to look like all my other friends. Politically, I feel my mixed identity might demise how seriously my thoughts on issues faced by PoC are taken by some people, and this causes me to voice my opinions less than I’d like to.
I don’t see my identity as particularly playing a role in who I’m friends with, other than that it is probably the root of my interest in social politics, and I often form my closest friendships with those with a similar interest. My hair has definitely been a huge feature of my mixed identity, and it’s still something I deliberate about a lot. I still face the urge to straighten it for formal events or will avoid wearing braids if I feel they’ll draw unwanted attention. But more and more I’m learning to style it to my own liking, and let people know that despite their input, I really don’t care if they prefer it curly or straight!
Being mixed-race has shaped my entire outlook on life so far. I think it has offered me a positive duality that I hope to carry into all else I do.
The diversity of Oxford was definitely a consideration when deciding whether to attend, I wanted to make sure I was going somewhere where I would meet people form a lot of different cultures and backgrounds, and I had some doubts as to whether Oxford would provide that experience. I consider myself a relatively observant person, but I don’t want to make assumptions about people’s motives for odd behaviour. I’ll say that whilst not experiencing anything more malicious than I have before, there are small things that happen repeatedly in everyday life that I notice, such as being tagged into a debate I’ve not been involved in to speak for all PoC on a certain issue. Oxford has a long way to go with a lot of aspects, but I honestly believe there are serious efforts being made. I have so far felt exceptionally welcome and included, but there’s still more that could be done.
Unfortunately, I feel that my experience at Oxford has made me less aware of my status as mixed-race, on the basis that ethnic minorities can often be all conflated into one group for the purposes of debate or general discourse. However, I do think this is something that has been relieved greatly by being a member of Oxford Mixed Heritage Society. It has provided me with a sense of community and belonging.
In the context of the University of Oxford, we hope our names; faces and stories will emphasise that there is a place for everyone at Oxford. According to last year’s admissions data, 700 Oxford undergraduates identify as mixed. In 2016, BAME students accounted for 15.9% of the undergraduate intake. Oxford is diversifying, albeit slowly. We hope to empower mixed heritage students at Oxford and foster a community where they can safely share their own opinions, experiences and stories.