British | Greek/Armenian/Bajan
I identify as being half English and half a mix of Greek, Armenian and Bajan. Obviously there’s never a tick box on forms for that! It’s hard to define who I am only by the categories we often see on forms, as they can be quite limited. I suppose the way I identify myself has also changed in recent years, as I’ve got more in touch with who I am and what that means. I used to always tick the ‘White British’ tick box on forms but then I started questioning why I was ticking that box when that’s not really a true representation of me?! So now I normally reluctantly tick ‘Other’ and then I get offended that they don’t often have a box which is just ‘Mixed’.
I’m not religious but I’ve got my own thing which is personal to me. I always wonder why they don’t have a box for that?! A box saying ‘I do my own thing’ would be great! I never really get why people that you don’t know need to know what religion someone is or isn’t anyway?! Religion can be an amazing tool and source of strength for people. I feel like there is so much to learn from understanding religion and the positive messages religion can offer. I appreciate other people’s beliefs and how they choose to live their lives and I’m always thinking about what I can learn from that. I personally choose to live more of a spiritual life rather than a religious one but I draw on aspects from various religions that I like or inspire me.
My Mum was born in London and my Dad was born in Turkey and he moved to England when he was 14. Dad’s parents were a mix of Greek, Armenian and Bajan and Mum’s are British. My parents met in London, where they were both living at the time. Over the last few years I’ve been doing a bit of research on my heritage and ethnicity as part of the quest to work out who I am and where I fit in in the world (not sure if this existential crisis/investigation happens to everyone in their early 30s?!) and I did the Ancestry DNA test. It was so fascinating and it really helped to give me a greater understanding and context of myself, which was really empowering. The results showed a much wider mix than I already knew about from doing our family tree, so it’s really interesting how our genetic makeup can shape who we are and we may not even be aware that we’ve got certain genes in us! It was also interesting to think about how genetics are different amongst siblings - whilst my brothers and I have the same parents, our genetic makeup will all vary. I might have more of one country in me than one of my brothers might, and it’s interesting to think about how this shapes us, and also and why we all feel more at home in different countries too when we go on holiday!
I was born in London but I grew up in a small village in Gloucestershire, which was idyllic in lots of ways. We lived in beautiful countryside, we were part of a lovely community with great schools, we could all walk to school together, we would play outside and hang out in each other’s gardens all summer. I was lucky enough to make amazing friends in nursery school and a lot of us are still friends today, which is a massive blessing to have such long standing friendships with amazing people and to have had the childhood we had growing up there. One of the only downsides of growing up somewhere so small was the distinct lack of cultural diversity that I was exposed to. I did feel like I was different and there wasn’t anyone else that was like me in terms of ethnicity. I think it was in Junior school that I realised it – things like my packed lunches were different to my friends or when friends came round for dinner after school people wouldn’t be used to the food we would have – one girl said she couldn’t come for dinner anymore as her tummy isn’t used to our food. That wasn’t very nice to hear at the time, even though now I’m really grateful for having been introduced to cuisines from all around the world from a young age and that I can appreciate food (I’m obsessed with food!). At the time I did used to feel quite embarrassed and would long for my packed lunch to be a ham sandwich on thin white bread with a kit kat instead of the lunches my parents would so lovingly make for me. In Junior school we had the choice of a blue or red dress in the summer – all my friends wore the blue dress but I had to wear the red dress as Mum thought it went better with my complexion. I knew I looked different to my friends as my skin was much darker but I would have given anything to just be allowed to wear the blue dress, just to fit in even a little bit! One girl who ironically is actually more of a similar complexion to me really had it in for me and I remember one day her shouting at me across the street on the walk home from school.
As a teenager it felt like I could explore different cultures and be more aware of what I connected with – such as music and fashion (including loads of fashion fails when I was drawing my inspiration from Lauryn Hill for a while). I feel like in life I’ve had to put some parts of myself on the back burner depending on what situations I am in. I loved growing up hearing different languages (my Dad can speak 5) and there’s something comforting about hearing my Dad and his family and friends speaking in different languages to each other. I can understand parts of some languages but unfortunately I can’t speak any. I wish that Dad had taught us Greek (which is his mother tongue) as it’s so much easier to learn a language when you’re young!
I’ve experienced various forms of racism throughout my life but unfortunately it’s just something I put down to people’s ignorance and their own fears of being around any ‘difference’. When I got the results back from the Ancestry DNA test, I was really excited and told the girls I was working with at the time. One of them turned her nose up at it and said something to the effect of that she wouldn’t ever do that test as she knows her blood is pure and not mixed with anything, as if it was a bad thing that mine wasn’t. Needless to say, that was that friendship out the window.
I believe that there can be so many benefits of being mixed-race and being exposed to different cultures, and all that that entails, such as hearing different languages, visiting different countries and eating different food. However it also confused me in terms of my identity and working out where I fit in in all this and where I belong, because a big part of me is still English. In some areas of my life it has helped that I’m quite English and I’ve had to conform to that side of myself more to fit in, especially in the work that I’ve done that’s been in a more corporate environment.
My Mum’s family and my Dad’s family are totally different – and whilst they’re all amazing people and share the same qualities of being kind, caring, loving, fun people, culturally they are differences between them. I would often wonder where I fitted in because I felt like I had both sides in me, which kind of meant that for a time I felt like I belonged to both and neither at the same time. My parents are quite different, some of which is down to their ethnicity, and I can see myself in both of them which also then confused me as to who I am and who am I like and where do I fit in with them. It’s quite interesting noticing how people around me see me as well – such as people saying racist things about people without it clicking that actually I’m mixed-race as well. In a way it’s nice that people just see me for ‘me’ but then also a big part of me is my culturally mixed background, which is being overlooked if someone is saying something derogatory about diversity. Maybe when I was a child I found it hard to be seen as different, whereas as an adult I want that side of myself to be seen too because it’s who I am.
I think my parents combined their two cultures well in some ways such as with the food they gave us and the different music and languages we were exposed to, but I also can see how maybe the English side was more prominent, especially because of where we lived and that we didn’t have many other mixed friends that lived there. My Dad is a musician and he would host massive parties at our house where people from all around the world would come, which I loved and is one of the best things about my childhood – we would eat food, hear music and see instruments from countries from all around the world.
I now think that actually we’re all different and unique in our own way, whether we’re from different races or not. However I do think that part of being human is looking for that connection with others and identifying with people around us as a way of feeling safe, valued and understood so I do really treasure my friendships and interactions with people that are racially diverse as well. Part of the reason I loved living in London was that I really felt like I belonged there as it is so multicultural. Unfortunately in a lot of my jobs I haven’t met much diversity (of any kind, not just racially). I think that having quite an ‘English’ side of me has really helped me get jobs (which is not a good thing obviously) and I’ve been told that because of where I grew up and where I went to University it kind of helps me when I could have otherwise been looked over for things because I’ve got a really unusual first name and surname. I moved to London as soon as I’d finished university and have only just recently left. Living in London was amazing and I love the fact that it’s such a diverse city. One job I had that I absolutely loved was one where I felt like I fitted in more because of my mixed heritage and it was something that was celebrated and really accepted, which was such a new thing for me at the time and something I’d never really experienced before.
Living somewhere where diversity is prominent is definitely now a prerequisite of where I choose to live in the future. I’m living somewhere temporarily at the moment which has hardly any cultural diversity, or diversity of any kind, which is something I’ve really noticed and whenever I come back to London a part of me sighs with relief at being back amongst diversity. Where I’m living now, people say things to me like ‘oh what are you doing round here?’ or ‘oh no we don’t really deal with your kind of hair very often’ or ‘so did your parents meet on a holiday romance then’ or ‘so what do we call you’ (because they can’t say my name), or when people try to say my name and they just say ‘miss whatever your name is’, or ‘we don’t have many foreign people round here’ or random people saying ‘so where are you from’ and when I say London they say ‘no where are you actually from’ errrr yeah, London.
My hair’s another thing… I always longed for the straight smooth hair that I’d see girls in assembly at school flicking in front of me like they’re in some kind of shampoo advert, whilst mine was a curly ball of frizz, so as soon as the straighteners came out I was all over it. Last year I realised that I’d been straightening my hair for so long and I wondered what it would be like to wear it curly properly. I found an amazing hair dresser in London that specialises in curly hair. It was like a breath of fresh air to meet her and feel totally accepted and my curly hair celebrated! I wore my hair straight partly because I didn’t really know what to do with it and I’d never met any hairdresser that did, and also because it felt like it was more socially acceptable, especially in the corporate world that I was working in at the time. So one day I went to work with the curls out and it didn’t really go down too well – the amount of not great looks I got and ‘oh you’ve got the wild look on today then’ but I decided to just embrace it and go with it. And on the days I couldn’t be dealing with comments I just tied it up. I now like the fact that I can choose to wear my hair either curly or straight, even though if I was going for an interview somewhere corporate I would definitely feel like I would have to straighten it.
A lot of my friends are ‘White British’ or English, mainly because of where I grew up, but I also really treasure the friendships that I have as an adult with people that are mixed-race or from different ethnicities or countries. I’m all about people being free and living the life they want to live, wherever and however they want to live it with freedom to express themselves however they want to. In an ideal world we would all being accepted and welcomed by everyone around us, no matter what. Some might say that’s naïve, but I’m not going to let that stop me striving for that for me and the people around me! Even though the world has a long way to go on equality, diversity and acceptance, it’s amazing to see the rise of awareness around empowering each other and people being welcomed on to the same platform and that things like their ethnicity, gender or sexuality are celebrated.
If I was to be born again I would want to come back pretty much as I am but return to a world that was more accepting of difference so that it isn’t even seen as ‘difference’ anymore because there’s an understanding that we’re all different. I would like to return with more confidence so that as a child I wouldn’t care that my skin colour was darker than my friends and that I could embrace it instead. I would like to return with a skill for languages and for my Dad to teach me them when I was little so I could get involved in our family chats when they’re not speaking English! Human connection is such an important thing, and there are various ways we can connect with each other, identifying with someone culturally is just one of those things but there is so much more, too. Human relationships and the amazing friends that I am lucky enough to have from all walks of life and backgrounds are what keeps me going. Brené Brown talks about connection in a really lovely way, ‘I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship’.