British | Indo-Caribbean
Mixedracefaces has collaborated with The Institute of Cancer Research, London to profile some of the incredible staff members behind this world-leading cancer research organisation.
First and foremost, I identify as a Londoner and British. I describe my ethnicity as White British and Indo-Caribbean I follow no defined religion and I’m straight. My Mum is British and my Dad from Guyana. They met at work in the 70s; they were both civil servants.
Late in primary school I started to be aware I was mixed-race. Then if asked, I described myself as half-caste which was the term at the time. I didn’t really know what it meant except that I was half Brown, half White. I started getting called ‘Milky Way’ etc. It never really bothered me. Being in South East London, even then, some my friends were from non-White backgrounds although they were mostly White English. It started becoming more obvious to me at university where I came into more contact with people who grew up in less diverse areas than London. In some ways that was a culture I found it harder to fit into.
My Dad was born a British citizen and always identified with all things British as they were perceived from that distance. So, they had more common cultural references than you might expect. But they split when I was 5, probably in part due to their different approaches to things. My Dad had no family in the UK so that meant I was less immersed in the West Indian culture than I might have been but really loved feeling part of it when visiting family abroad.
When you realise that some people perceive you as different, it pulls you out of your own reality. I am lucky that very explicit negative experiences have been rare. But people asking me where I am from happens more than I’d like. I usually say exactly where I am from; London or the UK. I know that’s not really what they want to know but I take it literally to make my point. When I then often get ‘but where are you actually from?’ or ‘but where are you from originally?’. I point out that they mean where are my parents / ancestors from. Even then I try to be specific. Often, they assume I’m ‘exotic’ in some way. I’m really not. Ethnicity isn’t binary, and it doesn’t define me. I was pleased to discover the term Indo-Caribbean as I hated having to say ‘Mixed- other’ on ethnic origin forms.
I would describe my culture as British, London specifically and that’s so mixed, I’m really lucky. I feel it through music, language, humour and art. Food is probably my main connection to my parents cultures. My Dad was the only one of his siblings to come to the UK which probably affected how much I connected with being Guyanese. My Dad has always cooked West Indian food though so that cuisine is always like home to me as is the working-class food of my Mum’s parents, I love a pie and mash. I would say my mixed heritage made me more open and interested in the world and different cultures and experiences from a young age.
Blending in when travelling to some parts of the world and then surprising people when I say I’m from the UK is one of the best things about being mixed-race. People like putting things into boxes and it’s frustrating but also kind of freeing not to be easily categorised like that. I like that I can challenge people’s preconceptions. If you want to know about me, I will tell you very specifically. I think my background gives me a respect for the unique nature of everyone’s story. There’s no binary formula that you can project onto someone because of one element of their background.
I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider. Maybe partly influenced by my mixed heritage but there’s a lot of factors that have come together to often mean I find myself outside my comfort zone. But it is often a good thing to come with a different perspective, if you have the confidence to use it, I’m still learning to. I have never felt that I have been treated differently at work due to my mixed heritage. For me, I think being female has a much greater impact.
I am lucky to have worked with some strong female role models but when you identify strongly as British but aren’t White, senior role models who look like you and have had the same experiences are rare. Representation really makes a difference. It’s so much more obvious to me now watching my children learning to understand the world and their place in it. That is why this project is so important.
I would be very interested to know how a White, straight man experiences the world, but I wouldn’t choose it. I would always choose to be born into a cosmopolitan city, as a female from a mixed background. For me, the strength and privilege of my identity outweighs any negatives. I would just want to realise and use those strengths earlier in my life next time!