British/Trinidadian | Turkish
I identify as mixed-race, Black, British, Turkish, Trinidadian. If agnostic were a sliding scale I'd be more on the side of atheist. Queer is probably the term that best describes me but I use bisexual more frequently. My Mum is mixed-race Black British and grew up in a tiny family, predominantly in a village just outside of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, called Sea Palling. Her house was on a tiny lane on the way to Sea Palling beach called Rose Cottage. It was/still is little and cobbled and the only one on the length of flat land leading to the long marram grass at the shore at the end of the road. In 1086 Sea Palling had 9 villagers and 23 pigs and I shouldn’t imagine it’s got many more now even though it’s a millenia later. (I know that because I created a series last year for the Migration Museum where i learnt that, not just because I have an encyclopedic history of Sea Palling’s census data.) My Mum’s Father was Joseph Emmanuel Victor and he was from Trinidad and came over in 1950, in the ebb of Windrush. He was a printer by trade but when he came to the UK found he couldn’t get back into it. He’d had a slot but he couldn’t slot back in.
My Father is from Bursa, Turkey which is a large green city in north-western Turkey just across the Marmarus river from Istanbul and comes from a huge family. I think he has two sisters and three brothers. Bursa has a big mountain and a ski slope for when it snows. They met in 1987 when my Mum was on holiday with her best friend in Istanbul. A whirlwind romance supposedly, that ended up in her moving out there, learning Turkish and securing a position teaching English as a foreign language. She was 23, the same age as I am now. They got married, and eight years later had me in Sheffield, and then moved back out there for a few years, before agreeing that it was only fair for me to spend time in each of my respective parental homelands. I loved Turkey. I’ve got countless pictures of me picking apricots from the trees in our garden and collecting them in a bright pink plastic bowl, beaming from end to end of my chubby-cheeked face. We moved back to England. They separated a couple of years later.
I experienced that apparently commonplace cliche of mixed-race child moves from London to the home counties and spends years reeling from the shock. I didn’t adjust particularly well to my newly appreciated identity in a monocultural environment. I wasn’t an instant fan of going from everyday to abnormal. This was severely compounded by being a teenager of course and my natural inclination was to condense my identity, and to only mention the Caribbean side. But as I’ve got older I’ve taken more of an interest in learning about my Turkish heritage. Growing up I felt that I had to pick one thing to identify with and to run with it. I want to make more of an effort to learn how to make the wealth of veggie dishes that Turkey has to offer, such as Mecimek Koftesi which is a lemony lentil dish that you wrap up in lettuce leaves and cram one after another in to your mouth. Last year I started taking Turkish lessons again. If I have a child I’d like to be able to pass down that aspect of their culture.
Growing up in the UK outside of a Turkish environment as well as outside of a Trinidadian one (my Grandfather moved back to Trinidad in the 70s, just as my Father to his respective homeland would a few decades later) my connection to my cultures could have been less tangential and more immersive if I'd have simply been in closer proximity to them. It's a shame but it's not stopped me from learning. In a way, I'm grateful that I get to build and grow my own relationship to my history, at an age where I can do so actively. Outside the occasional racist turn of phrase I experienced during high school, I acknowledge that as a light skin, able bodied, cis woman I have a lot of privileges that shield me from the difficulties that somebody else without those things might face.
I like knowing I've got a wealth of culture and history to draw upon when formatting my view of the world. It's comforting to know that both my parents are polar opposites, as well as drawn from completely different environments and yet despite that they show that connections can form however different your backgrounds are.
Light skinned mixed-race people in particular, experience a tremendous amount of privilege in blending into society and the current trends. We're often seen as exotic enough to be fulfil a diversity quota, or even an unconscious desire to modernize or shake things up, but at the same time close enough to Whiteness that we’re undisruptive or unthreatening. You only have to take a cursory look at the discourse in pop culture and in castings that call for ‘multiracial women only’ so see that racial ambiguity is highly favoured.
Blackness has always been cool and therefore I've found that people are often super quick to label Black and mixed-race people as cool or make assumptions about what I might be interested in, and surprisingly its regularly the most woke who do this, as if it’s an in joke both you and they share. It’s always a slight tell-tale sign if someone suggests I'm cool because I am (and my mates would attest) extremely lame.