English | Filipino
My parents met in London, and we've lived there all my life, my Dad is from London, and my Mum is from the Philippines. I always tick 'Mixed, White and Asian' on the forms. So many forms! I'd consider myself English though. Most people accept that without comment, but I've had a few people challenge me about it. I don't see why 'Englishness' has to be inherently White though. I think my parents have always spoken to me about my mixed heritage, though I know there definitely weren't any mixed-race children in the books my mum read to me as a child. Because I grew up in London, it meant that there were lots of other mixed-raced people where I lived. Coming to Oxford was a bit of a shock!
It meant lots of different foods growing up as a kid. I can remember being very little and my Mum teaching me to eat rice with my hands. My Dad had to teach me how to use a knife and fork a little later, so that I could use them at school. My mum speaks three languages, and I only share one with her. I sometimes wonder how much more I'd learn from her if I also spoke Tagalog.
Learning how to wear make-up that suits me has been difficult! I can remember thinking as a teenager that I could never wear red lipstick, that it must be something that only pale-skinned people could wear. That sounds really stupid to me now, but my Mum prefers pink and brown lipsticks! So, I'd never really seen anyone like me in a bright red lip. I had quite a huge light-bulb moment about it actually, I went to a party when I was 16 or so, and met a girl with skin like mine, wearing a brilliant shade of red. I didn't know her, so it took courage for me to ask her about it. Never looked back, I own so many red lipsticks now!
Because I'm half-English, I think that sometimes a bit of White privilege rubs off on me! I'm aware that on paper, or over the phone, a lot of people assume that I'm White, sometimes I still catch someone's surprise when I turn up at a job interview! Sometimes, when meeting someone new for the first time, I make sure to send them a link to my LinkedIn or Twitter or something. Somewhere on the internet where they can see my face, to undercut their potential surprise. I have mixed feelings about doing this, it's easier for me to not have to witness them trying to be polite about the fact that they assumed I'd be White, but at the same time, why should I try and make this realisation a more comfortable experience for them?
I've been at Oxford a long time, 6 years! I'm doing a DPhil now. I thought it'd be really posh, and yes, White. I wondered if I'd ever be mistaken for a tourist. I can remember looking at my matriculation photo with my Dad after it arrived. We counted all the non-White faces and compared it to a secondary-school photo, a South London comp! There was no contest.
I have experienced casual racism while at Oxford, I've had people turn me down after I've asked them out by saying they ‘don't like Asian girls’. I've had people at college events ask me ‘Where are you really from?’, and I've even had people crack racist jokes in front of me, expecting me (me!) to laugh. One time, in the common room, someone thought they'd provoke the room by making a racist joke, no one laughed, but no one said anything either. At the time, I didn't see why it was down to me, the only person of colour in the room, to say something. It actually took me a while to report it, but I'm glad I did. I was so done with the whole thing by the end, I can remember saying to another mixed-raced friend, ‘How many degrees do you need to not be racist?!’. The answer is always more than you think, apparently this happened while I was a grad student, not an undergrad. I decided to say something in the end because I realised that while I had a large support network in Oxford, both inside and outside of college, not everyone else would. It was affirming to have my friends back me up too. I needed it! Unlike everyone else in the common room that day, by reporting it I had to do the emotional (and bureaucratic!) labour for a long time afterwards. I don't even know if most of them remember it. Maybe they're reading this now, thinking it doesn't apply to them!
Oxford can be welcoming and inclusive, but only thanks to the work of a lot of students and staff who make the effort to make Oxford a more inclusive place. I hope I am one of them! I've definitely become more race-conscious since coming to university, definitely. It's in part because the university is much less diverse than the Big Smoke, but also because I've taken the time to think more about it! Education! I feel as though I should be taking part in the race conversation more! I'm a mixed-raced working class woman doing a doctorate - I should definitely be making more noise about it. Oxford’s Mixed Heritage Society has definitely provided me with a sense of community and belonging at Oxford.
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.