English/Irish | Iranian

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In an ideal world I would identify as a heterosexual male of Earth origin. However, for the purposes of this project, I will identify as British, but ethnically I am mixed British and Iranian. My Dad is mixed-British and Iranian (although he prefers to be called Persian) and was born in Tehran, Iran. My Mother is British and was born in England to English and Irish parents. My Mum’s dad was born in Cork, Ireland. If my maths is correct, ethnically, that makes me half Iranian, a quarter Irish and a quarter English (?). They met when my Dad travelled to the UK to escape the Iranian revolution and to learn English in the 70’s.

My Mother has always said I have her genes because I was born with red hair, freckles and fair skin. Whereas my other 5 siblings tend to have darker skin and features. Therefore, unless you know me by full name, most would not know that I was half-Iranian. I have always known that I was of different ethnicity to others, most notably because my Father is not White, and I have an unusual surname. I recall a memory of another pupil coming up to me in the playground after school (primary) to tell me that he could not believe my Dad ‘was a Paki’. At the time I did not know what this meant, but looking back, it was probably just an innocent attempt, in a rather stereotypical fashion, to describe my Dad’s darker skin.

In all honesty, I find it difficult to identify as mixed-race because I was born and raised in England and have little affiliation to my Persian ancestry. The family I have met on my Dad’s side have all been living expatriate lives outside of Iran. However, that does not mean I am not proud of my heritage, I just cannot help feeling like an impostor when questioned on the subject. After all, it can be difficult to identify with a race when you have never seen its home soil, you cannot speak its native language and you have not experienced its authentic culture.

As a pupil in a majority White secondary school in a suburb of London, I often chose to hide from my Persian descent, even lying about it on occasion, for fear of the judgement I may receive. You would be surprised how some people can only associate a particular region of the world with terrorism. This was probably down to my poor choice of ‘friends’, however the opinions of others did make me resentful of my mixed heritage. I wanted to be accepted as someone who is ‘one of us’ and not ‘one of them’. It is funny how things change; I am now less inclined to care what other people think (generally).

I think both of my parents have learnt to embrace each other’s cultures over time. Middle Eastern culture is family orientated and they are very hospitable to their guests. Growing up, most weekends were spent preparing meals for groups of people (usually eaten seated on the floor on a lovely Persian rug). Mum had to learn to cook Iranian food, not only because that is what Dad likes, but because when guests came over it was a sign of her devotion to the Iranian culture. Dad is not a strict Muslim, but I think he struggled with my mother’s Christian beliefs to begin with. Mum is an incredibly resilient woman and she did not let her faith suffer. Dad also had to overcome the traditional belief that women have a particular role in life. So too that respect is earnt through fear. It is a shame that these views are still well entrenched into Middle Eastern belief systems.

The only challenge for me personally has been an internal one. It is what we allow ourselves to believe that shape our thoughts and opinions. I think being of mixed-ethnicity may have had an effect on my self-esteem growing up, but that would only be because I attributed a certain importance to the opinions of others. Being of mixed-ethnicity (or of foreign origin generally) definitely makes you thick-skinned because you will have dealt with some sort of persecution around your ethnicity. However, I think society is changing for the better as we are now living in one of the most culturally diverse populations in the world. I am proud of my mixed heritage because it has taught me many things; most importantly to be accepting and open to others regardless of their race, ethnicity or skin colour.

I think being of mixed ethnicity has resulted in an openness to trying new things and experiencing different cultures. When I visit a place for the first time, I want to see what the locals are doing, not what the tourist hotspots have to offer. Moreover, I feel embarrassed when having to resort to English in a foreign country without first attempting to communicate in the local tongue. With regard to physical attributes such as choice of hairstyle, I was blessed with curly, somewhat untameable hair, which I used to have real difficulty with. Now I keep it short and life is much simpler.

I think the exposure to different cultures, foods, religions, languages, traditions, social interactions, celebrations, etc., is all part of the positive, character-building experiences of being mixed-race. It teaches you to respect difference and do away with ignorant beliefs. One notable positive experience is meeting other Iranian or mixed Iranian people, automatically you share a commonality that can break down barriers to social interaction.

It is hard to say whether being mixed-race has affected my experiences in the workplace, but it is very possible that having a foreign surname could affect the screening process with job applications. I have a cousin that has legally changed his name because of that possibility. However, I think that the possibility is lower in the public sector (as with most research jobs).

I am happy with where I am now but if I had the opportunity to be reincarnated who wouldn’t want to return as a superhero, or even a Persian Prince?