English | Jamaican
My ethnic identity is White English and Black Caribbean. Two perspectives on one empire; one from above, one from below. I’m straight and I’m agnostic when it comes to religion.
Both my parents are English, but my Dad’s parents came from Jamaica on the Empire Windrush. They were some of the original migrants in the 50s and carved out lives in the Jamaican communities of Kilburn and North London. My Mum’s side are English through-and-through. Like me, my Mum was born and raised in the small seaside town of Hastings.
My Mum and Dad met each other when they were both in the infamous 1980s dance troupe, Hot Gossip. The group caused outrage in the conservative years of the 1980s, as they actively promoted mixed-race relations, which caused a lot of scandal. Both my parents were professional dancers and performers, and both still perform and organise events across the UK.
I think both of my parents are very liberal, and this was evident through their cultural intertwining and appreciation of each other’s backgrounds. During their prime, my Mum and Dad were performing every week on Top of the Pops in the mid-eighties. Hot Gossip was an experimental mix of British Punk and the emerging style of Hip Hop dancing, combining African and European cultures into a distinctive trans-Atlantic creole style. All the dancers they worked with were non-binary, multicultural and liberal. My parents have a very international outlook when it came to culture, and both have always appreciated culture, but not felt a need to attribute culture to race.
The perception of mixed-race people has changed significantly since my parent’s generation. Brown babies used to represent a cultural taboo in English culture. Now mixed-race babies are chic. Strange really. I feel that racial ambiguity is becoming increasingly commercialised, and I don’t entirely know how I feel about that. I’m glad that we’re seeing brown freckled models on the front page of magazines, and frizzy hair on the TV more, but I also worry that we’re paying less attention to the historical contexts of mixed-race people in Britain. I know my parents and Grandparents faced a number of challenges raising two mixed-race babies in the 90s, especially in the White homogenous town of Hastings. I hope by the time I have kids I won’t have to deal with passing comments and judgmental looks, like my family did.
I think my culture does have a part in how I choose my friends & partners, in a sense. I would never set about looking for a partner from a particular culture, but I would seek out a certain cultural understanding. Open-mindedness really. In my friendship circles and previous partners, I have always related to other mixed-race people more than people of other ethnicities. There are certain cultural challenges which mixed-race people have all faced in their own way. Plus, racial ambiguity is attractive. Untold histories polka-dotted in freckles, and family trees as confusing as the frizzy hair that cannot be tamed by any conditioner.
One of the most positive experiences which pops to mind rather recently is the Christmas present I bought my parents this year. I bought my Mum and Dad 23&Me DNA genetic tests which are used to map the maternal ancestry. The results were fascinating. It was wonderful to explore the cultural cocktail of my family tree, and the fact that everybody is mixed-race in some sort of way. My Dad’s results were most surprising. It turns out that my dad, with a dark complexion and a Jamaican physique, is actually 1/5 Irish! I guess that explains why my Grandmother has naturally red hair.
This was a positive experience for me because it shows how the world changes and manoeuvres through family trees. It’s amazing to speculate upon the struggles and cultural endeavours my ancestors faced.
I have experienced a number of challenges in my life due to having a mixed-identity. The town which I grew up in was a semi-deprived area with an essentially homogeneous White population. I was one of only about 5 non-White people in my entire school. Being Black and White, it's hard for people to see your true colours in a world that can only see Black or White.
Although I grew up in a White town with my White family and white friends and teachers, I’ve never been White. Not that I ever wanted to be, but I’ve never had a choice. When I tell people that ‘I’m Black’, they simply accept that. If I told someone that I was ‘White’, they would reject it.
A section of a poem I wrote summaries this feeling, I think:
I used to win every race on that athletics track Until I learned to run slow Cos’ everytime I won they said “The only reason you did is because you’re black” and they ignored the fact that I spent 10,000 hours training on that track. They called me black, till’ I tried to rap then they said you’re not black enough... Because you speak white, and your skins light and you study too much. Eventually I gave up trying to be normal because I realised to them that being normal meant being white, but deep down, I knew that wasn’t right but I never had any black people to tell me that in my life So I... Constructed my identity as half-white and half-stereotype.
I think the main challenge I’ve faced is the pressure of cultural conformity and the overbearing presence of ‘whiteness’ in British society, but also a cultural desire and mysticism around ‘blackness’. I’ve always been in the middle; like a half-stereotype person.
I connect to each of my cultures through spoken word. I’ve tried to connect to the two cultures I’m a part of in a number of different ways in my life; I tried acting, being sporty, I tried being playing the guitar and writing songs, but poetry and spoken word were the only things that helped me understand my identity and help forge an identity in an alien city. I’ve always read a lot, and I’ve always listened to a lot of hip hop and grime, but the only way I’ve managed to merge these two passions was through poetry. I listen to a lot of black music, but not necessarily Jamaican music. I eat good Jamaican food with my family when I see them, and I go to reggae bars often. In regards to English culture, you don’t really have a choice not to connect with it in the UK... I do enjoy a good Wetherspoons.
I have never been to Jamaica, which is something I’m really ashamed of! I’ve always promised myself, once I’ve saved enough pennies, I will go and spend some time on the Island and connect my Grandmother’s stories with the reality. I have spent time in the Caribbean; spring break in Cuba and family holidays to Barbados, but never Jamaica. I think because it's such an important trip to make, I want to do it solo, or with the Jamaican side of my family.
My understanding of my identity has evolved significantly over the years. When I was younger I saw myself as Black, which was the result of growing up in Hastings. When I went to University and moved to Canada on my year abroad I started understanding my identity more. I started learning about the histories of race and identity politics, and I started seeing myself in a different way. I’m proud of my mix, and it makes me feel like superman.
I love being able to manoeuvre through this world like a weird racially fluid chameleon. I love the fact that, in a way, I represent the future. Everyone on the planet is already mixed in some way or another but being continentally mixed (from people’s traditionally from different continents) is beautiful! I think as I get older, I’m able to understand the significance of my own personal history, and those of my ancestors. I’ve never felt so empowered to talk about the trials and tribulations of my two-tone skin.
If I had the opportunity to be born again I’d return the same, but 6,1” rather than 5,11”.