English/Scottish/Nigerian | African/Chinese/European
I identify as British and Jamaican, Christian and mixed-race. Three of my Grandparents came to the UK from Jamaica and the other was born in Britain. According to AncestryDNA, my Mum is of mostly African descent, with the rest of her heritage evenly split between Chinese and European ancestry. The African and European parts of my Mum’s roots are spread out from countries all over those continents. My Dad’s racial background is half Nigerian, one quarter English and one quarter Scottish. My parents were introduced at church through my Dad’s Aunt and they have been together ever since.
It’s only been within the past year that I have fully allowed myself to embrace the label ‘mixed-race’. I was aware that my parents had different ethnicities from a very young age and I would always draw my dad as being White and the rest of us as Brown in primary school. But since both my parents are of Jamaican descent, I never thought I counted as being mixed-race until recently. This label articulates so much of the otherness I’ve felt. I grew up in an overwhelmingly White area which meant that I identified a lot with my White heritage and was more exposed to those cultural influences, whereas I think the people around me identified me more with my non-White heritage because I stood out racially. So I was extremely conflicted.
Since my parents both from Jamaican backgrounds, their cultures are largely compatible except for the fact that my Dad’s parenting style is more British whereas my Mum’s is more Caribbean, since my Dad grew up with a White Mum. Interestingly, I would say that the cultural differences between these parenting styles have become more pronounced as I’ve gotten older and our relationships have changed, or maybe I am more aware of the contrasts now than I was before.
I’ve experienced racism growing up, but specifically concerning my mixed-race identity the main challenge I’ve had in my life is confusion surrounding my heritage. Often people assume that I am Black and not mixed. I think that having grown up in such a non-diverse area has meant that I’m naturally gravitated towards a diverse set of people.
For me, embracing my hair has played the biggest part in embracing my mixed identity. I’ve come to love my tight curls as a signifier of my mixed heritage and also of my frequently tightly-wound self. I relaxed my hair for a couple of years and I wore it up in a bun for most of my adolescence, both of which were perhaps forms of self-suppression for me personally.
Before I arrived at Oxford I’d imagined it as a place where I could fall deeper in love with my subject and be pushed in all sorts of dimensions. My heritage was not a factor in my decision to attend. I haven’t experienced any obvious racism. I find it hard to recognise subtle forms of racism. I find it easier identifying that sort of racism retrospectively, so if you were to ask me that question in a couple of years’ time I would have an answer. My experience has been that Oxford is accepting and warm. It has also made me more aware of my status as a non-White person but in a positive and enlightening way as the topic of race is given a platform here, whereas where and when I grew up race wasn’t discussed as much.
I have felt increasingly represented with the formation of the Oxford Mixed Heritage Society. I’ve never been surrounded by so many other BAME students since coming here so there is a definite sense of belonging. Oxford itself is one of the UK’s most racially diverse areas which is wonderful.
If I had the opportunity to be born again I would like to be born as me, except with some other ancestries thrown in there too, just so that my existence could capture more of the world.
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.