Northern Irish | Belizean
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I identify as mixed-race & spiritual. I was born in the UK. I grew up in Hackney, East London. Although it was one of the poorer boroughs of London, we were incredibly rich in cultural diversity. Everyone was from everywhere, so I didn’t particularly feel out of place. I remember when we were learning about different religions in school, we were lucky enough to have at least one person from each of the main religions in our class. I loved learning about everyone’s various beliefs and traditions, and it taught us to be open-minded from an early age.
I lived mainly with my grandparents (Belizean, N. Irish). I think they actually had a lot of cultural similarities – both were Christian, and in both countries the main language is English. They may have experienced challenges in how they were perceived by others, but in terms of their love for each other and the way in which they lived their lives together, they never seemed to have any conflicts.
I recognised I was mixed-race in primary school. My classmates asked me questions about my heritage, trying to figure out my ethnicity, and decided it meant I was ‘quarter caste’ (quarter Black). I thought it was weird to be called ‘quarter’ of something, and why was it the Black side of my family that was the ‘caste’ side? It wasn’t until I was older, when I read John Agard’s poem ‘half caste’, that I gained a better understanding of why this term is problematic. Another memorable moment at school was filling in census forms and ticking the box ‘other’ because none of the ethnicity options seemed to fit. I didn’t mind this so much though, life would be boring if we all fitted neatly into square boxes.
Similar to other ethnic minorities, I’ve experienced a few racist remarks on the street and sometimes unwelcoming looks when travelling to other parts of the UK and abroad. Especially after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and 7/7, I remember feeling a tense atmosphere on public transport, and there were a couple of times I was sworn at and called a ‘Paki’. It didn’t matter where I was actually from, all they saw was that I looked ‘foreign’ to them. It can be hurtful sometimes but I try not to let it get to me. In the words of Michelle Obama, ‘when they go low, we go high’.
I enjoy getting to know people from different backgrounds and walks of life. My friendships tend to be with others who are open-minded and who accept me for who I am. I’ve noticed some people prefer to date within their own race, but I’ve never really experienced that. It’s very unlikely I’m ever going to meet someone the exact mix that I am, so I guess it forces me to be more accepting of differences.
It also means that whoever I date needs to be accepting of being in a mixed-race relationship too. This can be difficult sometimes. I remember once a classmate (Black) commented that he would never date a mixed-race girl because they are ‘confused’ about their identity. Another experience was finding out my ex (White) was teased by his friends for dating ‘an immigrant’. Sometimes it’s upsetting to think that there are still people out there with these narrow-minded views. But at the same time, it means that I cherish my true friends and the people that accept me even more, because I know that not everyone in this world is as understanding.
I like coconut rice, mangoes, soul music (like Nina Simone), gospel music, and clothes with flowery prints, because they remind me of my grandmother. I also like shortbread biscuits, potato farls, Indie folk music, and crooners (like Frank Sinatra), because they remind me of my grandfather. Both have passed away now, but it’s little things like that which help me to keep them close to my heart.
I have curly hair which I usually wear natural. My hair is a different texture to my parents, so it took a lot of experimentation and trying out different products before I found out what worked best for me. As a child I used to wish I had straight hair that was easier to manage. But now I embrace my curls, and the way my hair turns frizzy when it rains or it’s windy outside – it’s a part of who I am and what makes me, me.
I grew up in a very loving home environment so that’s the most positive experience for me. Sometimes it also helps me to be more memorable to others at networking events, because I look different to other people.
There are more mixed-race people today compared to when I was growing up, and I think generally society is more accepting. But at the same time, there’s a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric in politics (Trump’s border wall in the US, the Brexit ‘leave’ campaign in the UK). When the Brexit referendum result was announced, it was reported there was a rise in hate crimes in the UK, and this didn’t just affect Europeans, other ethnic minorities experienced verbal abuse too. I think that politicians, especially those in leadership positions, should try to set a better example and be more careful with the words they use. They should promote ideas which bring people together rather than dividing us apart.
I worked for several years as a postdoctoral researcher (Psychology/Computer Science). I remember attending a lecture about the lack of Black professors in academia and feeling emotional as the speaker introduced herself. It was the first time I had seen a Black female professor give a lecture at my university and her talk was very inspiring. It made me realise just how much representation matters and it motivated me, as a mixed-race researcher, to try my best to inspire others too. During my remaining years as a postdoc, I volunteered for various public engagement events, encouraging students from different backgrounds to consider careers in research, saying ‘If I can do it, you can too!’. Although I decided in the end that being a lecturer wasn’t the right path for me, I still feel incredibly proud of all that I achieved in my academic career, and all the students that I encouraged and supported along the way. In my current role (Academic Services), I work on various projects related to improving students’ experiences and helping them achieve their potential.
If I was born again I would want to return again as me and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m proud of my heritage and I believe that our experiences, good and bad, shape us into the people we are today.