British | Jamaican

Photo credit: Jake R @robsinson_

Photo credit: Jake R @robsinson_

I identify as Black. While I was doing my Master’s dissertation I read a lot of Mirza and her explanation of ‘Black’ as a political identity really resonated with me. I had always had issues growing up and finding a term I was comfortable with. I grew up in Nottingham, UK and it was very common to call mixed-race people ‘half caste’, and I never liked it. I didn’t have the historical knowledge or the vocabulary to understand why but I just never liked the idea of being a half. To me I was two parts of a two-whole people. I remember for a while asking my mum to refer to me as Brown, I never felt like I could call myself ‘Black’ because I didn’t have what we understand to be ‘Black’ skin. It has taken me a long time be proud to be Black, but I would not want to be any other way.

I do not follow any religion, nor do I identify as atheist. All of the terms I find to be too ideologically loaded. I believe in a God, though I’ve yet to find any sort of explanation as to what she looks like. For me she is a being who connects us all and is a reminder of our humanity. In terms of sexual orientation, I honestly do not know what I identify as, personally I don’t want to, but I know that causes a lot of problems for people. Sexuality is so regulated, and we are long way from recognising the beauty of its fluidity. I tend to say I’m attracted to the person rather than the flesh exterior, but then that too is met with many raised eyebrows.

My mom is White British and was born and raised in Norfolk, UK. My dad is Jamaican and moved to the UK with my grandfather when he was 5 years old. They met in Nottingham where they both still live now, albeit separately. I grew up in Nottingham in a small ish town called Arnold. It was a very White town (from what I remember) and I was the only Black kid in my school for a long time. All the other kids were White, and all of my friends were White. I used to spend a lot of the school holidays in Norfolk with my White grandparents, my grandfather was super racist, which I think I always knew on some level, but it was something that was never talked about openly with the family. I didn’t spend any time with my Black family while growing up, most of whom were in London. It was only in my teens did I slowly start to meet them and begin to understand who I really was and why I felt so lost, isolated and ‘different’ when I was a kid.

Faced with what I would describe as the heartbreaking reality of bringing a racialized child into a racist society, I think that my mother tried from a very early age for me to get to see my ‘colour’ as a strength and a source of power. She would say, ‘baby, everyone wishes they were Brown really, look how many people pay to tan themselves to look just like you’. She showered me with love, affection and compliments about my aesthetic beauty that I now realise that as a child I have no recollection of ‘being Black’. However, now as an adult I realise that while I was perhaps not completely conscious of it, I was still aware of it. My favorite Disney princesses were Pocahontas and Esmeralda and my favorite Spice Girl was Mel B, why? because they looked like me. I, like everyone, wanted to be represented and so clung to any chance that I could.

I grew up in a White household, with absolutely no Jamaican or Caribbean influence inside of it. My White and Black families to this day never spend any time together and most haven’t even met. I know my father met my mom’s parents at my christening and my mom has met a couple of my father’s sisters and their children, but we never were a ‘family’. Everything in our house was ‘White’ from the food to the mentality to the way we looked at the world. I remember we had neighbours who were Jamaican, an old couple who were very sweet and that was the only sneak peek I got into the other half of my cultural heritage. I don’t think my dad wanted me to know about my family or being Jamaican, I think he wanted us to assimilate into White life and culture (perhaps knowing what he went through and in an effort to spare us from it). He never spoke patois with us, or ever told us much about ‘being Jamaican’.

I think my whole life, right up until today has been one big mess of understanding my identity. I often find myself betwixt that what I feel, and that which people want or understand me to be. People always love to ask questions about my ‘Brown skin’ and where it comes from. I’ve lost count of the times people have said to me, loved ones, family members, even strangers; ‘well you’re not like a real Black girl, are you?’ or ‘I just don’t think of you as Black’. Even since moving back to the south of France, my blackness is outright denied in some social situations where I express that I identify as Black. It is a statement that is often met with laughter, legitimate confusion and a response along the lines of ‘you’re not’re just not really White’. My racialized identity is read, taken up and usually given back out at me and I continually feel silenced by this. Being ‘Black’ is rarely on my terms. This willful blindness from others has led to a personal, lengthy denial of my ethnic heritage, history and culture just because I too began to believe that I’m not ‘Black’ enough. In exploring these past feelings, I have come to understand that there’s a huge psychological strain on a person who is denied their own identity, which is perhaps why for many years I tried very hard to be White. I couldn’t understand my ‘difference’ when I felt the same as all of my White friends. I watched the same movies as them, ate the same food as them as we all had crushes on the same White boys. My Blackness felt like something locked inside, undetected that was eating away at me. I wanted blonde, straight hair, I wanted soft, milky skin and I didn’t want anyone to notice me as different.

However, I am not and nor do I look White, I’m Black and even today I’m struggling to manage the times when my Blackness is given back to me on someone else’s terms.

These moments over the years have in all fairness become ‘easier’ to digest, because one, I have had no choice and two because I’ve gotten more and more used to it. For so long, I got aggressively defensive, lost my temper, said something insulting and sarcastic back or straight up walked away. While all of these techniques worked in some way to keep my barrier up, each reaction resulted in one response (whether verbally or just the look in their eyes) from the person in front of me; the angry Black woman. A reaction that is another example of the times my Blackness is not on my terms since, when I’m angry, there’s little doubt that I’m Black for White people.

I have always lived in predominantly White environments. Of course, in these environments there are people of colour, and as I have gotten older I find myself gravitating closer to these people since there tends to be a common, unspoken understanding between us (even though it’s still something we talk about A LOT). However, I do have many great White friends and my partner is White. I went through a weird stage of feeling guilty about dating a White person, I felt like I was selling out or doing something wrong, a feeling I am still unable to really articulate.

I live and work in a White environment and so my identity will always be a site of question and confusion for some people. I am not claiming for a second that everyone I meet is racist, not at all, but I cannot pretend that I am surrounded by people who have spent their lives with people who look like me and that can change things in certain contexts. People love that I’m from Jamaica, they love to talk about it, mention Bob Marley to me and ask me what it’s like in Jamaica. I have never been to Jamaica and in all honesty, I don’t know if I ever will. I do not feel Jamaican and I don’t think I can stake a claim in being Jamaican. I know that sounds silly and I am NOT speaking for anyone else, this is based on MY feelings and MY experiences, but knowing the history of my country I would feel like a fraud affording myself that title. I love my Jamaican heritage and am proud of it and will never hide it from anyone but it’s a complicated relationship.

Certainly, we are in my experience a very exoticised group of people. There’s something exciting for people about ‘mixed blood’. I think that White men particularly like the idea of a mixed woman, especially if she’s half White because it fulfills a certain fantasy, but it means they don’t have to come too far out of their comfort zone since we ‘know what the other side is like’. This is something I have experienced before. For some people were the ‘people of the future’ for others we’re a visual representation of the diversity of our world. For me I feel like I occupy a no man’s land type space, I often feel alone, as a mixed-race person as my experience can be so different (not to say that we do not all have very different experiences in life) but I have never felt like I see something I identify with, nor have I met another mixed-race person (beside my siblings) whose feelings are similar to my own about my identity and experience in the world.

We all speak English, I however cannot speak in Patois which in all honesty doesn’t bother me. I used to want to when I was younger but now I am happy to just understand it.

I do not feel British nor do I feel Jamaican. I do however feel ‘Black’. I identify with the feelings of being a racialized minority. I moved to France when I was 22 and my partner is Italian; speaking both those languages has also had an impact on my identity and I am perhaps more confused than ever. But I feel like a representation of myself, and I feel connected and at peace with my experiences.

When people ask where I’m from my responses depend on my mood, the person who asks and the people I’m with.

A negative, coming from two races that for a long time have been at war with one another. Knowing what the British did to the Jamaicans is very painful for me to come to terms with. There are so many positives to list, but I am so glad I ‘look’ mixed-race. I love my Brown skin and I love the power and resilience of my people and I am proud to be a representation of that.

Being mixed-race in today’s society is difficult to explain based on my location. The answer varies whether I’m in London, my hometown of Nottingham or in France, where I live now. My identity shifts in each place. For me London is the place where I perhaps feel the most ‘normal’. While London is regularly celebrated for its levels of diversity I do however not feel that it is an inclusive city. I do not feel that all faces are welcome in all corners and I find it to be very segregated. I do not think that people going down the high street in Brixton would feel represented or even comfortable going for coffee in Mayfair. There is an enormous dissonance between rich and poor in London and for that reason I don’t think I can say I experience myself in all of London society in the same way.

For Monaco it at times feels the same as the more affluent areas of London, anyone who knows Monaco knows that it’s a place filled with 138+ nationalities however 99% of the faces you see in the street are White. So, again the way I experience my identity is different here. I think in some respects it’s almost impossible for me to answer this question.

I remember once being asked the question; ‘If you had the choice to come back to earth again would you come back as a White man and only live 50 years or as a Black man and live 100 years?’. Growing up my answer was almost certainly, ‘the White man’, however today if I were to come back, I’d come back as me, I have learnt to love myself a hell of a lot earlier.