It's Not So Black & White: mixed-race experiences (Alicia)

This blog post series features three mixed-race people with completely different racial and nationality backgrounds and who share their accounts of what it is like to be mixed-race: Sabrina, Henrique, and Alicia. Here, we have:


Alicia

Hi, my name's Alicia and I'm one of three Let's Talk Racism co-founders. You can read more about me and why I decided to start this platform by clicking here.

Note: Bajan is used similarly to that of English in that it describes something or someone that is from Barbados.


What is your racial mix?

My dad is white British and my mum was black British, born and raised in England to my Bajan grandparents who came to the UK from Barbados as part of the Windrush generation. My mum passed away when I was 16 due to complications associated with Sickle Cell Anaemia. I tend to say I'm half white British and half black Caribbean to embrace all of my heritage.


Do you feel connected to one or some more than the other(s)? I think the world has made it abundantly clear to me that I'm not white, despite my genetics confirming otherwise. My mum would always tell me I was black. Initially, I never understood why she'd push that on me but when the racism started, I soon understood why. The truth is, the world treats you differently depending on the amount of melanin and pigmentation in your skin. Racially, I identify more with my black community, whether that be the racism we experience or bonding over our similar textured hair.


Culturally, I am very British, I was born and raised in England by parents who were born and raised in England too. I definitely want and need to learn more about Bajan culture. I have only been to Barbados once. The first time I consciously tried to learn more about my Bajan heritage was at university when I started to spend considerable time with my Bajan family.

Are there any challenges that come with being mixed-race? I can most definitely think of a few:


First, identity. People often tell me who or how I should be. I'm too black to be white or I'm too white to be black. I've recently started wondering why it is we even apply fractions and percentages to our racial make-up. While I think it's great to embrace all of my different ethnicities, I often feel as though I can't be a whole person and that I need to have different sides to me. I have to think about how to speak and act around certain people, in certain places at certain times.


Second, representation is still somewhat lacking, though improving. Interracial relationships weren't usually shown on tv while I was growing up. I always saw a black couple, an Asian couple, a white couple but never a mixed couple.

When it comes to my hair, I've definitely struggled to find salons who can 'deal with' my hair. I would travel for hours and spend much of my parent's coin at the one salon that came close to 'knowing' what to do with my hair. Afro-salons are better but mostly for styles such as weaves, braids, and relaxers. I've been relaxer free since around 2016. It's taken me that long to really appreciate my hair for what it is in its natural state. Models to this day are being told by the 'professional' on set that they need to do their own hair or provide their own edge control. Either diversify and learn about your clients or give the job to someone more appropriate for the role. People always talk about how the best person should be hired for roles when the topic of positive discrimination comes up. I would argue that you aren't the best person for the job if you can't do your own clients' hair. Period. That said, I'm happy that major supermarkets have started to stock and sell products for afro hair (despite the incredible mark-up) as this wasn't an option I had before. On the other hand, I'm disappointed to see that some shops security tag products made for black people and not those with caucasian models on the box; A clear example of how unconscious biases still manifest on shopfloors where black people are often thought of as thieves. I, myself, have been racially profiled many times and have seen it happen to many black people in front of me. It's simply not fair. People of all races can steal; Stealing isn't reserved for those with darker skin.

What do you like about being mixed-race? The fact I can embrace more than one culture. I like that mixed people can be or represent the bridge between races and ethnicities, and mixed people tend to understand each of their ethnicities as separate entities, if not wholly. I think being mixed is one symbol of unity and shows that race shouldn't matter when it comes to love.

Did you grow up in a diverse area?

Not at all. I grew up in a pretty affluent area in the outskirts of Liverpool in the UK, and it was predominantly, if not only, white. I experienced a lot of overt racism growing up. I've recently moved back home while I save for my first property and I'd say it's a lot more diverse and inclusive than it used to be. I remember when the people of Liverpool made it explicitly clear to the far-right group, EDL that they weren't at all welcome in the city back in 2018. I remember feeling incredibly proud to see such solidarity and willingness to speak up against fascism and racism.

Have you experienced racism from people of a race with which you identify? Most, if not all, of my racist experiences, have been from white people. This was something I always found quite hard to understand. It truly hurt because I'm half white and always will be. Whenever this happened I was made to feel 'other' and always served as a stark reminder that I wasn't completely accepted within the white community I'm genetically supposed and consider myself to be part of.


Now, for the most part, my black friends are very accepting of me. I know there are black people who say mixed people think they're better than them. I don't doubt for a second that this isn't true for some, but for me, that's absolutely ridiculous and couldn't be any further from the truth. I've never once thought I was better than anyone, and definitely not because of my skin colour.

I remember a girl at university who was black that would make comments to me at any opportunity and they honestly made me feel very uncomfortable. Her comments were usually about the way I looked and the fact I was mixed with lighter skin. I've heard people complain that lighter-skinned girls take attention away from darker-skinned girls when it comes to dating. Again, it saddens me that people feel this way. I can only speak on behalf of myself, and say I honestly don't think I am better than anyone. As someone who receives racism for being darker, I can't fathom how anyone lighter-skinned can then treat people darker than them in the same way.


I think colourism or shadeism is just as damaging as racism. You cannot say you're not a racist and then only be okay with a certain shade of black. You can't make people feel bad about the colour of their skin. There are people who hate their skin colour so much that they completely avoid the sun, and risk their health by bleaching themselves using completely unregulated chemicals. But it goes both ways; You can't say you hate how you're treated as a darker-skinned person but then treat someone unfavorably because they're lighter than you. None of that's okay. We should all be supportive of one another and be willing to speak up against colourism as much as we do for racism. This goes for every race, culture, and ethnicity by the way. My Asian friends tell me that colourism is very much prevalent in Asian communities too. I hate it and it's a mentality that really needs to change.

What about relationships? Do you and your partner speak about all your heritages? I think mixed-race people are often fetished due to how we are portrayed through mainstream media. I think people often presume how I should be based on my appearance and I usually wonder whether the interest someone has in me is a genuine and sincere appreciation for who I actually am as a person. Would this person be disappointed if I didn't live up to their expectation or preconceived ideas? I've been told: "you're exotic", "I've never been with a black girl before", "You must be able to twerk, right?".


I don't want to ever be reduced to a stereotype. I want someone to learn about me, all of me, and appreciate and love me for who I am. I think people are ignorant to tell a mixed person they want to 'trial black', and especially when they admit they wouldn't date a black woman. I've been told "it's different" and "you're okay because you're light-skinned". While I understand that people have different preferences and find different people attractive, 'dark-skinned' is pretty too and nobody should be made to feel as though they're not pretty or worthy because of the shade of their skin. I always feel beyond guilty.


People seem to presume who I'd be interested in romantically. "Oh, I didn't expect your boyfriend to look like that". He was white. Asian and white men have presumed they wouldn't be my type either. I find it odd. You can find different people attractive. Someone's race doesn't matter to me. I just try to learn about the person I'm with because I want to love them for who they are and all that they care about. I guess, being mixed, I just find it strange to think that I couldn't like someone merely because of their race. I am the product of two, after all.


Regarding whether previous partners have asked me about my heritage? Partly, yes. But not in-depth and not everyone. I've only just realised how important it is to me that any future partner of mine tries to understand me as a whole person and appreciate all sides and aspects of me. I want to be with someone who has an interest in black human rights and will ensure that, should we have children, they know and embrace all of who they are too. I'd want to have a proper conversation about racism and understand their views on topics such as systemic racism. I couldn't imagine being with someone who doesn't care about problems in the world that personally affect me, and those which may affect their children too. Is the first date too soon? 😅


Do your friends accept you for all of you? My true friends (of all races) do, yes.


Though, I do get a lot of prejudiced comments when I'm around some of my white friends: "why do you sound ghetto?", and other comments about my hair. If I speak the same way around my black friends, I don't receive the same response or reaction. I can speak how I want and jump around and twerk, and they won't see me as 'conforming to a stereotype'; it's just weird Alicia being weird Alicia. The truth is, they all just accept me for who I am. It’s interesting. I’m sure my friends don’t mean to do it, but it does happen and I never know how to talk about it. I guess it's a learning experience for us all.


I have noticed that some of my white friends really don't like talking about racism and I can't lie, it really hurts. I would think that learning and understanding something so important that affects your own friends and loved ones would come before someone's own discomfort, especially if it's not something that directly affects you. Racism isn't something I find comfortable either but it's something I have to deal with daily and globally. I can't just stop talking about it. I hope that my friends who've avoided the conversation and see this understand that I want you to talk about these things with me. I can't imagine my friends going through something that hurts them and them feeling like they couldn't talk about it.

Has anyone ever said you sound more (insert race)? I’ve had the “you sound white”, “you speak so articulately”, “I didn’t expect you to sound like that,” and also, “you sound ghetto,” “why are you talking like that?”, repeating what I say and then mocking it. etc. It’s all highly annoying and completely inappropriate too.


Oh, I also hate being compared and told I look like every mixed (black and white) or black person on the planet. No, I don’t look like Whoopi Goldberg. It might sound funny but it's actually really not and it happens more than it should.

Do you feel represented in the media? I mean, I saw an ad recently with someone who had similar hair to mine and underneath the caption read: natural hair is beautiful hair. Or something along those lines. I thought, wow. That was the first time I truly felt like my hair was actually perceived as being beautiful. In 2020 🤦🏾‍♀️. Talk about being late to the party. I've really struggled to accept my hair for how it is. Even my mum and aunt would tell me my hair was problematic and it' be better if I shaved it off completely. They grew up in Britain surrounded by Eurocentric ideals before other features became increasingly accepted and portrayed as being beautiful quite rightly in their own right. Nobody taught me how to love my hair. I think mixed people are slowly starting to make an appearance in media but those shown who are mixed (black and white) are usually considered to have an 'acceptable blackness'. People and companies think they are being diverse by having a lighter-skinned black person or mixed person on the tv or in their features and campaigns, but it's still damaging to darker-skinned people who don't see their representation. It feels like mixed people are now being trialed, easing people into seeing more darker-skinned people on tv. Yes, it's nice to have mixed people on tv of all races and backgrounds, but we aren't the only people you need to represent. There are many shades of black. Not just the one the media shows off as being acceptable. They're all beautiful.


Can you tell us something you find interesting about your heritage or racial mixes?

Barbados

Windrush Generation

Did you know that many of the Windrush generation were some of the first people to work for the NHS when it was first formed in the UK? Barbadians including my grandparents came to the UK following a call and invitation to work and help rebuild their 'mother country'. Barbados was once British and became independent from Britain in 1966. The British Queen is still Barbados' head of state.


Crop Over Carnival

Every summer Barbados hosts the annual Crop Over festival where people celebrate, party and dance from June to the first Monday in August. There is a parade and many celebrities fly in to take part. Catch me there next year proudly waving a Bajan flag in one hand and either a twist beer or rum and coke in the other. I will most definitely be wearing a costume with a headdress. My trip is long overdue.


Rum

Barbados is the birthplace of Rum. As you can imagine there are plenty of rum distilleries. I won't lie, I do enjoy a good Rum. And you will definitely find me in one of these distilleries during my visit. I've been to the Malibu one and I'd highly recommend.


Is there anything else you'd like to add or share?

I think people underestimate the internal struggle of mixed people when it comes to understanding who you are. It can be hard having people place you into boxes. I mean you only have to look at a diversity questionnaire and most of the time, it's other. I have friends who have racist family who doesn't appreciate or acknowledge their existence because they're mixed with a race they don't like. I can't imagine how horrible that must be.


I find it difficult because I have a side of me that benefits from a system while the other doesn't. Therefore, I speak up for the side that doesn't and I think people look at me and think I'm choosing a side. That's never the case. I just don't need to speak up for the side of me that isn't facing inequalities in the world due to racism.


Now, this is my message to other mixed people: Please, honestly, don't ever feel bad for embracing who you are, and all that you are. Don't feel as though you're alone because you're not. I hope that you'll see from this platform that there are so many others who feel the same way. Please don't minimise your feelings either because they're just as valid and important. Keep being you. And remember, you're beautiful. ♥️


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