Growing Up Mixed Race

Growing Up Mixed Race

If you have visited my blog before, hello and thank you for coming back. If you are just finding my blog for the first time, allow me to briefly introduce myself: I am Eboni, a mixed race 20-something, living in London. I started this blog back in 2016 as a way to stay creative between the work I do as an actor. I feel especially passionate when writing about my social experiences and mental health. I have previously written about self-love, catcalling, beauty standards, love and feelings of failure. I always get such a lovely response so I am back at it again!
In light of recent events, I have been having interesting conversations online and in my personal life, surrounding the topic of race. These conversations, both public and personal, have led me uncover some trauma from my past surrounding my ethnicity. I want to talk about growing up as a mixed race woman in the UK. This post will be short snippets from my childhood and adulthood, where I feel my race was a central component in my experience.

My Experiences Growing Up Mixed Race in the UK

There is a lot of stigma that we "don’t have it as bad as America" and whilst there may be elements of truth to that presumptuous statement, I think this blog post will hopefully shed some light on the, often invisible, experiences of many mixed race people in the UK. I cannot speak for the experiences of all Black people in the UK, as my complexion is fair, which equates to a form of privilege, often referred to as "colourism" - Discrimination based on skin color and a form of prejudice or discrimination usually from members of the same race in which people are treated differently based on the social implications from cultural meanings attached to skin color.   
In addition to having a mixed race identity, there are many more social and environmental factors that amount to a mixed race experience. Like our white peers, we are extremely unique and multifaceted. For example, I am half British Jamaican and half Dutch, however, I grew up without connection to my Dutch side. My father passed away when I was very young, so I grew up in a Black British, single parent, only child household. I also grew up in South East London, so my experience of childhood will be very different to a mixed race person who grew up in extremely different circumstances.
I went to a variety of schools that helped shape me as a person. In 13 years, I fund myself being shuttled through 6 schools. From the posh school at the end of my road where I was bullied for my "frizzy" hair, to the comprehensive state school, where I was told my accent was "too posh" and that I needed to lean more into my "Black side". Three years at boarding school and two years at an inclusive, free, music and drama school later, and I had banked a wealth of experiences that shaped me. I had learned before the age of 14, how to navigate amongst the children of the most privileged parts of society and the most deprived. I had learned how to camouflage in order to be my most palatable self.My Earliest Memory
“Is that your daughter? Why is she so white?” 
My first understanding of the colour of my skin came with the many questions asked of ignorant children. I was between the ages of 6-10, when I attended the Easter and Summer schools managed by my mum. My mum is Black, and no one had ever met my dad, so from a naïve outsider, I looked like I didn't belong. I would be present in many conversations where the children (mostly Black themselves) would question my mum on why I was "so light" or ask "is that your daughter?" These conversations happened regularly. My mum's response was always peppered with humour, "she's not my daughter, she's my grandma" she would say. We would laugh it off and never address it privately. Not knowing my dad was difficult, but looking in a mirror and not being able to justify my pale skin was harder. I think in those moments, I understood on some level, that I was "different".

Year 4-7
"Why do you look like that?"
These were my years spent at the "posh school". The type of school that had a swimming pool and a cross country field. I never made any lifelong friends there. I was severely bullied for my weight and my love of horses and S Club 7. I was "uncool" but I was unapologetic - never knowing what to apologise for! I was an easy target for many of the boys in my year group. My mum would tell you that I spent many evenings crying about the events of that day. One thing that stuck with me for many years, was the hate that people had for my "frizzy hair".
"You look like you've been electricuted."
"What are you? Where are you from? Why do you look like that?"
Many of the comments I received would have gone over my head as racist or micro-aggressions. Not only because I was too young to understand, but because a few of my bullies were Black. I developed a hatred for my hair, and begged my mum to straighten it with heat and chemicals. I carried this hair-hatred into my adulthood and it was just 4 years ago, that I started wearing it curly -the way it naturally grows out of my head.

The Year 8 "glow-up" 
"Why are you so posh?"
After the bullying became to much to cope with and my mum's countless trips to speak with my head of year brought about no change, I was put into the local comprehensive school. This was a state school typical of South East London, where the majority of students were from an ethnic minority background. After discovering I had joined the school due to being bullied at the private school around the corner, I became the subject of a new form of bullying. I was "too posh". What the private school didn't teach me was how to slick my hair like the other Black girls or what music to listen to (S Club 7 was not going to cut it). After spending a few weeks of lunch times alone in the library, I found a group of girls who were willing to take me under their wing. This group of girls were all Black or a an ethnic minority. This allyship came at a price, and that was to give me a makeover to make me more acceptable. This included styling my hair in a typical Black hairstyle - cornrows with slicked edges. I obliged, as I didn't want to lose their friendship, but it wasn't me.

Teens to Adulthood
"Oi! Lightie! Come here!"
As I briefly touched on before, I had learned to hate my natural hair at a very young age. I used to take my dressing gown belt and tie it to my curly ponytail, swishing it around as if I had long straight hair. I envied my white classmates for their beautiful hair. When I started at my 5th school, I was introduced to straighteners and the idea that my hair could also be straight- as straight as all the beautiful white girls. This was a turning point. The blonde girl in the year below me would straighten my hair for school events. However she stopped after a while, as the product I put in my hair to help it straighten was making her straighteners too dirty. Once I was finally able to have my own, I would straighten my hair everyday. I felt more attractive. People commented on "how nice my hair looked straight". This was the start of me white-washing myself, with the understanding that I was more pleasing to society this way.

I had never been to the hairdresser until I was an adult. As a child, my mum would provide a bi-annual, rough cut. When I was around 21, I realised I would need to cut my hair to help it grow (after years of straightening had caused my hair to break). So I sought after inexpensive ways to have a haircut. This led me to online forums where trainee hairdressers would look for models to perform complimentary cuts on. During the period of 2011-2015, I experienced around 8 different free haircuts. 90% of the trainees were unequipped to deal with my hair, with one occasion having a lot of hair accidentally taken off. It led to my understanding that my hair was problematic and difficult for professionals to handle. I stopped going to the hairdresser for many years after developing a phobia.

Another issue I faced during my teens and adulthood was the fetishization of my race. I would be constantly cat-called and harassed simply because I was mixed race. "Oi! Lightie" is what these men would shout. These were Black men. It was constant unwelcome harassment that I understood stemmed from the idea that my light skin coupled with my proximity to Blackness, was desirable to (predominantly) Black men. This circles back to my mention of colourism earlier. I found this difficult to deal with. I still deal with the feeling of someone desiring me based on my race and not me as a person, today.

Today, I write to you as a 28 year old woman, coming to terms with my experiences surrounding my race, my ethnicity and the colour of my skin. Because these three components have all had differing effects on my identity. I still experience subtle and unsubtle everyday racism like every Black person. An example would be the types of comments that I had to delete off a YouTube video I made about my ancestry. One read "straighten your hair sweetie and you could pass off as Italian. Your basically a white girl anyway." There were more to this effect which were swiftly deleted. In addition to the online comments, I have also been on the receiving end of problematic, race-based comments in person. White people have often held their arm up next to mine, in order the proclaim "look, I am darker than you and you're half black!"
I made a short film last year called "Mixed Roots", which I am extremely proud of. It is a film about growing up and living with curly, mixed race hair. I would love you to watch it (it's just 3 minutes long).

Finally, we come to this very moment. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has sprung to life all over the world and online. I have been a very active voice on my Twitter and Instagram pages. Not only because I am Black, but because I care deeply about the fight for equal opportunities and the dismantling of systemic racism. I have been deeply affected by the current events. The conversations have unearthed some deep-rooted trauma I've been carrying. Some of which I have talked about in this post and some of which I have not.
I wanted to give an honest take on my many experiences of racism here in the UK. Experiences which pale in comparison to many of my Black peers.
My aim for writing this post was to shed some light on my experiences. For anyone who didn't think racism existed in the UK (or in London for that matter) I want to debunk that theory and tell you, you are wrong. 
Eb x

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  1. Fantastic piece Ebs, Mina has been suffering a lot of trauma, very similar to yours.she is utterly exhausted. Sending love. Lucy xx

  2. Hi Lucy, lovely to hear from you. I hope you are well. I hope Mina is able to process everything that she is feeling, this has been a heavy week! Sending love x

  3. Wow thanks for sharing ❤️

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It's an education for all, but in particular for some of us who are ignorant of this facet of racism. Great film, too. All the best.

    1. Hi Nic! Thank you for engaging with this post and for your comment. I appreciate the support!

  5. Found your blog very relatable & made me feel understood 👍

    1. Thank you for reading, Samantha, and taking the time to comment! I'm glad this post spoke to you :)
      Eboni x


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