With a lot more people having discussions surrounding racism and the Black Lives Matter Movement, I decided that I wanted to open up my own discussion by sharing some of my personal experiences growing up as a mixed raced woman. I have often struggled with what to say and how to say it, and I think honestly that stems from fear of saying the wrong thing. Something I have learnt though, is that we need to be having more of these honest and open conversations in order to educate ourselves and others to try and get rid of this stigma that racism shouldn’t be spoken about because it doesn’t exist because you may have never witnessed or experienced it for yourself. So here is my honest and open conversation about racism…
As many of you will already know the Black Lives Matter Movement isn’t new. It has been around for a while now. Since July 2013 to be exact. The human rights movement was born following the acquittal of a man who stole the life of Trayvon Martin, a young black man in Florida back in 2012. If I’m honest, the fact that a movement such as this has to exist really hurts my heart. Even more so because unfortunately it is a movement that was probably necessary many many years before it even started.
I have always known how important it is for Black Lives to Matter. Perhaps this is because of my own background – I am half white and half black. My mum is white and my dad is black. Although my experiences of growing up mixed raced are not comparable with those of my black friends and family, I have still experienced my unfair share of racial discrimination. One of the main things that this movement has taught me more recently is that I still have so much more to learn. Since the horrific murder of George Floyd back in May, like many, I have been in a space of deep reflection. One of the main things that it has encouraged me to do is to talk more about race and racism at home, in other areas of my life and to write this.
My curly hair and me…
I grew up in quite a diverse area of Leicester and so I have always been aware of different races and religions and the different experiences that people would have had in life because of this. That being said, although the area I lived in was quite diverse, the primary school I attended only had a handful of children who were either mixed raced like me or black. I would say I was quite a shy child but wouldn’t go unnoticed because of my curly locks which at the time, I absolutely hated. Other children would constantly tease me about it and I would forever be going home in tears after being told again that my hair was obviously home to a bird’s nest because it was so big and bushy. I know that my mum tried her best with my hair but I was her only experience of looking after afro hair and I know that although she tried to keep it neat and tidy, she definitely struggled. Oh my goodness, the memories of how those weekly hair washes would fill me with absolute dread! My hair was a lot and no matter how much Sofn’Free (if you know – you know!) she would use, my hair used to suck it all up and be quite dry by morning therefore achieving my bird’s nest look. *rolls eyes* I just longed for my hair to be straight like the Disney princesses I grew up watching.
By my early teens I was spending more time with my dad’s side of the family and had learnt about being able to relax my hair. I begged my mum to let me buy a kit and then my cousin relaxed it for me. I finally had straight hair! I remember feeling so happy to be rid of my bushy afro. It’s only since adulthood that I have learnt to appreciate my naturally curly hair. I would always prefer to have it straight and as I got older I got better at understanding what would work best to achieve this. The last time I relaxed my hair I was about 16 and I’m so glad I gave up that habit back then because as an adult I understand some of the damage the chemicals can do to natural hair after prolonged usage.
Something has clicked in the last year or so and I made a conscious decision to embrace my hair in its natural state. It’s taken me a long time to feel completely comfortable embracing the fro. I think this was because I had decided that part of my responsibility as a teacher was to show all of the young girls – particularly those of mixed raced or black heritage – that their hair is beautiful in its natural state and they shouldn’t let anyone put them down because of it. Ethnic hair isn’t represented nearly enough as it should be in society so if I could help to be a representation in the place where they were spending a lot of their time, then it was even more worth it to embrace my curls.
As well as a teacher, I am also a mum of two boys and I believe it to be so important that they grow up and know that having curly hair or a thick afro doesn’t make you rude or over confident or feisty or loud. It just makes you, you. A part of your identity and heritage that you should be proud of. I say this because I know that there are many racial stereotypes of black people. Girls with curly hair or a weave are rude and loud and young boys with an afro or a hint of one are cheeky and probably going to be trouble. O.K, I might be generalising it a bit here but I know that there are these society rules because I have tried to adhere to them myself! I remember a job interview I once had where I consciously decided to pull all of my hair back so it was tied up and put into the smallest bun I could muster. I wouldn’t have done that if we lived in a society where racial profiling didn’t exist. That being said, I am proud of my decision to fully embrace my natural locks so that Isaac will grow up loving his wild curls and Omari will grow up to love his fro.
Since being in a space of reflection I have had to be honest with myself in the sense that I need to learn more about Black British History because there is so much that we just aren’t taught. I call out racism where I see and hear it because I know why it’s important for me to do so but there are times when I don’t quite have the right words to explain exactly why it’s so important that racist derogatory terms aren’t used. A really good book I am reading at the moment by Reni Eddo-Lodge is called ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’. As well as being such an eye-opening read, it has given me such an insight into what it could have been like for me growing up as mixed raced in Liverpool. I learnt of Muriel Fletcher who, in the late 1920s, carried out a “scientific study” about the children born into inter-racial relationships between black men and white women. Essentially claiming that mixed raced offspring were genetically abnormal and there were even talks in this report of stopping the children who were deemed more “black” from going on to have children so that the population could be made pure again. I mean, just wow. And the sad thing is that this just doesn’t even begin to cover the atrocities that were the slave trade, the treatment of the black men who became part of the war effort, the Windrush scandal, systematic racism, and police brutality… the list really could go on.
I spoke with my mum about this part of the book because I wanted to know whether she had experienced any racism just because she had a mixed raced daughter in the late 80s/90s. I could sense that it was upsetting for her to answer but she did recall a time where we had been out and about. She said I was in my buggy at the time and a white lady had the audacity to spit at us as she walked by and then continued to hurl racist abuse at us as my mum tried to hurry away. I know that she would have wanted to confront vile behaviour such as that but wanted to get as far away as possible for fear of me being hurt. I know that it was hard for her bringing me up because her and my dad didn’t stay together. In fact I didn’t even meet my dad until I was about eight. I had this whole other side of me that I just knew nothing about. I mean that in the sense of my identity, culture and background. I think it’s fair to say that my dad, at the time, fit another racial stereotype of being the absent black father. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve gotten older and developed a relationship with him and the black side of my family I am extremely proud to be his daughter. There were however, definitely times where his presence in my life earlier would have made growing up mixed raced a lot easier.
Raising mixed raced boys…
For those of you that may follow me on my social media, you will know that I am now married to a white man who I share my youngest son with. I also have an older son from a previous relationship with someone who is black. Therefore I am already very aware of the differences that my two children may grow up and experience. For example, I know that Isaac will most probably not be told that he has horrible brown skin by a year four classmate. I remember a parents’ evening of Omari’s back when he was in year two and he had been misbehaving – it was only minor stuff, nothing major. Fast forward three years to Tom and I being told at Isaac’s parents evening that he had been behaving in a similar way, I wonder whether he would be described as being “thuggish” and as though he was “swagging around the place” by his teacher…? It wasn’t until after Omari’s parents’ evening that I even considered the language that had been used and how subconsciously there were perhaps hints of racial profiling being used to stereotypically categorise him.
Both Tom and I are aware of the different experiences we have had because of our cultural backgrounds but I don’t think we have spoken as much about race and racism than we are doing now. For Omari, I say that we need to have more conversations but actually we do talk about racism to him because sadly, at eight years old he recognised when another child was making a racist remark to him. So another thing that this movement has taught me is that it is incredibly important to talk to your children, nieces and nephews who are not black about racism.
A call for change…
There is so much more that I could go on to talk about in regards to this topic. However, I am aware that this is already a longer than your average blog so I will finish it here! I think that ultimately it is so important that we learn more, talk more and listen more to black voices. I am so lucky to be surrounded by so many beautiful black people who make up my family and it makes me feel incredibly proud of my heritage. I’m proud of both sides of my heritage.
I really and truly hope that all of this positive noise that is being made about the #BlackLivesMatter Movement (and by more White people too) means that the conversations will continue even when the trends on social media have changed to something new. Another black man has had to be murdered to highlight yet again that racism is a massive problem in all aspects of life and so we just have a huge responsibility to all do better.
We really do have to be the change.
Thank you for reading and as always…
Big Loves xXx