The word multiracial means to be comprised of more than one race, which is how I have always identified myself. My mother is of Caribbean descent – both her parents were born on a small island in the West Indies called Grenada – but she was born and raised in London. My father is from a small village in Holland called Heino – his mother was German and his father is Dutch. My parents both met in their 20’s many moons ago when they worked together in a shoe shop called Meanies, and thus, several years later, I was created.
Although, I’m very proud of my heritage and all the attributes and characteristics that I get from generations that came before me, it has taken me a long time to get to a point where I can be somewhat comfortable with who I am. In the last decade or so the world has seen a sharp increase in mixed children and adults, and as much as it is not the most oppressed race or the race with the most difficulties, it most certainly has its obstacles.
A recent British research report, “Mixed Experiences – Growing Up Mixed Race: Mental Health and Wellbeing” conducted by Dinah Morley and Cathy Street, suggested that people of mixed race heritage are more likely to suffer from an identity crisis or mental health issues. This stems from a lack of fitting in with one specific race, and a sense of not belonging. A recurring experience that the report noted was people feeling that they were “too white to be black and too black to be white”.
A lot of this self-perception is brought on through others’ expectations of your identity and cultural status. This is very common, and is a confusing headspace to find yourself in, as it means that you’re constantly searching for your place in the world and sometimes within your own family. This report is highly relatable for me as I have experienced a lot of internal conflict over the years, sometimes fuelled by other people not understanding where I fit. As we subconsciously try to pigeon-hole ourselves in terms of identity from a young age, we often forget that others are trying to pigeon-hole us too, whether they realise it or not. Here are a few examples of actual statements that I’ve heard, and actual questions that I have been asked:
- You’re a bit weird looking, but you’re pretty for a mixed race girl.
- I don’t believe that you’re both – surely you’re just one or the other?
- But you’re so pale… I’m pretty sure you’re white. Nah, you’re definitely white.
- Aren’t you considered a half breed though?
- That can’t be your mum, she’s way too dark.
- Seriously though, where are you really from?
- You don’t look anything like your family. You were probably adopted.
- Stop pretending to be something you’re not.
There are a lot of things about myself that I have grown to accept, and love, but I still hear these ill-informed, and sometimes hurtful, comments and questions on a regular basis. I’d estimate I probably hear one of those statements at least one a week.
Sometimes said without any malice, some of the comments are made by those who are trying to understand where you fit in with how they view the world. Sometimes the comments have come from people within my own family. Sometimes it’s just plain ignorance, and gets to be very inconsiderate or very inappropriate, very quickly. Especially those who use the term “half-caste”, without realising the significantly outdated origin of the phrase, and it’s negative connotations on mixed race people.
I am relatively pale-skinned, so to some I may appear to be white. Or have a really, really even tan. My brother is darker than me, and he has the same parents – therefore, my melanin levels are lower, but it doesn’t make me any less mixed race.
I tend to brush a lot of these kind of statements off now, but as a child these had a negative impact on my mental health, and how I saw myself. Sometimes careless or playful statements have the potential to do serious damage to someone who’s young and impressionable and hasn’t truly begun to find themselves yet. As a young girl, with curly hair, big lips and a big rear (before it was made into a popular fad by celebrities) I endured being told who I was by others, being told where I did and did not fit in, what parts of me were considered unappealing, and what parts of me I should change to be accepted. I spent years contemplating getting cosmetic surgery to slim down my “wide” nose, years straightening out every kink and soft curl in my hair as to not have to deal with people questioning me about it, and years defending who I thought I was.
It took me a long time to embrace, but the traditional “English Rose” look of porcelain, symmetrical beauty is not a format I’ll ever fit in to. I still wear my hair straight on days where I feel like a change, or when I have spare time to do something with my hair, but I mostly let the curls flow. And ironically, most of the physical things I was teased about in school are currently fashionable and “in” – so I somehow turned out to have been blessed with my genetics.
Being mixed race is a part of my identity that I’ll always struggle with, but that’s not to say that it’s not become a source of pride for me as I’ve grown. I’ll never stop being proud of the generations of tenacious, fiery caribbean women that came before me, and who fought against unrelenting adversity so that I could be where I am and who I am today. I’ll always be proud of my laid-back, unwavering Netherlands background which gave me my trademark “Kremer chin” and resourceful spirit.
If you’ve struggled with the intricacies of fitting in as a mixed race person remember that you are the only one who is allowed to define yourself, and you should never feel burdened to “pick a side” or succumb to the pressure of fickle beauty standards. I will always have issues with myself and room to change and grow, as does everyone, but it’s important to fight for who you are and what you stand for – even if that fight is with yourself.