Understanding who I am and where I belong.
My personal experiences of being from a Mixed ethnic group.
As a part of Black History Month 2021, I am inspired to share some of my personal experiences of being from a Mixed ethnic group, and how I feel it has impacted me throughout my life so far.
I don’t feel like I’m from anywhere. There isn’t a country or place where people with Mixed ethnic backgrounds naturally originate. I was made by two lovely humans who happened to originate from different parts of the globe.
Because I’m not from a specific place I also don’t know where in the world I would naturally fit in — socially speaking. I feel too White to be considered Black, and too Black to be considered White. I’ve never really known what my culture is or how Mixed ethnicity groups might culturally appear to the rest of the world.
I was born and raised in the UK, but I’ve never felt like I was completely at home here. Being from a mixed ethnicity group in the UK has brought challenges. I’ve experienced microaggressions, racial stereotyping, prejudice and social exclusion. I’ve also felt like I haven’t been able to explore and embody my Caribbean culture fully— unless the behaviour I displayed was aligned with stereotypical, accepted ideas of what Black people are supposed to be like.
I’ve felt sad in my life about being unable to trace my Black ancestral history back beyond the point of slavery. I’ll likely never know what my ancestral family name was, or where my Black ancestors came from before being shipped to the Caribbean islands to work. Being unable to trace my family history has left me feeling stunted in my Black cultural identity. It’s like having two legs, but only being able to stand on one of them. I know I have a Black cultural heritage within me, but I don’t feel able to access or express it because I’ve felt so disconnected from it.
I also felt like I wasn’t beautiful for the majority of my life. Being raised around a eurocentric view of what is “beautiful” meant I was comparing myself to a perspective that didn’t align with anything about me. I felt like my skin was too dark. My bum was too big. My hips were too wide. My nose was too flat, and my hair was too frizzy. This unhealthy distortion of my self-image created so many difficulties in my life when I engaged in intimate relationships and made decisions from a place of having little to no self-respect, self-acceptance, self-love and self-validation.
This is probably a strange example, but still, it was an experience that gave me a message that being of Mixed ethnicities was going to limit my choice and opportunities in life.
I was in Middle School. There was a talent show. The Spice Girls were all the rage at this time and my friends and I wanted to recreate one of their songs for the show. I remember feeling forced into agreeing to be Scary Spice because we had the same skin colour and hair texture. I didn’t want to be Scary Spice — I wanted to be Posh Spice, but my desires at the time were less important than my physical resemblance. I remember feeling hyper-aware that my skin colour would be a factor in what people thought I was capable of doing. I’m very rarely aware of my skin colour when in social situations, but experiences like this remind me that I am different in appearance from the majority of people around me and that looking different can lead people to make assumptions about what I like, want to do, and can do in life.
Acceptance is found within.
I like scented violas.
Now imagine a scented viola was capable of having a conversation and someone said to it.
“I can see that you have both light and dark purple as the colour of your petals, but you have to make a choice about which one you want to identify with.”
Can you imagine how difficult it might be for that flower to choose between which shade of purple it wants to express from within itself? It’s natural for the flower to express both shades — without concern about how the other flowers might judge them. I found that I am very much the same.
As I began to explore the conditioned thinking I had around who I should be I realised that of course, I could accept my ethnicity as being Mixed. I didn’t have to try and fit myself into being predominantly White British or Black Caribbean. I am whole as I am.
Once I saw this for myself it felt like the most natural thing in the world to just express my Mixed heritage. I stopped trying to convince myself and others that I have to choose which bits of myself I am safe to express and instead express what feels good in the moment.
Being in a Mixed ethnic group feels so good to me now because it kind of has a cultural feel of its own. It’s a bit nomadic — in the sense that Mixed ethnicities do not have a geographical place we can call home so we make our home wherever we are. We also have a natural insight into at least two cultures and can experience first-hand how these cultures can exist harmoniously within us.
I’ve found that accepting myself as being in a Mixed ethnicity group has encouraged me to see that I exist in life beyond my cultural identity. I have a deep appreciation of diversity and can see that all our differences reflect the one truth of us being a part of life as a whole. When we can see that there is nothing inherently wrong with any part of us and that who we are is a natural form of life, we can see that truth for everybody. Regardless of how they appear and choose to express themselves.
Lots of love, Shaneen x