Biologically I’m mixed – White & Black African is the box I tick (I remember a time when there wasn’t a relevant box for someone like me).
I didn’t grow up with any white family, my parents are both black, my siblings are black so naturally my affinity leans towards my black heritage.
My heritage is Ghanaian, and I consider myself Black British.
I love my cultural dishes (Ghana Jollof rules!) and am just as happy with a roast dinner (extra Yorkshire puddings please!) I grew up in a predominantly white area and was one of very few people of colour at school.
I was acutely aware I was different, was deeply self-conscious and grappled with my identity (which most teenagers do, it just becomes much more layered when you add in race). My name was “foreign” and I straightened my hair to fit in (after comments about planting potatoes in the rows of my braids, or kids hiding pencils in my afro).
I internalised a lot of shame.
I was a bookish child and read the works of Martin Luther King and Malcom X as a teenager – I’ve always been engaged on the conversation regarding race. I’ve been subjected to many stereotypes, which usually have their basis in prejudice and form everyday microaggressions: “You aren’t too black” “Your hair isn’t too afro” “Ooh I’d love a caramel baby” “Mixed race people are confused” “Wow you eat our cultural foods” I’ve personally found that trying to put people into a box and societal constructs are the cause of confusion (if any).
Comments like this can come from both sides. I’ve had people make deeply racist comments to me steeped in colourism as they presume my family wouldn’t have dark skinned people in it. I notice how I’m treated when I’m with a group of white friends as opposed to a group of black friends.
It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I’ve reconciled my early interest in racial topics with my personal experience.
I used to think I didn’t have much to bring to this conversation as I hadn’t been subjected to overt racist abuse, but I grew to understand that the many microaggressions I endured in a predominantly white environment reinforced the idea that I was not the ‘norm’ and therefore somehow inferior.
That I didn’t need to assimilate but could rather just be, that I could wear braids to work or my afro and it didn’t make me less professional.
That I can embrace more than one culture and that I don’t have to choose.