I have a white mum, and a black dad. I’m proud of that, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. But finding my pride was a journey for me - one that was heavily influenced by travel.
I was raised by my mum in the creative metropolis that is South London. London is ridiculously diverse, and so my race rarely came into question unless we went to the countryside or abroad, when people occasionally asked about our relationship out of curiosity. In London, the general consensus growing up was that if you’re mixed race, you’re pretty much black. For me, this felt totally intangible. I had no idea how to be black – no one taught me. I didn’t know what it meant. After a while, I started feeling like a fraud.
The older I got, the more I got asked ‘what’s your mix?’ For a long time I lied about where my dad was from, seeing how much people believed me if I claimed to be North African, or South American, or even Polynesian (you’d be surprised how many people I fooled).
Then, my teens hit. Having an identity crisis when you’re a teenager is pretty much a given. But for me, my school years saw me pendulum between groups of peers, desperate to fit in and be accepted without feeling torn. I’d go from purposely surrounding myself with black and ethnic minority peers, convinced this was where I belonged – to realising that I was trying to be someone I wasn’t.
I felt like I was stuck between two cultures; not quite fitting in with my white family, but unable to truly connect with my black heritage. Constantly picked on for pretending I’m white because I speak ‘posh’, but also consistently ‘othered’ by my white peers. It felt like all my other mixed-raced friends had picked sides: they either ‘acted’ white or black. For me, either one of those felt unnatural.
The pivotal point for me was when I moved to France. I went from going to a highly diverse class to being one of about 10 people of colour in my entire school.
I was paranoid about losing the one sense of connection I had to my black heritage, but instead I thrived, and began to wear my mixed-race identity on my sleeve. The older I got, the easier it became for me. I became more and more comfortable in my own skin, and realised that the way that you act should have no correlation with your skin colour. I instead turned my attention to what it meant to be a woman of colour in Europe.
Spain, France, Denmark, Berlin – the more European countries I went to, I realised there were pockets of blackness everywhere. These black and mixed communities in Europe had created their own identities, with a beautiful mishmash of cultures, that they exuded with a sense of pride. I could relate so much to these groups, where two cultures coincide to make an entirely new hybrid culture – in this case, Afro-Caribbean and European. I heard the term ‘Afro-European’ or ‘Afropean’ tossed about growing up, but it wasn’t until I visited more European countries that I realised that’s exactly what I was.
Being Afro-European gave me a ridiculously firm sense of identity. It was a proud mix of Caribbean heritage and European traditions. The best part? I knew I was part of a huge community of Afro-Europeans who felt the same way. Eating jerk chicken in Neukölln, discovering BAME art in Denmark – all of these experiences made me realise that you don’t have to pick sides. You can celebrate both sides of your culture in the same place.
I’m Afro-European, and I’m proud.