August 17th, 2020: Monday Musings Blog Post #3:
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Written by Lydia Baggaley; IG: @bib_uk
It’s Okay Not to Know
"I've been having a bit of an identity crisis lately. Throughout my life I’ve been confused about my race. It was always there in the background, that question in my mind: What am I?
When I was little, I viewed myself as ‘tan’. That was what my mum told me after the little white girl asked me what colour I am, after they couldn’t find my colour in the box of pencils. I was happy with this for a long time. Not knowing about my heritage. Not knowing that it was bad to secretly hate my hair and my skin - I didn’t recognise it as anything other than normal. So I was ‘tan’. Distinctly not white. But in a small town, where anything other than white meant being regularly asked if you were a tourist, I wasn’t distinctly anything else either.
In year 5 though, a boy called me a racial slur - ‘blackie’. Suddenly I wasn’t tan, but black. And he didn’t make it sound like a good thing either. When I told my non-black friends about this experience in my all girls high school, they said, ‘but you’re not black’. I pretended for a while that it felt good that they said that. I didn’t know at the time that that’s a microaggression many mixed race people go through. Now I recognise it as my experiences being invalidated.
Later on in high school, when I moved to an all girls school for sixth form, I got called black more. White people would drop it in the middle of a conversation - “you know you’re black right”. I began getting different microaggressions daily. Suddenly, before I was anything else, I was black. Just a skin colour.
It’s tiring having to argue every time you meet a new person, just to tell them how you identify. When talking about this to monoracial people, I often get told things like, ‘It’s fine, just speak your truth’ or ‘just be brave’ or ‘your skin colour isn’t all you are’. But actually it can feel like that, especially when you’re the only person of colour in the room. It’s tiring having everyone else tell you what you are, before you even have the chance to figure it out yourself. But while I hate the labelling and the box ticking, it’s also easier to let other people figure you out. This is part of the reason why I tend to identify as black, as well as mixed race: the categorisation society puts on people like me.
I’m not ashamed of being mixed race. But guilt also isn’t a big enough word to cover the feelings of someone who looks like me. This light skin privilege. Not being able to respond to a racist comment, with that feeling of having to defend the entire black community, while wondering if you can ever really measure up. But where I live, I don’t go out into the world as a white girl half the time and a black girl half the other. People see what they want to see. And that tends to be black.
I also identify as black out of pride now too. It’s taken a long time, but I finally love the colour of my skin, as well as my hair. I’m surrounded by so much white culture and have lost so much of my black heritage, that calling myself black feels like honouring that. When I say it, I am telling the world that I love my blackness, and the black culture I long to find. Because it’s weird, someone asking what your heritage is, and after you tell them, you can’t say anything else. When they say, ‘So do you visit your family out there a lot?’, ‘What’s it like over there?’, ‘What’s the food like?’, ‘Is the music different?’, ‘What language do you speak?’...and I don’t have any of the answers. So calling myself black is me holding on to that. I’m not really a fan of ‘half black’ or ‘a quarter black’ because I resent the idea that my blackness could be cut out of me through simple halving. I’m not some angel delight cake. I am mixed. I am moulded together.
However I still live in a very white area. Sometimes I wish I could be darker skinned, because I worry that when I go to Jamaica, or I meet more monoracial black people, I’ll be told that I’m not black enough, and that I’m actually white, and this whole identity crisis will start again!
Honestly though, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. Maybe it’s good to reevaluate and check in on yourself throughout life. My racial identity will probably be something that changes through my life, and may depend on the groups of people I’m with. And I’m okay with that.
To any other mixed race people out there who are struggling with identity, just know that it’s okay not to know. Being in the middle can very much feel like floating in limbo. But you don’t have to have all the answers just now. Especially if you’re young. Just know that there are millions of other mixed race people who get you.”