Recently I was lucky enough to be contacted by BBC 5 live in regards to a series they are doing on diversity in the UK (please see the video above). 50 years ago, the Race Relations act outlawed discrimination on the “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins” in public places. The focus of this series is to see whether, 50 years on, discrimination and racism still exists within the UK. Having spoken openly about my experiences of growing up mixed race in the past, I jumped at the opportunity to discuss this with a larger audience. Read on to learn more about my experiences of discrimination, and listen in on our conversation!
At the start of this year, I started a colorism/shadeism project which allowed followers of my blog to share their experiences of discrimination within their own race due to the colour of their skin. As a mixed race woman, I soon realised when sharing my own experience that I had actually experienced prejudice and racism from both black and white people, as I explained in my ‘Mixed Girl Tag’ video (below).
Sharing my experience was very therapeutic for me, as I feel I have reached a point where I truly love myself – something I didn’t feel when I was a child. Have a look at a quick run down of my life in pictures to see how times have changed:
My dad and I when I was just born, 1992. My father, Austin Amendo, came to the UK in 1988. He and my mother, Helen Looker, had me, but I have no memory of them ever being together when I was growing up.
My mum and uncle at my christening later in 1992. I spent most of my time with my mother when I was young and was inseparable from her. I had two christenings, one in an English church and one in a Nigerian church. I think this perfectly exemplifies the divide I felt between my African and European family, leaving me awkwardly in the middle.
Here is a picture of myself and my granddad. My mother and I lived with my grandparents throughout most of my childhood and teenage years. As I saw my grampy daily and my father – at most – once a week (until my siblings were born and it became less frequent) I saw my grampy as more of a father figure.
I think this picture and the picture below speaks a thousand words. This was taken on my 2nd birthday. Although I really enjoyed seeing my father, I was much more comfortable around my mum due to being with her every day…
…as you can see from this picture.
1995 when I was 3 years old. As you can see, I was very happy at home with my mum, nanny and grampy. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if you mistook me for a boy in this picture; as my white family had no idea how to handle thick Nigerian hair, my hair was kept short.
1996.As you can see in these pictures with grampy, when I was taken to the local ‘black’ hairdressers, I would have my hair braided; if not, it was scraped back into a small ponytail. No one in my house knew what to do with my hair, so when the hairdressers closed down and a teacher at school (who often braided my hair during lessons… questionable), left, I was left with thick ‘unmanageable’ hair that soon became matted.
For quite a few years in my childhood my hair was left matted. The whole of the back of my hair was clumped together, and as my grandmother and mum would attempt to brush it when dry, I would cry and scream whenever anyone tried to touch it.
This went on for many years. My hair was dry and messy, as you can see in this picture with my cousins. Around this age, I began to feel like I was different. I spent most of my time with my white family and at a predominantly white primary school, and the fact my hair and skin colour differed from my peers became more and more apparent to me. Around this time I experienced racism in school. I distinctly remember being told to ‘go back to Niagra, you paki’ – a completely inaccurate but nevertheless extremely hurtful statement that confirmed the fact I was an outsider.
When I was 11, we finally found a hairdresser in Walthamstow who could comb through my matted hair (it took 4 hours!) and my hair was quickly relaxed. Relaxing (or chemically straightening) my hair made me feel like I fitted in – finally I had the straight manageable hair I desired! In secondary school, my go to hair style became canerows at the front and straight hair at the back as you can see in my year 8 school photo.
In secondary school I socialised with a lot more black people. Although the friendships I made were completely genuine, on reflection, at this point I started to over-compensate and desperately tried to get in touch with my black side. This meant at first awkwardly using slang I was unfamiliar with in a desperate attempt to fit in.
My friendship group outside of school also shifted. Although I remained friends with my white friends at school, spending more time with my black friends became of greater importance to me. This is an odd and quite unpleasant memory to reflect on – at the time I almost felt like I should be seen with black people, while socialising with white friends was odd.
It was only once I went to university that I really began to accept myself and where I came from. Many of the friends I made were also of mixed heritage, so I finally had others I could talk to in regards to the feelings I had growing up.
On top of this, I joined the cheerleading team. Although the team was predominantly white, colour was never an issue, and I made many life long friends.
By the time I graduated in 2013, I could finally honestly say that I loved myself and both sides of my heritage equally. Meeting other mixed race people and realising that I didn’t have to choose sides helped me a lot. Also, leaving my hair naturally curly rather than chemically straight truly helped me to accept myself for who I am.
It feels amazing to say I am finally at peace and proud of my racial identity. It was a long journey, but I feel stronger having come out the other side, and I also feel privileged to be able to share my story. Please watch my video for BBC Radio 5 live shorts here, and listen in to my interview here (starts at 3hr 39 mins).
With love from London,