Colorism/Shadeism Project

Nia: From Darkie to Lightie

One of the most common statements I have heard time and time again has to be ‘You’re mixed race, you’re just confused,’ and when I think about it, up until two years ago, that statement actually had a degree of truth to it.

I was born in Scotland in 1981 to a white Scottish mother and a Black Nigerian father. Being raised in a City called Paisley back then, the only other ‘coloured’ or ‘half caste’ people I had ever known were my 2 brothers, my dad and a couple of other half Nigerian kids that lived across town. There was no such thing as a black community present and to even see other black or mixed race people was extremely rare.

I have many fond memories of a happy childhood in Scotland, but what tends to stick out in my memory more are the unhappy memories I had and the daily struggles that I had to deal with.

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From a very young age, all I can ever remember was fighting. Fighting to defend myself and fighting to defend my brothers. The way we were raised meant that every time someone called us Blackie, Darkie, N*gger or hit us because our skin was dirty, we could never run home and cry to our parents. If we did, we would get told off. Instead we had to get back out on the street and fight back.

I used to absolutely dread when my mum would send me to the shops because it meant walking past the block of flats where these 3 girls would always be waiting for me… it got to the point where I knew the routine and know what to expect. They would hurl the usual racist abuse at me whilst running towards me with their fists. I would place the cartons of milk on the ground so they were safe (god help me if I went home with a burst carton), scrap with the 3 of them until a passer by would split it up or they got bored, pick up my cartons of milk and hobble home.

I also had a complex about my hair from as young as I can remember. Due to the fact that my mum wasnt aware of the best products she should be using, when she would struggle to put a comb through my dry tough hair, it would naturally just puff out into this huge afro. I was told from day one I had bad hair. Luckily for me, my mum was a dab hand at braiding so I spent most of my childhood days with my hair in braids. I always remember laying in my bed at night times praying that my mum would find me a new dad. A white dad, and then maybe that way I would turn white too, I wouldn’t have dirty skin and I would have beautiful hair.

535933_10151630011344744_244231137_nAt the age of 10, my dad moved us all down to the Midlands in England. Again like in Scotland we were living in a predominantly white area, and I went to a predominantly white school. So again all my new friends were white and I had no black influence in my life other than my dad.

It was in my teens that I really detested being mixed race most of the time. I still had this awful hair that I couldn’t do anything with apart from braid it (which all my white friends called dreadlocks). And to top it off, these same friends were allowed to hang around the streets, have sleepovers, boyfriends, and start going to pubs and nightclubs.

But having the strict Nigerian father that I did, I was never in a million years allowed to do any of these things and my dad would regularly remind me that ‘I’m not one of these useless white girls, I am a Nigerian girl!’

This used to make me so mad because I used to think why did he marry a white woman then if I had to act Nigerian?

Unfortunately my father was very violent towards my mum, myself and my elder brother and we spent many a months in and out of womens hostels. It was over that period that I would hear my mum’s white friends and family members refer to my dad as a ‘black b*stard’. I always remember being astounded by this because in my head I thought, ‘wow if they think this about my dad, surely they think this about me?’!! This was what made me decide that I wanted to have more black friends and be surrounded by black people because they would never say such a thing.

By my early 20’s I had already fully started experimenting with my ‘black side’ more. But when I say that, basically I mean dating black guys and listening to bashment. I had also been introduced to relaxing my hair and wearing weaves at this point. To me I was now a ‘black mixed race girl’ rather than the ‘white mixed race’ that I had been called for so long.

Six years ago I moved to London. To a predominantly Nigerian area. To my complete astonishment, this is where I faced rejection and had the most hurtful comments slung at me. The only difference being this time it was not for my black skin, but for my light skin!

London was my first ever experience of being called ‘lightie’. It was such a contrast from being called ‘Darkie’ when I grew up in Scotland. It was strange though because I found that the black men used the term lightie in a way that suggested I should be honoured by it. For example, when they would say comments like ‘I only go for lighties, I don’t do black girls’. But at the same time, I had comments from dark skinned females such as ‘guys only go for you because they know all lighties are sl@gs’.

I was even constantly reminded by my own boyfriend (who was a full British born Nigerian), that I was a lightie; I was confused, I had no idea about my culture or how to act like a Nigerian woman. But this was the same guy who would be happy to invite all his friends round to our home so I could cook them Nigerian food and take me to weddings/parties and brag how I was half Nigerian…

NNHOn one occasion in front of his friends he was making the usual mixed race digs because I couldn’t speak the Igbo language. I asked him if he could? He responded no.

I asked him how many times he had even visited Nigeria? He replied once – I myself have been 3 times.

I asked him could he cook Nigerian food? He replied no – I can cook many.

I then asked him why does he feel he can make constant digs at me then about not knowing anything about my culture? He simply responded ‘Because you’re a lightie’.

It was also at these social events that I was completely shunned time and time again by dark skinned females. It was very rare that any would go out of their way to even acknowledge me even though I was standing right in front of them. My boyfriend would always laugh and say ‘It’s because you are a lightie’. I never ever found it funny though. It was so uncomfortable. If I ever saw another mixed race person, we would make a beeline for each other. It would be like a lifeline.

In the end I took myself away from those kind of scenarios. I no longer try to fit into any community whether that be black or white. I am no longer ‘confused’. I no longer feel I need to wear extensions to have hair similar to my white friends or to fit in with other black weave wearing women. I love being mixed race. I love everything about the colour of my skin to my thick crazy curls on my head. I never try to be black or white. I am just me. There is no doubt in my mind that individuals will still have their own opinion of me and the colour of my skin in the future. This is not my concern.

Nia x

Instagram @NiaKnowsHair

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/NiaKnowsBlackHair

Blog: http://niaknows.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NiaKnowsHair

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This article has 2 comments

  1. Indi

    wow, thankyou so much for this. being mixed race like yourself and growing up in a predominantly white community, I could really relate to a lot of the things you said. It’s so nice to know there so many other people experiencing similar things and learning to love themselves.

  2. Joshie

    Thanks for this. Your small autobiography was touching and relatable. Unfortunately I don’t have any social networks so I can’t follow you and any more of your articles. Did you try to find a ‘lightie’ community to live in, in the end?

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