We’ve had a brown president in the White House and today, that palest of institutions, the Royal family, is formally admitting a mixed-race girl into its bosom. Wow, just wow.
I do wonder, speaking as a mixed-race girl myself, does this acceptance of colour into one of the world’s oldest monarchies mean that brown people have finally been acknowledged as being an integral part of the fabric of modern society?
It’s funny growing up as neither one thing nor the other, embracing two cultures, two colours and many different blood lines. My memories of being the only little brown kid in a very white part of Kent are not altogether happy. If I’d had a pound for every time I’d been called a ‘Paki’ or been told to ‘go back to where I came from’, it might have made the almost continual racial abuse more tolerable.
As it was, I just had to put up with the other kids’ ignorance and bigotry. Fuelled by hatred and prejudice from their parents or grandparents, their views informed by a predominantly white TV and tabloid press, in the 1970s and 80s no-one was interested when I tried to explain that my dad hailed from Trinidad but also had Venezuelan/possibly Mexican/Mayan and central Asian blood in him too.
Saddled with a funny name, a black dad and the complete absence of anyone in the public eye who looked like me, life was grim. Until I hit teenage-hood that is. Then, almost overnight, my year-round suntan and almond shaped eyes became desirable qualities among the chubby white girls who spent Saturdays applying fake tan from Superdrug and outlining their eyes in kohl.
Being different became cool, ergo I was suddenly cool. It took a while to comprehend the change in my fortunes whereby instead of getting into fights, I was fending off boys while the girls sighed enviously at how just 15 minutes in the lunchtime sun enhanced my goldenness. But while existentially I was now deemed acceptable, inside I didn’t know who I was. Was I black or white or what? Because I knew no other mixed race kids or role models, I had no one to ask.
In a recent interview for Elle magazine, Meghan Markle sums it up perfectly:
‘To describe something as being black and white means it is clearly defined. Yet when your ethnicity is black and white, the dichotomy is not that clear. In fact, it creates a grey area. Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating.’
My mum understood it alright having been spat at in the street for daring to marry a black man, but her whiteness meant that on her own she simply blended in. My dad was buttoned-up on the subject. A properly black member of the Windrush generation who had suffered the ‘no dogs, no blacks no Irish’ mentality, he’d simply had to get on with it.
Meghan has also spoken of the absurdity of those damned ethnic monitoring forms. Do we tick Caucasian, Black, Black Other, Mixed, Black Caribbean? If we’re unable or unwilling to easily put ourselves in a box, why on earth should we have to try in order to please others?
As I have aged and as British society has become thankfully, much more diverse, I no longer stand out, but interestingly I find myself explaining who I am on a regular basis. It begins around April when I go for my first pedicure of the year, exposing my golden limbs and inviting the question ‘oh you’re lovely and brown, have you been away?’
No, I reply. Question two is always ‘is it fake tan then?’ No, I reply. Then said in an almost resentful tone ‘but you’re such a lovely colour!’ as if I’m unfairly withholding precious information from the white girl scrubbing my brown feet.
So being polite, I generally explain my parentage. This scenario occurs regularly until around November when I can wrap myself up in layers once more. I reckon that having a mixed-race princess who speaks so proudly and eloquently on the subject can only help. Come Spring, I may just pull out a photo of Meghan and say ‘like her’ and hopefully end the conversation there.