All her life Melan Magazine contributor, Debbie Best, has been asked, ‘so where are you really from?’, and being judged ‘not black enough’. Born in West London in the 70s, which was a rich melting pot of cultures, she was raised by her dad, a single parent from the age of three. She writes about her experiences of being a person of dual heritage and what it means to her.
As I get older, I have been pondering these questions more and more, ‘What does it mean to be black British from a dual heritage perspective’? ‘Where do I fit in!’. Okay, so we’ve established that I’m dual heritage. Black Caribbean and white British. I’m not offended by the term mixed race, but I dislike it because as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t give me an identity. My heritage could be from anywhere and I want people to know where I am from, because I am proud to be who I am. I know dual heritage doesn’t really offer much more of a clue, but I just prefer the term [I chuckle to myself].
It’s very confusing, even to me. Not surprising really because ‘confused’ is a term generally thrown around to describe a mixed race person, particularly those with Black Caribbean and white British backgrounds, even more to those who are perceived as not being clear about their cultural identity. The term coconut comes to mind, a term I’ve heard used to describe both mixed race and black people, when they are being perceived as acting white.
As a young girl, I danced around the room with a towel on my head, which I visualized as being long, blonde and silky hair, but in reality underneath that towel was my thick, dark curly hair that my dad would grease with Vaseline on a regular basis. Conversely, for years I wanted a short back and sides-style hairstyle, just like my white Irish friend and neighbour Maria, but every time I asked for this hairstyle, my dad would reply ‘Your hair is not like Maria’s’. I never really got why, despite it being quite clear the differences in our ethnicity, I simply didn’t notice this. Another memory that comes to mind, is when our white neighbour had parties and played brown girl in the ring, I was always called to the centre as they sang and danced around me in a circle, and I loved it [chuckling to myself at the memory]. But again I didn’t really notice any differences.
As an adult, I do struggle with people’s prejudices and often wonder where their perception of what it means to be black stems from. Some of the comments I’ve heard and experienced personally are, for example, people referring to other black people as being white because they don’t like carrot juice or corn meal porridge! I have been told that my sister is ‘blacker’ than me even though we’re both practically the same complexion. Please don’t get me started on complexion, that’s a story for another day. I didn’t challenge the comment, but I can only assume that the person viewed my sister as such due to her character. Do I need to say more? I think it speaks for its self.
I love traditional foods both Caribbean and English, am I any less black or white because of that? To be honest I don’t care and those that try to determine where I fit in, based on their prejudices are more likely, in my opinion to be the ones with identity issues themselves.
My skin colour seems to baffle people and when they can’t place where I may be from, I get asked if I am White, Brazilian, Egyptian, Indian, Moroccan, Spanish, Filipino etc! Some people go one step further and start to address me in their language assuming that I understand what they are saying. I am never offended by this, rather I embrace it. I see people as humans before I see their skin colour.