I’m Liz and I am of mixed heritage. My mum is Norwegian and my dad is Nigerian. I grew up in Ash Vale, moving to London when I was 18. London quickly became somewhere I felt welcome. I have done a lot of travelling and lived overseas in Bermuda, Norway and the Cayman Islands. I am a single mum of two who is currently studying counselling, with a hopeful view to a new career and way of life.
Do you remember when you first came to understand that you are mixed race?
Perhaps not mixed race but certainly different when attending the local brownie guide group. There was much excitement from the other girls that they had their own ‘brown girl’ and they used to put me in the middle and walk round me singing ‘brown girl in the ring’. I went home and told my mum. As young as I was I knew this was amiss but I didn’t know why. I believe the reality of being mixed race came into the fore when I came into contact with members of my dad’s family. I was different from white people but I was also visually different to black people.
Did you parents talk to you about your mixed race identity growing up?
No. We (my siblings and I), were predominately exposed to our white heritage with little acknowledgement of our dual heritage, and much in the way of scorn seemingly attributed to our black heritage. I remember subtleties as I would not have understood the deeper implications and I don’t ever recall learning much about my dad and where he was from.
What positive memories do you have from your childhood about being mixed race?
‘Haven’t you got lovely hair’, ‘oh lucky you, you don’t have to tan’, ‘oh you have such lovely big brown eyes’? Actually on reflection I can’t say if this was positive or negative.
What are race relations like where you grew up? Did you experience any racism and/ or feelings of isolation?
We grew up in a place with minimal cultural diversity. Yes I experienced racism. We were called monkeys at school and told to go back to the jungle and swing from the trees. As a young adult I found books from my childhood in which I had written speech bubbles in some of the drawings. There is one that stands out in particular. I had shaded the face of one of the characters in and written in a speech bubble from another character, ‘you can’t play with us because you are brown’. I don’t recall the isolation but on finding these books I realise that there were some deep-rooted troubled feelings within me.
Did you have any difficult experiences with your hair as a child?
I must have been around 13/14 and I was growing out my hair, as my mum had always had it cut short because she didn’t know what to do with it. You know our type of hair tends to grow upwards first! I remember my house mistress chasing me down the corridors threatening to cut my wild, unruly hair which did not fit in with the look of the school!!! I can’t imagine things like that would be able to happen in today’s world (and quite rightly).
Do you feel you have been affected by any racial stereotypes?
Yes especially when travelling. I was racially profiled many times and would expect questioning and baggage searching each and every time. This occurred pretty much without fail. I say the following, tongue firmly in cheek, but there was a certain level of relief post 9/11, tragedy notwithstanding, as the heat on travellers was no longer on those of my ‘type’.
Do you feel more connected to a particular part of your racial identity? Has this changed over time?
I’m equally comfortable with both cultures although feel a more natural affinity toward my black heritage, and yes this has changed over time due my exposure to the different cultures. I travelled to the Gambia as a 25 year old and immediately felt ‘at home’, a feeling I have never experienced anywhere else. A feeling that goes deeper than feeling welcome or comfortable. It was more intrinsic than that.
Do you feel strongly connected to your Norwegian identity?
I wouldn’t say so. It’s a culture that’s hugely familiar to me as we spent most holidays with our grandparents as kids out there, and we celebrate Christmas Norwegian style (on the 24th). Other than familiarity it’s not a culture that I find I’m compatible with, and in fact one I find very frustrating. I lived there for 5 years not too long back and a stand out point was paying the doc a visit and her looking at me, seeing my very Norwegian surname, and making a massive assumption by saying ‘oh you must be married to a Norwegian!’ as though by virtue of my skin colour I could not have a Norwegian name any other way. Also my son attended school there and came home with a book that described an African kid in a way I could only find offensive. I complained to the author and in her defence she said the book would get a rewrite at the next publishing date, which it did, and she posted me a copy of same.
How do you feel about the representation of mixed race people in the media?
It’s getting better but for a long time it’s been token and not reflective of society at large. I would go as far as to say, and not without trepidation, that mixed race people seem to be currently graced with the ‘look to have’ and as such seem popular with regards to advertising and music videos etc.
Does race frequently play a role in your life or are there times when you think of it more than others?
When I am in a predominantly white demography I always feel I stand out in a way I don’t feel elsewhere. I think this is transference from my experiences as a child.
Has being mixed race impacted or affected your experiences and choices romantically?
I feel I was not deemed attractive growing up. I didn’t have much luck with boys in a mostly white demography. This lead to me becoming the class clown/ the joker; the one who poked fun at herself to make people laugh, as that opened otherwise firmly shut doors. Moving to London at 18 everything changed. I suddenly started getting a fair bit of attention from men, mainly mixed or black and this led me to date predominantly the same. Which came first I’m not sure but I have always found mixed guys more visually attractive. This hasn’t made me exclude dating other ethnicities.
Is there anything about being mixed race that has drawn you to work as a counsellor?
I do feel if I had had someone available for me to speak to as a teen things could have been very different for me and I have always wanted to reach out to kids, mixed or otherwise to give them an outlet.
Do you celebrate/ honour your mixed race identity in any specific ways?
No not up until this point, but starting my journey towards a qualification as a counsellor is making me realise that I need to address some latent issues I have regarding my dual heritage. It’s stirring up a lot of things which I feel may lend toward some celebration/ honour of sorts. I am starting to think it’s long overdue.
For more mixed race interviews and social justice updates join: