*Please note this post has racial references/names that may offend some people.
I feel like this is probably going to be one of the most intimate blog posts I will ever write. It isn’t about my children, my husband or my extended friends and family (although it does involve them). This is completely about me. It is my fears, insecurities and my own personal predijuces. People that know me may be surprised by what I am about to write. Others not so much.
My Mum is white
My Dad is Black
What does that make me?
A Nigger or a Honkey?
Or just a fucked up half breed?
Rejected by you
Rejected by them
Who will accept me?
Will someone please help me find my Identity?
© Cherie Lewis-Quinn 1999
I wrote this many, many years ago. Thankfully I feel different now. I no longer try to define myself or others by the colour/shade of their skin. However, I wanted to share how I felt back then and try and maybe work out why. This could potentially be something worth reading if you are raising children who are a different mix to yourself, but then of course it might not be. Not everyone is a drama queen like me.
I remember my first real experience of racism. I was around seven or eight years old. I was playing with some other children, they were all white. I don’t remember why it was said, but I remember the way it was said, it was spat at me with real hatred. When I look back now, I think how sad it is that a child of seven knows how to use such hatefilled words, what must they have been hearing/seeing at home? Anyway, I digress. The child said to me “you look like you have been rolled in shit”. I can’t remember my reaction. I know I asked my mum what it meant and why they had said it to me. I was given a talk about how they weren’t very nice and that it doesn’t matter what colour your skin is – thanks Mum, as always she was right.
I think in a way I am lucky that I remember, I have been fortunate to not have experienced much direct racism, like that. I can think of four or five other incidents and nearly all of them occurred when I was 20, and it was when I moved from Birmingham the second largest city in the UK to a small almost village like place (I won’t name it). If I hadn’t experienced a wealth of direct racism then why did I feel so insecure about myself, particularly my skin colour, that I went on to write that poem. I’m going to explain a little about my life to give you a picture of where those insecurities may have come from.
I am one of four children, I am the eldest. When I was ten years old I learnt that my Dad was actually my Step-Dad. I hadn’t lived with him since I was Seven, we still had a relationship so it wasp a shock and a lot to process. This is where it gets a bit harder to tell the story as this isn’t just my story, but my Mum’s story and my sibling’s story too. I don’t feel like I have the right to disclose every ounce of detail. I will provide as accurate a picture with as little information possible. My Mum and Step Dad separated when I was seven and due to exceptional circumstances my Mum had me and my younger sister, whilst my two younger brothers lived with my Step-Dad.
I asked my Mum if I could meet my Dad and I did. It didn’t work out. We tried for a while to have a relationship mainly over the phone. I don’t know what was happening in his life at the time, but this was not convenient for him. I have only spoken to him once since then, before I got married and to tell him, he was Grandad. My mum has spoken to him, he knows that he now has 3 Grandsons. I grew up with just my Mum and my sister. We were happy enough in our own way. My Mum was a very social lady, I get all my best qualities from her. I forgot to say, my Mum is a white Welsh woman (although no accent as she left Wales when she was 10) my Dad is a black English man who’s Parents or Grandparents hailed from Jamaica. I was very lucky that my Mum had quite a lot of knowledge about my black heritage.
My Mum knew how to look after our hair and skin, she makes the best Satday soup normally with chicken, noodles, potatoes, yam,vegetables and homemade boiled dumplings, it’s so tasty. My mum has always had a passion for reggae music and lovers rock. I grew up listening to Bob Marley (who I didn’t know at the time was also mixed raced!!) My mum can also talk Patwa, the colloquial language used in Jamaica (think of that joke, English man asks for a Beer-can sandwich and gets a bacon sandwich) it’s quite funny to see, especially when she loses her temper and suddenly starts cussing everyone in Patwa, my husband thinks it is hilarious.
After five years my brothers came back to live with us and again due to exceptional circumstances we had no contact with my step father again. We moved to a place called, Handsworth, it didn’t have the best reputation as decades before there had been very bad rioting. It wasn’t that bad. I grew up and threw myself into school, I loved school. We had moved a lot and no matter where we went, I went to school. Once I started secondary school things started to change. First off I went to a girls’ school. It was clear from the first day, that I was different. I had recently cut off my dreadlocks and had a small Afro which I hid under a bright red beret. I wasn’t the cleverest girl, but it was obvious I loved learning and I loved school. I was not a rule breaker. I never jumped the fence to go to the chip shop at lunch time, I never went down by the gates to smoke and I certainly never had a boyfriend. Instead I joined the orchestra, drama club and would often stay after school either in the library or in some extra curricular class. I also went to church a lot. I was a good girl.
My nickname at school other than Chezza the Lezza (kids are so original), was Bounty, I learnt this was because the girls used to say I was black on the outside and white on the inside. These conclusions were drawn because I liked Hanson (remember the 3 boys who sang Mmmmmbop), I didn’t listen to garage or bashment music and had no sense of rhythm and two left feet. I did not like spicy food or West Indian foods such as Ackee and Salt fish, yams and green bananas. I grew up in a predominantly black area where my Mum was one of a handful of white people, although she was so emerged into the culture you would never have known it.
I never felt like I fitted in (teenage angst much, haha). I didn’t feel like I really had any role models. I did like Lauryn Hill, but still felt isolated. Then when I looked at magazines which were mainly filled with white women (or at least the magazines I read were). I would see all these women, none of who looked like me except Tina from S Club 7 and Samantha Mumba, but I didn’t like them I thought they were boring. Whenever I wanted to to find inspiration there was always a problem, the wrong skin, the wrong hair, my boobs were too big, my hips were too big, I didn’t have a bottom (JLo)l… The list went on and on. Slowly, slowly it chipped away at my confidence, yet most people wouldn’t know because the lower my confidence sunk the bigger my ‘personality’ got.
I’m not sure when it changed or if it really has changed at all. Have I really come to terms with the issues I had as a teenager? Or have I just learnt to push them aside and grow the fu@k up? I am a Wife, I am a Mother, but deep down I am still the scared confused teenage girl. Desperate to know who she is. I don’t know if I ever will? I sometime feel like an almagamation of many of the women who have influenced me during my life. This often leaves me feeling like a fraud. Now I know that most people go through their teenage years feeling that they do not fit in due to their sexuality, weight, appreance etc, so maybe what I felt was nothing new and the loneliness was the same as what everyone else was feeing? I don’t know? It’s funny, I have 3 sons. My husband is white, so my children are technically more white than they are black (they have gradually got lighter and lighter), but my genes are strong and they each have something which suggests that they are not completely white.
race is a funny thing. Children often do not see it. Children are not born racist. It is learnt and it is taught. Raising a child of mixed heritage can raise some interesting questions. A prime example of this is my 7 year old thinking that he is a different race to our youngest son because they have different complexions and different hair textures… The innocence of a child. The main thing I do is try to teach my children is that they should judge themselves and everyone else not by their skin colour, but by their intentions, their morals, their actions. I try to teach them, just as we shouldn’t limit someone because of their gender we shouldn’t do it because of their ethnicity and I am glad that I am teaching my children this as it reminds me too. It’s a horrible thing to admit, but I have pre conceived notions about certain racial groups, I believe every one does and we have to actively work to remove and break down these notions. Through teaching my children to see past the skin colour of others I hope that they will see past their own skin colour. Their heritage is important, no doubt about that! To me that means their Irish and Welsh heritage is just as important as their Jamiacain heritage. I am slowly learning about these too. My point is their skin colour/race/heritage is something which helps to shape them BUT it does NOT define them! Their heart, their spirit, their character and their actions define them! I am still learning this about myself. I limit myself in life. Using my past as a scape goat. This has to stop, my children learn more through what they see me do, more than what they would ever learn from what they hear me say.
The last line of my poem, was… will someone please help me find my identity. I now realise I need to stop looking to everyone else. I need to look into my heart and decide who I am and have the confidence to just be ME.
Thanks for reading