I Lied About My Ethnicity to Fit in at School

I love being mixed race, I tan with ease and never suffer sunburn. I am a combination of two completely different cultures. My ‘foreign side’ will always make for good conversation and I don’t have much trouble matching eye shadow and lipstick shades to my skin.

I wouldn’t consider myself as ‘white-passing’ — being POC but being able to pass for a white person — although, I do know that I experience the same privilege as people that are.

Nowadays people even pine over the idea of ‘mixed babies’, the fetishisation of mixed people is so common and completely normalised.  I’m regularly told that I’m lucky to be ‘mixed’.

Ironically when I was younger I would have done anything just to fit in with my white peers. The ‘privileges’ that come with being mixed race were unbeknown to me, as my race was just something that set me apart from the majority of children in school.

If it wasn’t for my peers at school I don’t think I would have given my race or ethnicity a second thought

My mum is part Guyanese and my dad is fully British. My household doesn’t give away any clues that it’s lived in by anyone other than pure-blooded Brits (well, aside from the plethora of West Indian hot sauces tucked away in the cupboard). As a family, we aren’t in touch with our Guyanese roots whatsoever and I think such a detachment from your origins can really cause some identity issues in later life.

If it wasn’t for my peers at school I don’t think I would have given my race or ethnicity a second thought during my youth. In my mind I was the same as all the other children in Primary School. However the defining moment was when another boy pulled apart the outer corner of his eyes to make fun of me. Confused, I brushed it off (clearly not very well, considering the memory is still embedded in my mind).

Fast forward to Secondary School, where I began declaring that I was half Spanish to anyone who asked. Spain was not some exotic, far away country — not like Guyana; so I knew that I could blend in just fine with this newfound ethnicity.

Some people thrive on standing out from the crowd; but my chubby, 12-year old self wanted far from that.

I vividly remember admiring a group of black girls in my class from afar. I envied how they embraced their culture and identity so effortlessly and shamelessly. Why couldn’t I do the same? How could I possibly embrace a culture that I — nor my family — knew anything about?

One of my earliest (and not quite so fondest) memories of Secondary School was during my first music lesson. My white, male teacher was handing out pieces of paper and upon reaching me he said:

“Jenny Edwards? You would expect that kind of name to belong to a tall, blonde woman.”

I have no idea what he intended to gain from that comment, but I also know that he likely meant no harm – though how harmless was it if it stayed in my mind for so many years? Should my name match my skin tone, and be more exotic?

As shallow as it may seem, in later life, I found comfort in discovering celebrities who were also part Guyanese. Considering I had never met anybody in real life from Guyana, just knowing that there were other people out there like me made me feel better. I came to realise how important it is to have people in your life that share the same ethnicity – for me, anyway. Despite growing up with white people and having predominantly white friends, I still experienced this unexplainable ease and sense of belonging when with POC.

I do still receive the dreaded questions: “what are you?” or “what are you mixed with?” as if I was conjured up from a cauldron, though curiosity is natural. I just feel that people perhaps need to learn how to tackle this loaded question a little more tactfully, that’s all.

As I got older, I realised that I wasn’t so different and being a little different isn’t so awful anyway. I began declaring that I was Guyanese to anyone who asked. I soon realised that the number of people that found my ‘foreign side’ interesting outweighed the people that found it ‘weird’.

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