Diary Of A Mixed Race Mongrel- Anonymousnotyourwife1214
I am the product of a woman who rejected many of the cultural expectations impressed upon her by a strict Sri Lankan (Singhalese) upbringing . Not only was my mother nineteen and unmarried (shock horror) but just to add the final sprinkle of ‘disobedience’ and ‘disrespect’ into the mix – she’d dared to have a child with a Black man. Three whole children in fact. I guess there’s no point in doing things by halves aye?!.
As a result, she has felt the consequences of her decisions ever since because as many reading this will know, for a South Asian woman, choosing to break the mold in order to ‘live in your truth’ can often come at a price. Going against what your family deem ‘acceptable’ is a risk that casts the individual as the ‘bad apple’ of the family or an ‘embarrassment’ who is resented from there on out- and that she definitely was.
It was what it was- until it wasn’t.
The heightened racial tensions that 2020 brought, seemed to break wide open deep rooted identity issues I didn’t know I had as a mixed race Sri Lankan and Vincentian (Caribbean) woman. It’s like they bubbled to the surface . Suddenly here I was , reflecting on 20 odd years of microaggressions and prejudices that shaped how I relate to myself and my identity because I am half Black. Out of nowhere I had the space to confront the question head on; why is there such a deep-seated prevalence of anti-Blackness in our Asian communities? How does it affect a person like me?
I first became introduced to the term ‘minority mix’ during a race and ethnicity lecture while studying social and Cultural Anthropology at university when I was 19. Finally there was a term coined specifically to describe people like myself who are on the periphery of the more common and statistically fastest growing ‘Black and White’ mixed ethnic group. It was a visibility I could appreciate for once..
Mixed race identities have their own complexities. Yet, for myself, being Sri Lankan and Black Caribbean lies another layer of difficulty because…well, I’m limited edition, right?
Very often there’s no one to relate to my ‘mixed race’ experiences. It’s the little things, like having no box provided to tick on forms when it comes to ethnicity, yet you can almost always guarantee the option of ‘White and Asian’ as standard.
Not a big deal of course….but If the default label of ‘Other’ doesn’t make you feel like an alien in this life then I don’t know what will!
I’ve even taken to searching for the hashtag #SriLankanandCarribbean on Instagram (sad I know) – just to see what I ‘should’ look like, what should my features be? What should my skin tone be? How do Sri Lankan do I look in comparison to others? It was fruitless. Further to this, I did try to find some fancy figures for Black and Asian ethnic minorities in the UK for this very piece- but to no avail. It’s as if they just don’t seem to exist. If they do, maybe they are hidden in the ‘vault of shame’ somewhere because the union of Black and Asian just rarely happens .It’s as simple and as sad as that.
I must tell you- feel Sri Lankan.
My mother has done a great job of ensuring I know both of the main roots of my ‘tree’.
Yet there have been many instances where I can say I am not necessarily accepted as Sri Lankan by Sri Lankans because I am ‘mixed’. It’s up for debate as to what I look like ethnically-mixed, Asian or Black. Ironically, the majority of my Black counterparts often can tell but my Asian peers rarely ever ‘see’ me . One common scenario often goes like this: I see person I recognize to be Sri Lankan either by name or otherwise – I establish they are indeed Sri Lankan- I state I am Sri Lankan too- aforementioned person then begins to look quite confused- I then offer up some geographical or cultural knowledge only a Sri Lankan would know or say a sentence in Singhalese- said stranger is in disbelief that this ‘Black presenting person’ really is Sri Lankan – and probably remains as bemused as he was in the conversation ….after we part ways.
Although I have in the past enjoyed the shock value of the interaction I have now stopped announcing my Sri lankanness in this way . After all that effort, the exhausting ritual of trying to ‘prove’ one side of me to be accepted would often leave me cringing with the feeling of ‘imposter syndrome’ anyway and I can’t say it didn’t leave me feeling deflated and rejected.
These feelings became exacerbated after visiting Sri Lanka in 2009. What was meant to be an amazing experience for me and my siblings to see the beautiful country we originate from was tainted by the constant stares, pointing and sniggering for our difference….for our ‘Blackness’ . People gawped like we were animals in a zoo. Nuances of racism I was accustomed to from the UK were now blatant and unavoidable. I had not mentally prepared for the idea that I wouldn’t be embraced and accepted automatically- naïve much? It was a sad eye opener that made me realize, you can feel as part of something as much as you like but if the very people you are looking to recognize you don’t- validation will always be missing. Looking back, what could I expect? In a place where Black people simply don’t seem to exist, not even in media or advertising – I may as well have been a Unicorn.
Funnily, my Sri Lankan born and raised Grandmother’s role on that trip was an interesting one. A memory from that holiday that meant nothing at the time but means everything now, was her beckoning me in from the beach some 100 meters away. “Come in from the shade darling you will get dark”’ She called me like it was an emergency and In her mind it actually was that critical (eye roll).
Another time after a gathering, I found myself beginning to comment positively on a cousin of mine who has the most beautiful dark skin and shiniest hair. The contrast is truly stunning. Before I could even finish my sentence I was being aggressively hushed to the same effect as if I had sworn – the shade of her skin was a taboo that I clearly certainly shouldn’t have dared to be addressed. Thinking back as a child, as a child my gran has at times become frustrated with my hair. My mother has often told me about my gran’s irrational fear of me being born with an afro and her sheer relief that I was not. But what did grow, she found it physically hard to handle and I could feel the inconvenience I caused. She would often tease my brother’s – her grandson – and his hat containing his spiritual and sacred dreadlocks- calling it a ‘tea cosy’. When voting BNP one year, and me challenging this she quipped back ‘ You people have a chip on your shoulder’…I was taken all the way back. When I asked what she meant by ‘YOU people’ she retorted ‘Yes….African American and Black British’. I mean by the very virtue of lumping those two very different Black nationalities / ethnicities together the ignorance was shown.
At its most extreme, I know she’s been privy to conversations between ‘aunties’ discussing if they would ever ‘date a back man’. Sadly, I know that somewhere amongst the gossip, two fingers were jokingly put down a throat to gesticulate ‘being sick’ at the thought- much to my disgust and disappointment.
Despite all of this, my Grandmother loves me dearly -after all, it’s her who affectionately affords me and my siblings the pet name ‘mongrel’- hence the title .
Although not an excuse, I know she is a product of her upbringing which rested on the ideals of the caste system and the notion of the ‘Lighter the Better’. This colorism in South Asian culture is an ideal that is ugly but rife. Obsessions with how to keep your skin fair, light and thus ‘lovely’ have in turn, led to an anxiety towards the opposite = dark and/or Black skin. This has then festered and become an unknowingly adsorbed mentality whereby a person attributes negative qualities to someone based on that Black skin. It needs to be stressed that these are the fundamentals of racism in its raw form . It needs to be stressed further that there’s no place for it in society any more.
This is why it’s imperative that I tackle anti-Blackness by starting in my own family. I am now pushing past my discomfort to educate and correct my Grandmother when she is out of line- which is often. If we don’t start here things will never change.
With respect, our elders need to understand that they are living in today, they are of this time and living in this generation – a generation that wants change. As people of today It’s our job to revise harmful divisive attitudes within our community towards anybody who is ‘different’ . Ask yourself , if you were to bring a Black man home what would the reception be, welcoming or hostile? If the latter, then I implore you to take up this task too for the benefit of our future children. A future where freedom and happiness is completely attainable and love is love-no matter how dark the person is that it comes from.