Barack Obama Is Not Black

Today, walking through Walthamstow, I heard a mixed race girl say to her friend “He thinks he’s a half-caste though, innit?”

Yet another eavesdropped conversation that’s made me think/ annoyed/ smile. Anyway, it’s had me thinking.

I was born in 1987, to a white (Dutch-Irish) mother and a black (Jamaican parentage) father. They met, aged 5, at primary school. Throughout their relationship, to put it bluntly, they got a lot of shit from a lot of different people on both sides. And I don’t mean little snide comments or gestures. I mean serious racist intolerance, sometimes violence. We are talking about a time at which my Granny witnessed a cigarette stubbed out on the wrist of a woman with a mixed race child. Yet my parents also, let it be said now, got a lot of support- again, from both “sides” (it is sad to be calling black and white “sides”).

For me, being mixed race has almost never been a disadvantage. I grew up in a multi-racial area of London and though I was one of few mixed race children in my school, there were people of various races around me always. There were odd comments- “you’re more on the white side, aren’t you?” but rarely anything hurtful, rarely anything that upset me. I do remember taking that comment to heart, feeling “more white” but not knowing what “more black” would actually entail. I was lucky to grow up with influences from both my mum and dad’s sides of the family: songs and stories, culture and cuisine.

I never felt especially English- I remember trying to draw a “red white and blue” Union Jack and coming up with something unrecognisable, because I didn’t know what it was meant to look like. But Englishness wasn’t a lack, or an aspiration. In Year 4 (age 9) we were told that only one girl in our class was “fully” English and that she probably had some kind of Irish heritage. I still see my nationality as London. I even put that on my (Scottish) census form, so I reckon I’m the only registered “London” and “Catholic (lapsed)” registered in Edinburgh.

I spent a year in Holland as a kid, learned Dutch, was part of a different dynamic. And suddenly I was The English Girl and that felt fine too, despite endless protests that mijn oma is nederlands! Dus ik ben niet eigenlijk engels! (my granny is Dutch- so I am not originally English!)

Secondary was a different kettle of fake tan. Race was something I became aware of and not always in a positive way. I remember it mostly as an issue of defensiveness- “you look exactly like your dad/ nothing like your mum” meant “you are not white” (I actually look quite a lot like my mum.) And friends being called “pakis” was another thing that really enraged me. (“the pakis have blown up America” is still a personal favourite. Ah, 2002…) A friend shouting across a street at a “fucking half-caste” in my presence was also a highlight…

Then there was that brief period where Mixed Race (black and white) =d Cool, on TV etc.  Oh joy!  And oh! the rage of reading “Picture a mixed race child- you probably think of a young white woman pushing a pram…” (Guardian, I swear!)- in an article about the rise of mixed race families and the oh-god-surprise that some of us might be middle class.  (a future post…)

Anyway, through a number of years, I have come to realise that I am actually quite British in a lot of stereotypical ways. Though.. I don’t drink tea, my Granny couldn’t care less about Queen E, weather doesn’t stress me overmuch. And I have yet to eat toad-in-the-hole, veggie or otherwise. I just caught the self-deprecating humour and the awkward manner. And the drinking, of course. I feel enriched, and not only through my own culture but through others’. I don’t think it’s an experience unique to mixed race people, at all. Nor even to Londoners.

Quick point: when Halle Berry accepted her Oscar my mum said “if that was you, calling yourself black, I’d be like… what?!”. I think language needs to embrace more possibilities than it does…

Why am I writing this? As usual, I have little idea. I am just reacting to an old-fashioned term bandied about between young people.


Yet Another Eavesdropped Conversation

…that makes me wonder whether I am the sanest person on earth.  Names have been invented.

Setting: Hospital waiting room.  I am waiting for my Granny and shamelessly eavesdropping.

Girl:  How comes Rachel has such a big nose?
Dad:  Jewish innit.
Girl:  But her sister doesn’t and she’s Jewish too…
Dad:  Yeah well… she might have a different dad.  I dunno.

Girl:  Why’s that man got that hat on?
Dad:  It’s their religion innit?

[He goes on to describe a “frisbee thing” and a “sort of swimming cap” that go under the man’s hat.  I have still to work out what on earth he is on about.]


Two Orthodox Jews walk in, unbelievably timed.

Girl:  Why are they dressed so funny?
Dad:   Shhh, don’t be rude.  They might be Amish.

Please note: this was in a very multicultural part of East London.  I think, from my eavesdropping skills, that they were from the area or not far.  What the actuall feck is this all about?  I was in pieces trying neither to laugh, nor cry.

Eavesdropped Conversations That Annoy Me

1.  In Uni Cafe
Girl: I mean, if you’re a lesbian, you shouldn’t have toys.  You gave that up when you made your choice, know what I mean?

2.  On The Tube
Girl: This is my best friend, and this is my gay best friend…

1.  What choice, exactly?  Among many other things I could point out.
2.  Would you say “this is my black best friend”?  (for example).  Also, is this a friend or a token/ trophy/ fashion statement?


Longer rant later, I feel.  Needed this posted, please reply with equal annoyance if the urge strikes.

Daily Absurdities

The Uni Medical Centre

Options.  Year of Birth

How on earth can you hvae been born in no year?  I assume that they want you to answer NONE, in order that:
1) The world explodes like when you google Google.
2) You are taken in immediately because the chances of your answer being true make you a medical miracle.3) The Vatican can be informed (see entry on biblical literalists)
4) Your mental health can be brought into question.

These are the only possibilities I can think of.  I desperately wanted to click but the prospect of (1) was a bit alarming.

Eavesdropped Conversation

A man in Boho Cafe the other day. 
“I mean, I don’t drink wine.  But if I do, it’s gotta be good wine, know’t I mean?  And if it’s not I’ll maybe just have one glass”

“I mean…I don’t eat in restaurants unless they’re family owned.  Unless I’m with the kids, then I might go to a chain.  The other day, y’know, went to a restaurant, family owned place, took a punt… it was reasonably clean!”

I plan to stop wearing earphones forever, life is too funny to drown out.