My mother is white and my father is black, making me a delicious mix of the two. I grew up in a single parent family, my dad was never around much. You might think that being raised by my white parent would leave me with a big gaping hole where my black heritage is concerned, but in fact it was quite the opposite!
Until the age of 9 I was raised in the multicultural hub that is Camden in North West London, like my mum was before me and her mum was before her. I never understood the term ethnic minority because I was definitely the majority. My mum grew up with friends of all different ethnicities and so did I. This meant that my mum had a different frame of reference than most white parents of a bi-racial child. When she went to hairdressing college she was taught how to treat and style Afro-Caribbean hair, not as an extra but as part of the required course. She was and still is well versed in island cuisine and I developed an immunity to chilli at an alarmingly young age. In London nobody batted an eyelid at seeing my mum walking along with me holding on to her hand because it was a completely normal sight. Bi-racial children and adults were everywhere, and I don’t just mean black and white, I mean true diversity. There was not one person I knew that could claim a purely English Caucasian heritage, not even my mum who will proudly tell everyone who listens about the rogue Frenchman on her mother’s side and the group of escapee Russian Jews on her father’s side.
The problems arose when we moved out of the city and into the nearby county of Hertfordshire. I hated it immediately. I was a city kid, and the sudden influx of nature burned my eyes. I turned up at my new primary school and assumed that they had accidently placed me in the wrong year because the kids seemed so young. Needless to say I was the only child of colour in my class and 1 of a single figured group in the entire two tier school. For the first time in my life I felt different. For the first time I noticed the differences between myself and my white family members. I stood out now and there was nothing I could do about it. Instead of not knowing how to be black (which is what would have made sense been as I was raised by a white parent), I didn’t know how to be white. This was an issue that I would face until I turned 18 and left Hertfordshire for University. Over the 10 years, I did everything to make myself fit in. I straightened my hair, kept the talk of my London life to a minimum and just generally tried to ignore the fact that my skin was a different colour. Now, I do need to make clear that these feelings were brought about by me. I have a fantastic strong group of friends who I was pretty much attached at the hip to from the age of 11 to 18 and who I am still best friends with today. None of them ever treated me differently, not once. They didn’t see me as different, but that didn’t help, I still felt it.
My mum has been and always will be an incredibly supporting and loving parent, but she never understood how I felt because to her I wasn’t different at all, and not just because I was her child but because of the way she grew up. It was pretty much inevitable that she would have a bi-racial child because she was the one living as the ethnic minority. She even told me that before I was even a twinkle in her eye, whenever she imagined her child/children they were always mixed, they were never white.
At the age of 14 my mum became a foster carer. Over the years we’ve had many children come and go but there have been a few that have stuck around. One of these is my now brother Dolapo, who is Nigerian. Having him around really helped me to accept myself the way I was and stop highlighting the differences between me and my peers. It also helped my mum understand me for the first time because the feelings I couldn’t vocalise he could. Now I’m older and slightly wiser I realise what I should have said to my mum all those years ago, and what I would like other parents of bi-racial children to remember.
Always react to your environment! By this I mean there will be places where your child will fit right in at first glance and there will be other places where they will stick out like a sore thumb. It’s important that you react to this and give your child the support that they will need in that particular environment. If they suddenly want to change their hair or start wearing make-up that’s 3 shades too light for their skin tone then there is a problem, then you know they feel different. In this situation it’s more important than ever to remind your child that they are normal and that they are beautiful just the way they are!
"Always react to your environment! By this I mean there will be places where your child will fit right in at first glance and there will be other places where they will stick out like a sore thumb. It’s important that you react to this and give your child the support that they will need in that particular environment."
- Lauren Riley