Being ‘white passing’

Rebecca Lynch – Sunday 14th March 2021

I look white. Most white people can’t tell that I am mixed-race, black and mixed-race people often can tell. People are often intrigued about my ethnicity, am I Spanish or Italian, they ask. No, I’m not. I am a mix of Irish and Nigerian. My Mom (I’m a Brummie, we say Mom) is my mixed-race parent. She doesn’t know anything about her heritage, she was born to a white mother and a very surprised, white, stepfather in the 1960s. She has four sisters, two older and two younger who are all white. My Mom was raised in a white family and has no connection with her black family at all.

This has always felt odd to me, I felt like a part of me was missing, that I didn’t truly know who I was. As a child I wanted to fit in and be like my friends. I first highlighted my hair blond when I was 11, I always wore my hair straight. This became a challenge as I got older, my Mom struggled with doing my hair which eventually led to me going to a hairdresser every week for a £5 wash and blow dry. My family wasn’t well off, but my Mom did what she could to make me happy and if that meant a weekly trip to the hairdressers then she made it happen. As I grew older, I embraced my natural hair colour and eventually my natural hair. I still wear it straight but I’m comfortable wearing my natural curls as well.

I had always wondered about my heritage, it felt too personal to explain to people why I didn’t know my background. There was a stigma attached to not knowing parents and grandparents, but as I grew older, I realised that the actions of two adults back in 1960 isn’t my responsibility. I was still left curious though. I had spoken about this a lot with my partner, and being the kind soul that he is, he ordered a heritage DNA kit one Christmas. This is when I found out that my heritage was mostly Nigerian and Irish, with a bit of North African, South Asian and Inuit as well.

Being a ‘white passing’ mixed-race person has afforded me privileges but also comes with different challenges to those who are obviously mixed-race or black. I haven’t had racist abuse directed at me, and as far as I am aware, I have never been held back professionally. In this sense I am extremely lucky to not have to endure racism. My experiences are subtler and often very uncomfortable. There have been many occasions in my life where racist comments have been made in my presence. People view me as white and therefore feel okay to refer to a group of people with the N-word, to spout their views on lazy, ignorant stereotypes and general utter nonsense. These scenarios are incredibly uncomfortable, do I stand up and challenge these views knowing that the person already hold racist views? Do I remove myself from the situation? Will I put myself in danger by speaking up? I must be honest and say that for the most part, I have walked away. Unsure of the reactions I will face if I speak up, it is easier to walk away and avoid that person or persons in the future.

I work in a school which is incredibly diverse, from the student body right through to the leadership team. The first line of our Trust’s motto is ‘Strength through Diversity’, and it is evident all the time. I feel at home in my school, our pupils are diverse, our staff are diverse. When I talk to my pupils about my heritage, they’re interested but never shocked or horrified. We often find shared backgrounds, and this is great for building relationships. Our pupils are accepting of different ethnicities, races, and religions and many of them are mixed-race. I can only hope that one day, wider society will be as kind and accepting as my pupils.

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