Race isn’t something I’ve talked about a lot here, although it is a topic I really enjoy writing about and base a lot of my university work around as a journalism student. Today, I want to share a little bit about my experience as a mixed (black and white) woman growing up in the United Kingdom. More specifically, growing up in a predominantly white area.
In my twenty years of living, I’ve learnt a lot about race. I know what it feels like to not belong. I know what it feels like to want to change yourself. And I know what it feels like to look in the mirror and hate what you see. However, I also know what it’s like to look in the mirror, after years off self-hate, and fall in love with your skin.
This post is one of the hardest I’ve ever had to write, but it’s also one of the most important. It’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for a very long time, but whenever I put pen to paper my mind goes blank. This Black History Month, I’ve made it my goal to share a small part of my experience as a bi-racial woman growing up in a white area.
For the first eighteen years of my life, I lived in Devon. As lovely as Devon is, it’s one of the least cultured places I’ve ever been to. Of course there are a few black people dotted around (myself included) but for the most part, it’s a heavily white area. Growing up, I was one of the only black kids in my school. If I had to take a guess, I’d say there were maybe about ten of us between all seven of the year groups.
Without really knowing or understanding, I grew up resenting my blackness. My hair especially. I wanted nothing more than to have the long, straight, beautiful hair my friends and family had. Instead, I had to contend with unruly, frizzy curls and my disdain for it only grew as I aged. The problem was, I was the only person around with hair like it. It became a sort of novelty. I can’t count the number of times people would ask if they could touch my hair or even do it without my permission.
Honestly, my hair was my biggest insecurity as a child. When I was maybe ten, I remember buying myself a blonde wig from the local toy shop in the hopes that I could look like everybody else. It was around this time that I began to see things differently. I looked at the people around me and realised they looked nothing like me. I was the odd one out. Of course I knew that I was black and they were white, but I’d never thought anything of it until then.
Suddenly, I wanted to change everything about myself. I didn’t want my brown skin or my 3c hair anymore. I didn’t want the things that made me stand out from my peers; All I wanted was to look the same as everyone else. For a very brief period of my life, I wished that I was white.
Looking back now, it breaks my heart that I ever felt like this. Of course it wasn’t purely down to where I lived. If I’d grown up in a more culturally diverse area, there would still be many elements of my appearance that I disliked. I live in London now and to this day I still hate my natural hair. I wish that it was something I could embrace but sadly, it’s not.
It’s taken years of self-reflection, but I finally feel good about myself and my appearance. I no longer hate the fact that I’m ‘the odd one out’ in my hometown because I’ve come to accept and love the skin I’m in. I still have a long way to go, but I am on the right track.
My skin was my second biggest insecurity growing up and it’s now my favourite thing about myself. Yes, there was a time in my life that I didn’t understand anything about race and I wished that I could just be white like everybody else. Now, I’m completely happy with my skin and if anything, I’d actually like to be a little bit darker.
Unfortunately, my hair is still an issue for me. I do prefer to keep my hair straight and find it easier to maintain this way. Hopefully one day I will feel confident enough to embrace my natural hair, but for now I am happy with the way I look and I feel like that’s enough.
Leticia J Collins x