Mixed Up is a weekly series that aims to shine a light on the highs, lows, joys and contradictions of being mixed-race.
We speak to the hugely diverse mixed population to find out exactly what it’s like being part of the UK’s fastest-growing ethnic group.
Having access to more than one cultural reference in your immediate family is an incredible privilege, but being mixed also comes with a unique set of challenges and, occasionally, conflicts.
We dig below the surface, beyond outward perceptions and stereotypes, to get to the heart of the mixed-race experience.
Cherise Silavant is a newly graduated professional. A turbulent few years at school left her questioning her place in the world, but now she’s happy to embrace who she is.
Picture by Jerry Syder for Metro.co.uk‘I am a mix of mixes. My mum is from Barbados, St Vincent and Guyana and my Dad is from Mauritius and Ireland,’ explains Cherise.
‘I think being mixed-race means everything to me now that I am comfortable and confident within myself, but it has not always made me feel this way.
‘For me, being mixed without a white parent is even more challenging, especially because my dad is sometimes mistaken as white because of his fair complexion.
‘People expect my dad to look like Mr T, like some big, black guy, but he really doesn’t. It leaves people confused, it even left me confused.
‘From a young age I struggled to understand how to love myself or even understand who I was. I didn’t know how I should feel in certain situations or how to deal with the negative stereotypes being thrown at me.
‘But as I have got older, that has become easier. Now I know how to embrace myself, and where to place myself in the world.’
Cherise only graduated from university last year, so her education is still fresh in her mind.
The school she attended in a small village in greater London was a minefield for racial tension, and Cherise often found herself caught right in the middle.
‘My school was majority white – I mean like 95% white. But then in the sixth form there was a total switch and it became 95% black.
‘In my year, there were only eight black and mixed-race girls and maybe 10 black and mixed-race boys.
Little Cherise with her mum (Picture: Cherise Silavant/Metro.co.uk)‘In the early years of school, all my friends were white and I remember one of my friends at the time used the N word – I want to point out that I wasn’t there when she said it.
‘She was confronted about it by three girls from the self-named “black girls group”. I stood up for her, not because I agreed with what she said, but because she was scared and her friends were silent.
‘After this argument, everyone asked me to pick my side. They said I could only be on one side.
‘I found this was a message that I would hear again and again while I was growing up, as people always expect mixed-race people to be either white or black. One or the other.
‘In later years at school I become friends with the other black and mixed-race girls.
‘We were all labelled with the “angry black female” stereotype, but the main stereotype I faced was the “rude lightie”. It was mad. We weren’t invited to the cool kids’ parties, we weren’t even invited to our school prom after party.
‘School was a pretty racist environment to grow up in.
‘The boys in our year would do a “Black vs White Fight” at the end of every half term. The boys who were mixed-race would have to pick their side. It would just end up being a huge brawl with all the boys – based solely on race.
‘For loads of the boys, this would genuinely be the highlight of the term. It was crazy, it was like something out of movie which you would never relate to real life.’
Cherise doesn’t know much about her dad’s side of the family. She hasn’t visited Mauritius or Ireland yet, so much of the history and her family’s place in these countries remains a mystery to her.
Her mum’s side of the family have always been much more hands-on. As a result, Cherise feels a deeper connection to both Barbados and Guyana.
‘My family is incredibly proud of its heritage,’ she explains.
Cherise with her mum and sister in Guyana (Picture: Cherise Silavant/Metro.co.uk)‘There were periods where my sister and I would stay at our grandparents’ house and they had memorabilia from Guyana and Barbados in every corner.
‘I feel like I majorly relate to my mum’s side of my heritage more than anything. Mainly because my grandparents on my mum’s side always looked after my sister and I.
‘After my grandparents moved back to Barbados they really made the effort to keep in touch and to keep me informed about my heritage and history.’
It’s something she appreciates. Having spent much of her childhood feeling adrift in terms of identity, learning about her heritage has been crucial in forming Cherise’s new sense of belonging.
But it hasn’t been entirely simple. Even those within the familial ranks have made comments to Cherise that have made her feel inadequate in one way or another.
‘I have no white family members, but even despite that, I have had relatives tell me that I am acting too white or too black,’ she tells us.
‘”Cherise, you need to cream more, you’re not white,” they would say.
‘But when I got to the age of finding what works for me – and I will always refer back to my hair journey for this – I would wear my silk bonnet before bed and they would say I was acting “too black”.
‘It was difficult. It made me feel like I was being rejected by both sides.’
Mixed-race people are often shouldered with the burden of justification. The constant expectation of explaining ‘what’ you are and where you belong.
Not only can this persistent questioning of your identity cause you to doubt yourself, it’s also just really exhausting.
Cherise at graduation with her dad (Picture: Cherise Silavant/Metro.co.uk)‘I have wasted time and energy convincing people I am not the “typical lightie” – with the resting bitch face. Or that I am not an “Oreo” – white on the inside,’ says Cherise.
‘I was scared to attend the Black Girl Fest event, or even to sign up to my university’s ACS (Afro-Caribbean Society) because of how I thought people would perceive me. I felt like I wouldn’t belong.
‘I felt like in these spaces, I was getting stared at, I was anxious.
‘I had friends telling me that I only get attention from people because I am light, or people would say I thought I was better than them because I was lighter.
‘Now, I love being who I am, but I never did before.
‘It is a struggle to be accepted by both white and black people, you feel stuck.
‘This has definitely informed my identity, and I want people to understand that mixed-race people are marginalised too. It took so long to even get my own friends to understand that mixed-race people also suffer at the hands of racism.
‘We are a minority within an even smaller minority and not many people realise this.’
Cherise with her nana (Picture: Cherise Silavant/Metro.co.uk)‘Entering the professional world last year has exposed me to another realm of racism,’ says Cherise.
‘I have been laughed at in two job interviews when talking about my dissertation title, which was focused on whether contemporary Britain is a post-racial society. I was even asked why did I study race at all?
‘Thankfully, I have found a platform that celebrates the minorities working in PR – BME PR PROS – otherwise I feel like I would have lost my mind.
‘Being mixed-race isn’t about being either or. But so many people want to label you in this way.
‘Why is it so hard to simply celebrate the complex but beautiful mixed heritages of individuals?’
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