To “fall between two stools” was an idiom I learnt in a Saturday school I attended as a young child. The school was called A.C.E (Afro-Centric Education) and we focused on learning about the usual historic events taught at my regular school but from black perspectives (as we were pretty much all children of non-British origins). I couldn’t have been older than 10 years old at the time, but it was a line that resonated with me then and remains with me today. For those not familiar with the concept, “to fall between two stools” means never quite fitting in to either category that you are supposed to – or at least that’s what it means to me.
Coincidently, the best way for me to explore my personal experience of this concept is to do so through the three academic stages of my life- primary school, secondary school and university. Each stage giving way to very different thoughts, feelings and emotions on the idea – a point in itself worth noting.
As mentioned in my ‘Things I Would Tell my Younger Self’ post, I went to a very multicultural primary school. It was (and still is) situated in the heart of the Cardiff docklands which holds immense historic routes of sailors who came and went from all over the world; often leaving behind the product of a multi-racial union. Therefore a large majority of the children I shared these years with were also mixed raced. In primary school it honestly didn’t really cross my mind that I was “black” or “white”, I was just mixed race like the majority of my friends whilst able to identify with the black and white ones equally. Of course, I was aware that my skin was the colour it was because my mum was half Fijian and my father Maltese but I didn’t ever (as far as I can remember) feel the need to identify with a specific label. Of course it’s important to keep in mind that at the tender ages of 5 to 11, your racial identity and exploring the perfect adjective to describe such is often not at the forefront of your mind.
In secondary school, I was one of a very small handful of non-white students in the entirety of the school. This school is situated in a middle class, predominantly white area so it was no surprise that this was the case. Having come from a very tolerant, mixed school it really was quite a culture shock that I was now in the minority – getting picked up on things that I thought were normal such as the way I wore my hair, the colour of my skin or the fact that my grandparents were different colours to me and each other. It was during these years that my racial identity was tested. Having never really been in an environment where I was part of a minority I struggled with identity. Being mixed race in the combination that I am, I find it easy to identify with those from black or white communities but often this is not reciprocated.
I’ll ever forget one Monday morning in year 7. Having attended a birthday party the Friday prior, the girl who’s party it was said (totally innocently with no malicious intent whatsoever) that her parents thought I was “really nice for someone, you know, your colour.” To be honest, no I didn’t know what she meant but the sheer lackadaisical manner she dropped this thought provoking bombshell in made me stop and realise just what she was getting at and what the thought processes of my peers apparently were. It was at this point that I accepted I was different to them and they were different to me – a revolutionary point in my racial identification journey.
From this point on I started to realise that in my predominantly white school/ friendship group, I was the black girl – a label I was not yet familiar with. I was the one with the difficult hair and darker skin tone (when my girls weren’t fake tanned!) I was the minority. It was in high school that I think I really embraced my ‘blackness’ because of the way I was regarded by my peers. I almost subconsciously tried to live up to the label that was given to me by them whilst at the same time still holding on to my white side in order to ‘fit in’.
My University experience couldn’t have been more different to that of high school. Going to a University just outside of London, there was already a very multicultural student community and there were a large majority of international students most notably Cypriot, Nigerian and Malaysian. I became friends with some of the Nigerian girls on my course as like minds and interests brought us together. Whilst getting my weave done by one of the girls, little (again not malicious!!) comments made me realise that although I was still the same person with the same parents and same mixed background, I was now regarded as the white friend! Comments such has how “I had good hair” (like ya girl Becky) and didn’t need a weave solidified the new label that had be bestowed upon me. I had the same epiphanic reaction to that of that Monday morning in year 7 only with the opposite realisation.
Having matured and ‘found myself’, I have become comfortable in who I am by accepting all the facets that make me so. I have almost reverted back to my primary school mind-set with regards to my racial identification. I am mixed raced. My mother is half Fijian/half Irish and my father is fully Maltese, making me a melting pot of backgrounds; making me me!