‘This is my brown friend.’ I thought they weren’t overtly racist, so they couldn’t BE racist.’: Woman details growing up mixed race

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“I had a privileged and happy childhood. I have never feared for my life because of the color of my skin, so I’m not going to compare my experience to Black lives. But ‘Blackout Tuesday’ sparked some difficult conversations I’ve had with myself, and those close to me, about racism.

My mom is English and my dad is Indian. My cousins on my dad’s side of the family are all mixed race too. So, to us it wasn’t unusual, and race was never really an issue—nor was it a subject discussed as potentially being one. But this week, I felt sad, angry, and guilty, as though I’d finally woken up to something I was in complete denial about. I’d always considered myself proud of my heritage, but I realized I was actually doing a lot of things to hide who I was.

Courtesy of Danielle Prendergast

I grew up in a mostly white town in a mostly white friendship group. I always knew I was ‘the brown one,’ but we all treated it as a running joke. So, at the time, I wasn’t aware of the effect it had. ‘Hey brownie!’ ‘This is my brown friend,’ or, ‘Hi, I’m the brown one,’ was part of our everyday language.

‘It’s OK, because you’re not one of ‘those,’ other friends would say when racial slurs were used around me. Strangers would ask me, ‘Where are you from?’ If I responded with the UK town I was born in, it became, ‘No, where are you REALLY from?’

On one occasion at a bus stop, an elderly lady even specified, ‘No, I mean where are you from because of your color.’ I was so used to comments like this; I brushed them off as part of life. I believed because they weren’t overtly racist, they couldn’t BE racist. ‘People are just interested,’ I’d think. ‘That’s just how things are. I’ll make it awkward if I argue.’

Courtesy of Danielle Prendergast

‘My mom’s white and my dad’s Anglo Indian,’ I’d say. Quickly followed by, ‘So, they’re all Catholic and speak English,’ as if it made it more worthy.

I could never find a foundation shade which suited my skin tone, and it made me think I must have been weird. I decided lighter was better than orange, and I thought it looked better anyway. I wished for straight hair—mine was so thick, the only thing that would work was the clothing iron. Before school, I’d scrape my hair in to a skull-tight ponytail with lashings of hairspray.

I was sitting in French class once, and the boy next to me said, ‘Yuck, do you shave your sideburns?’ I was mortified. I did, as it goes, because I was despised by the hair. I’d also shave, pluck, and wax my eyebrows, trying to get them to look like my friend’s did, or like any of the people I saw on TV. I’d lighten my hair with at-home kits, and it’d end up orange.

Courtesy of Danielle Prendergast

When my white friends got their noses pierced, I joined in. But I swiftly took it out again, because I decided it made me look ‘too Indian.’ On holidays, I’d make sure I didn’t stay in the sun too long, so I didn’t get ‘too brown.’

When my daughter was born and her skin was fair, I struggled. I’d always imagined my baby would look just like me, and when she didn’t, I found it difficult to process. I felt really, really guilty for struggling with this and couldn’t voice it to anyone, because I felt like a terrible mom for even thinking it.

Courtesy of Danielle Prendergast

On top of this, her skin tone was one of the first things people would comment on when they came to meet her. ‘I thought she’d be browner,’ or, ‘She’s not very brown, is she?’ I’d also hear, ‘Disappointing, huh?’ or, ‘She’ll probably tan really easily, though.’ I was constantly feeling obligated to explain her to others.

It dawned on me, as a child, it was the norm for me to assume people wouldn’t think I was my mom’s child because I was brown and she wasn’t. I realized the reason I was struggling with the difference between my and my daughter’s skin tones was because I didn’t want her to feel like I did. Like she always had to explain. I had a good cry and apologized to her, because she is, of course, perfect. I wouldn’t change her for anything.

Courtesy of Danielle Prendergast

What I’ve learned? I should never have justified comments about her skin tone with an explanation. I should never have responded to, ‘No, where are you really from?’ with an explanation. I’m going to make sure she is proud of and celebrates all parts of her heritage.

If you have friends who are Black or a person of color, and you haven’t had a chat about racism yet, do it. It’s uncomfortable and awkward, but cathartic to get it out in the open and confront what’s happened and what needs to change.

No parent is perfect, and you don’t have to explain your child’s appearance to anyone. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. If you can relate to any of my story, forgive yourself and allow yourself the time you need. You’re doing great.”

Courtesy of Danielle Prendergast

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Danielle Prendergast. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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