‘I Would Never Say I Was Black, That Shuts Off Half Of Me – That Half Is My Mum’
Welcome to Mixed Up, a series looking at the highs, lows and unique experiences of being mixed-race. Mixed-race is the fastest-growing ethnic group in the UK.
It means your parents hail from two (or more) different ethnicities, leaving you somewhere in the middle. In 2001, when the ‘mixed’ categories were first introduced to the national census, mixed-race people made up 1.3% of the population.
For many, it’s about occupying two identities simultaneously, reconciling the differences and trying to carve out a space to exist between the two. The mainstream understanding of being mixed-race most often refers to people who are white and black
But the voices of the mixed-race diaspora extend far beyond this. Mixed Up aims to elevate those voices, look deeper at the nuanced realities of being mixed-race and provide an insight into the inner workings of this rapidly growing ethnic group.
Lauren Douglin is an actress and writer who now lives in London, but she says growing up in an almost entirely white community affected how she saw herself.
Lauren’s dad is from Barbados and her mum is English, but for most of her
‘There were little moments that really stuck out to me. One time, I must have been about 10, and I was staying at my friend’s house, we were doing each other’s hair. And at that point my hair didn’t really grow, people used to think I was a boy because I had a full-on 1970s, Michael Jackson afro.
‘My friend’s mum had let us use her curling iron, and I remember the mum saying to my friend – “don’t use it on Lauren’s hair, she doesn’t need it.” And I was just confused.
Now I look back and I’m like, yeah, obviously, don’t come near my hair with the heat – but as a child it just felt like I was being excluded from something fun. It didn’t really click in my head at the time that there was a clear reason why I couldn’t use the curling iron, and that I was different to my friend.
‘It didn’t properly hit me until I was at college. It was such a white dominant town, so in the college canteen we had this corner which we called the “ethnic corner” – and it was where anyone non-white would sit during lunch break.
‘It sounds kind of bad, but it was a self-named thing, and anyone could sit there if they wanted – but generally, all the Asian kids and the black kids would gravitate towards each other and sit together.
I think that would happen because of a sense of shared knowledge.
‘My dad and my brother used to play this game in my hometown called, “spot the brother” – and they would see how many black men they could nod at. It’s just the recognition of like – I see you – and I think the same kind of thing was going on at college.
‘You just knew that at lunchtime you could sit with this group of people, no one was going to ask me which parent is the black one, no one was going to question what I had for dinner or ask what ackee and saltfish are, no one was going to question my “tan”.
‘It made it a safe space. We could just talk about college work or gossip about dating, or whatever, without any underlying prejudices or awkwardness. It just didn’t matter what you looked like.’
When it comes to identification – Lauren is firmly somewhere in the middle. She doesn’t believe it’s a case of having to choose white or black, it’s possible to be both.
‘Growing up I never fully appreciated that I was “mixed”, which meant there were different “sides” because I lived in a house of all different shades but we were still one unit.
‘I grew up in a predominantly white town so you could say I could have identified more with my white side, but we visited my Bajan grandma and family regularly, so I still had a solid diet of macaroni pie, rice and peas, chicken and flying fish.
‘I still had one black and one white parent, so as their child I identified as a Douglin. To me, picking a side meant picking a parent, they raised me together and I love them both so I was just one of them.’
As an actress and aspiring writer, Lauren is keen to see more mixed-race stories on mainstream platforms. She’s put pen to paper to make sure that happens.
I’ve written a screenplay – it’s a TV pilot. I started it four years ago – and it was just a bit of a splurge at first, an exercise in getting things out of my brain.
It started as sketches about being mixed-race. One of the sketches was based on a true story – I was out in a club. I was waiting to buy a drink and this girl was like, “oh my god your hair is so nice, can I touch it?” and I was like, no”
‘When I turned around she put her hands in my hair and pulled it. I span around and said, “what are you doing?!” she said, “It just looked so soft and fluffy, I had to touch it!”
‘I grabbed her hair and yanked it and said to her, “it’s just so dead straight, I had to touch it!” I got escorted out, and she got to stay in the club. Which is classic. ‘So the script started with moments like that, and then developed into a story.
And now I have two production companies reading over it, so
We’re the fastest growing ethnicity on the planet – my cousins are white, Portuguese and Indian. So where are our stories?’
There are certain expectations that come with being mixed-race or non-white. Expectations about background, class, taste in music and fashion – but not everyone meets those expectations. And that can be difficult.
‘For a time in my late teens, living on the South Coast of England, I felt maybe I wasn’t “urban” enough, as I didn’t own a tracksuit or speak with a certain accent. But I
‘Recently, I was on my way to film a web series and a guy called me a “piff lighty” – and I had no idea what that meant, it had to be explained to me.
‘I think as mixed-race people, we’re often
‘There doesn’t seem to be any nuance within people’s perception of us. People don’t look at us and think, oh she could be a doctor, or a scientist, or someone who has four kids, or someone who has a child who’s in a wheelchair.
‘You don’t hear any of those stories, you just see an image, and I think that’s why it’s important to get the different stories out there, so we don’t just become a percentage, or a stat, or an image on a poster.’
Representation is so important. It helps you frame your aspirations, set goals and decide what you can achieve. For mixed-race
‘During the research for my screenplay, I found loads of mixed-race people – particularly women – who have made history in different ways but have just been called black the entire time.
‘There was a woman called Lilian Bader, who was mixed white and Bajan, like me, and she was one of the first women to ever work on a WW2 jet. But she was called a black woman, but she wasn’t, she was mixed.
‘I think our generation now is more open to calling themselves mixed-race, whereas for years it was easier to call yourself
‘So there has been this historical erasure of mixed-race trailblazers who were wrongly
Lauren thinks it’s really important for people to embrace their identities for themselves, and not settle for a label that other people give you.
The only perception that truly matters is your own. ‘I’m proud to say that I’m mixed-race – I don’t get rowdy about it that often, but I would never say that I was black, because to me – that shuts off half of me, and that half is my mum.
‘For me, being mixed-race is about embodying different cultures, different heritages, being worldly without having to go anywhere. And when it comes to other people – Lauren’s advice is simple – just keep your hands to yourself.
‘I like talking to people, and I like when people ask me
‘I love talking about how long it takes to wash my hair, and why, and things like that – I think it’s better that we ask those questions and learn from each other, rather than just making assumptions. ‘So people can ask me about my hair all day long – just don’t reach out and grab it!’