I make no secret of the fact I don’t really know who I am. Why should I? I am still in my twenties and this time in a person’s life is the time to figure out who you are, what you want to be. Then try to make it happen. Fine. Good.
There also people my age and younger than myself who already know all of these things about themselves. Also fine. Also good.
I struggle with a lot of things. I second guess my decisions, I worry constantly to the point of anxiety that just holds me frozen and I miss opportunities I later come to regret. I beat myself over these things but much later on I remember that I am still in my twenties and I don’t know a lot of things. I can make mistakes and that is ok. Then I beat myself up about not being perfect. It is a vicious cycle I can’t seem to break.
I am pretty mixed. In fact my race is so mixed it surprised people a lot when I tell them. Except, there is one tiny detail that I leave out – my father’s contribution to my mixed heritage. I leave 50% of my race out of every single explanation I give to people about my background.
My reasons are sometimes justified (I think). My father hurt my family. His actions were deplorable and far less than what any person would think of a man and led to consequences that now over 20 years later we are only just coming out of. The hurt he caused us is something I have never been able to forget. I don’t hate him. Not anymore. He isn’t even worth that. I just hate what he did and what we had to go through in the years to follow. All of that pain I attribute to him.
So I erase him in the only way I know how and that is from my self. I don’t want to even think about his DNA being part of me, how people complement me on the dimples in my cheeks which I got from him, how I rub my ear for comfort because rubbing his was the only way I could sleep when I was a little girl. I don’t want to think about any of it.
If I am honest though, my father isn’t 100% the only reason I erase half of my race. It is also fear. When my sister and I were little girls, the Warrior used to take us on the (horrendous) travel to the island where she originally comes from. At the time, we had to stopover in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris before catching the long haul flight. It was brutal for us so I can’t imagine what it must have been like for a young, single, woman travelling with two young daughters. I remember her giving our passports and boarding passes to the staff at the ticketing gate so we could proceed down to the ramp and onto the plane. The woman there took an age to get this done. She must have looked at our passports and tickets 20 times or so. When she finally let us through another staff member from the airport and security were standing on the ramp waiting for us. They stopped the three of us and asked the Warrior question after question. Where was she going?Who were the children with her? Why was she going to the Island? Where was she from? Did she know these two little girls with her? Where was she flying from? How did she know these children?
She was confused. Why did they keep asking her if she knew her own daughters? What on earth was going on?
And then she got it. The question the explained it all: “Why are your surnames Islam?”
It was, of course, her married name. She kept it after the divorce because she wanted to have the same name as her two children in case she found herself in a situation where she had to explain why her name was different to those of the girls she was flying with. It happened anyway so she needn’t have bothered keeping it in the end.
That was the first time I really thought something was wrong with me. There was something different about me – about us that didn’t fit in with her. And I remember feeling very scared. Scared that someone was going to take me away from my mother and sister because something was very wrong. It might have been irrational but I thought every single time we flew from then on that someone was going to take them from me.
After that came 9/11. The Iraq war. Extremist psychopaths. An immigration crisis. Donald Trump. Countless more terror attacks, including in my home city with the 7/7 bombings. My God, I have seen so much hate as I have grown up over the years.
There has been love too. Lots of hope and life and happiness. I’ve never felt more patriotic than I did during the London Olympics or when Prince William got married (we got drunk on Pimms that day watching the coverage on TV).
But then, of course, there has been Brexit, social mobility is an absolute joke, the government are shamelessly working overtime to privatise the NHS and the BBC and racism and hate crime is on the rise at an alarming rate. Things are uncertain and it is terrifying.
And it is also the reason I don’t tell anyone my father’s race. I don’t want to see that sort of uncomfortable shift of the feet and the awkward “oh” that comes out of their mouths like I have suddenly transformed into some kind of leper or a hateful prick who will start to randomly kill them and anyone else in the vicinity.
I changed my surname aged 18 to the Warrior’s maiden name. Flying has certainly been easier. Maybe it’s my paranoia. Maybe flying is just easier for me now because I am older, confident or because my ethnicity isn’t very clear. They certainly look at my picture 100 times at passport control but I am always waved through (except for one police officer on my mother’s Island who wanted me to speak French to him to prove my mother was from the Island. That was fun for my first time flying without a parent and my sister almost bursting into tears on the other side of the border).
Maybe it is fear. Fear of not wanting to be racially profiled every time I want to go on holiday. Maybe it is fear that people will see me differently. I have essentially thrown away half of my racial self because I am afraid of it, I am afraid that it will hurt me in some way – professionally, socially…emotionally, I don’t know.
There are lots of little things that I embrace about my cultural heritage but none of them tether me to that part of my background enough to let it be a part of me. I can’t even write down what my father’s race is in this post. That would make the identity that I am trying so hard to erase from myself real. I can’t even tell you what his surname was.
The surname that I never wanted to be mine.