I am one of those people who gets to tick the box on forms that says ‘White-Asian’ or something thereabouts when describing my ethnic origin. I’m a mixture of Thai and English with some Burmese, Scottish and Irish thrown in there too.
I am also incredibly fortunate in my life that the instances of racism I have encountered have been few and far between. Being told by the local kids, when I was of primary school age, that my skin was “poo coloured” or “dirty” stung a bit at the time. But, all terrible, racist things that happen in this world considered I’ve got off very easily.
In fact, I have had instances in my upbringing where I have forgotten my skin isn’t white.
At my Catholic primary school, at my middle class, private day school in Norfolk, white skinned girls prevailed. And because I very rarely encountered anyone with different coloured skin, let alone someone as diversely mixed as me, I forgot about what I looked like. At home, I had a very British upbringing, Enid Blyton books, more contact with my English relatives rather than my Asian ones, English was the only language spoken in the house etc.
So I was to all extents and purposes I felt very English, I embraced that white, middle class Englishness and moulded my perception of myself to that. It would in fact be a shock when I ever stepped back and considered what I must look like to an outsider. It would a jolt to my senses when I realised that to anyone looking at me and my friends, I would stick out as the one with brown skin in a sea of white.
It was really only once I went to university and more so later when I moved to London that I became really aware of my differences, because suddenly there were a lot more other people of varying backgrounds. Watching white friends from deeply white, English, middle class backgrounds try to hide their discomfort walking around multi-cultural areas of London, because they are for the first times in their lives in the ethnic minority, really opened my eyes.
In London I am more aware of my physical difference because of the variety of people from a range of backgrounds living here.
On the one hand it is great that I attended schools where I was never made to feel ostracized in any way.
On the other, I feel much freer in London. I no longer get sudden thoughts that I’m the odd one out and when I picture myself, it’s as me with all my colouring and the occasional non-English quirks (seriously a spoon and fork is just a much more practical way of eating, people). This is because I see people from all sorts of backgrounds every day so subconsciously, I guess, I have become more accepting of who I really am.