Guest Post: ‘Finding a home – The mixed race experience’
Written by Saara El-Arifi (she/her)
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“I want to go home.”
Five words I would repeat to my mother day after day. I was twelve, unsure of the significance or catalyst of the phrase, just knowing I had to voice it. We had just relocated from the skyscrapers of Abu Dhabi to a small town outside of Sheffield. But it wasn’t just the drop in temperature that shocked my young heart, the plethora of cultures I was used to had reduced to one single hue: bone-china white. I was lonely.
Loneliness is an unwelcome companion to the mixed race identity. Our genetic and cultural diversity mean that no one mixed race upbringing is the same. And it is in those unique experiences where loneliness breeds. Both my mother and father were of mixed heritage, splintering my genetics further. I am Ghanaian, British, Sudanese, Yemeni and Turkish. I am all of those ethnicities, and yet I am also none of them–welcome to the scene from stage right: incompleteness.
I will never be Arab enough, or Ghanaian enough, or British enough. So where do I belong? My passport says United Kingdom, my skin says Black, my heart says everywhere, my mind says nowhere. But there is freedom in these fragments, there is choice. And choice can eclipse all negatives from the mixed race experience.
First, let me get into the phrase ‘mixed race’. It distils the vibrancy of many cultures into one phrase. But unlike the distilling of a liquid ‘mixed race’ doesn’t feel more potent to me. It dilutes the significance of each ethnicity and suggests a binary of racial purity. The term was first introduced in the 2001 census where 677,000 people identified with the phrase. Ten years later that figure had more than doubled. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number to have doubled further with the 2021 census results as more people acknowledge that racial purity is rarer than we think.
There is also the instinct across popular culture to position the mixed race identity alongside whiteness but it is my North and West African heritage that are the most prominent in my genetic code. My dark skin labels me as a Black woman without the privilege my sliver of Britishness has given me. But how colourism intersects with the mixed race identity – including how lightness is fetishised – is a conversation for another day.
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Now back to choice. I wear many labels: Black, PoC, mixed race, West African, Arab, queer, author, wife, cat-mother. It is a freedom to carry around the many pieces of me. Some days I identify more as an Arab, others West African, even occasionally British, but most of the time all of them. It is in that fluidity that I find joy and I thank my ancestors for the life they have given me.
Secrecy and love are entwined in the roots my family tree. I’m a product of a long line of couples who boycotted the social norms of their time: Christians married Muslims, Black wed white, oceans were crossed, marriages concealed, and children hidden away. I too have gone on to diversify the gene pool further, wedding someone so different to me in culture and upbringing, continuing the path my ancestors laid for me. Choice is the ultimate liberty.
“I want to go home”. Still those words haunt me. I would repeat the phrase over and over until the words became a low, breathless, drone. “You are home,” my mother would say, and she was right. I was indeed in our 1950s built home just outside of the Peak District. But it is only now that I realise I wasn’t talking about the physical manifestation of ‘home’, but the metaphysical. I was lonely and felt incomplete, looking for an identity that I didn’t see in media or the world around me. And the truth is, I will never find it. No one will experience the same melting pot of cultures, religion and languages my life has had.
And that’s OK. In fact, it’s kind of great. When I took pen to paper last year to write my fantasy novel one thing was certain: this story was going to be my love song to multiculturism and the magic that occurs when cultures come together. It was a cathartic experience that bestowed me with a sense of self that vanquished the demons of loneliness and feeling less than whole. And so today, I chose where I belong. I can finally say, I am home.
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Saara El-Arifi knew she was a storyteller from the moment she told her first lie. Though her stories have developed beyond the ramblings of a child, she still appreciates the thrill of a well-told tale. THE FINAL STRIFE, Saara El-Arifi's debut novel, sold to Harper Voyager (UK) and Del Ray (US) in two six-figure deals. It is the first novel in an adult fantasy trilogy inspired by Ghanaian folklore and Arabian myths due for release in Summer 2022.
Add THE FINAL STRIFE to Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/book/show/54440543-the-final-strife