The following is an excerpt of an interview/conversation between myself and Ilayda Bakere, a young Black mixed race woman of Turkish and Nigerian descent. She is an artist and mathematician. Here, I’ve asked her some of the key questions of this ToR and a few others. We chat about children, film and tv, travel and culture.
E: How do you identify? In terms of ethnicity.
I: I’d say… on home turf, I’d say I’m a Londoner, as that speaks louder than saying British. But if I were ever to go abroad, I’d say I’m British, which doesn’t sound like much but I went travelling with a friend, from Kent, English, white girl kinda thing and she’d always say English and I would say British and we had an interesting chat about it.
E: A good, interesting chat, or like an annoying interesting chat?
I: I mean… it was more like, by English all that comes to mind for me is really like the English flag, like St George’s and that doesn’t… I don’t know, it’s just skinheads who fly it to make a statement about them being English. Whereas a British flag, not that anyone would wanna fly it in particular, and, you know, if you’re an ethnic minority or whatever, but that just kinda means you live in Brita
- You can have Sikhs, or Scots, or that and the other and that’s still British. I feel like the British flag is a bit more, erm… yah I’d say I’m British. But also Turkish, and also Nigerian.
E: And in terms of race, how do you identify?
I: I’d say I’m mixed race. It’s easier, I come from two cultures. Instead of saying dual heritage or biracial. I grew up when mixed race was, you know that was cool. And, it’s still fine with me. Like I can see why you’d wanna say like dual heritage or this, that and the other, but I just say I’m mixed race.
E: Do you identify as Black?
I: I feel like more and more recently, I have, erm… not really necessarily since going to uni and anything like that. But it’s always been a thing that you’re… like I’m perceived in Turkey for example, as Black. Like if you’re slightly darker than white, you’re black. And, it’s like, okay cool. And then here, just by my dad being Nigerian, I’m Black and I’m Turkish. You, know, just like I’m Nigerian and I’m Turkish. So yah, I’m a Black girl, but at the same time, I know that I have it easier than some dark skinned Black girls, and that’s why I would be, erm… not like slow to say that I’m a Black girl, cause yah, I’m a Black girl, I’m also a Turkish girl. But I just think we need to acknowledge, especially as a light skinned Black girl, that I have more privileges than dark skinned Black girls. Which is totally abhorrent but true.
E: So is it that when you identify as Black, does it depend on the space or…
I: I’d probably just call myself a person of colour. There are all these women of colour movements and articles. And I identify with a lot of them. And I’m a person of colour, look at me, that nice caramel!
Everyone in my house, including my mum, who is obviously Turkish and obviously a white woman, is like, ‘Yah, people of colour!’. She’ll go on marches for people of colour. She’s one of those allies, I suppose, that everyone should strive to be. Either woke or an ally. We’ll come home and discuss race, and issues like Grenfell Tower and all the things that have brought up. And we always reach the conclusion that Black people have been shat on from a great height for a long time. They, my mum and dad, go and watch documentaries, and be like ‘did you know the Scots funded the KKK’. And I’m like ‘okay, here we go’. And she goes, ‘Oh yah, you’d never guess’. When I was 8 they made me and my sister watch Roots. And I’m not gonna lie, it was a wake-up call, but like by the time we got to the slave trade in Year 8, or whatever it was, I was ready. Come at me, you cannot phase me. Once you see Kunta Kinte being whipped for not wanting to be called Toby, it’s – it’s the only time I cried in that film. I was like, ‘you broke me’.
E: Did you see the remake?
I: I didn’t know there was another one. Who’s in it? What is it, like a TV series?
E: Yah. They’ve condensed like the whole of Roots into six episodes. Anyways… So, like both your parents have told you about being Black.
I: Oh yah. Especially because it’s normally the mum who does the girls’ hair. I mean, that’s just a patriarchal thing as well. It’s not a race thing, that’s just a woman thing. My mum was always determined that we’d have natural hair and natural hair takes a certain amount of looking after. So we had cane rows like the whole of primary school. She tried to get me to do it for secondary school and I was like ‘oh my god, no I don’t want it anymore.’ And I’d wear it in a little bun or whatever. But she learnt to cane row off her Irish friend, who was married to a Jamaican. They both had mixed race kids and were like ‘how we gonna do this?’ And the Irish woman off a Ghanaian woman. They learnt was the point. They learnt how to manage it; they learnt about oils, about creams. And she, my mum, was like ‘you don’t have hair that’s like mine so I’m gonna learn about it and teach you about it when you’re older.’ And so she did.
And I’m so grateful for that because I feel like a lot of Brown girls that grow up and then, at like after secondary school, they go to uni, kinda get woke. You learn you read, you whatever. And they’re like ‘ra, gonna do the big chop. I’ve had enough of relaxed hair, or whatever.’ And it’s like ‘right, now I’m gonna go on a journey to be who I am, and embrace this body that I’ve been given, this hair that I’ve been given’. And I never had to do that. I see my friend doing it, and I’m like ‘you go, team natural all the way.’ But I’m so grateful to my mum that I never had to do that.
E: So how does being Black and mixed race affect your relationships with the Turkish side of your family? Or does it? And the same thing with the Nigerian side of your family.
I: So the thing with the Nigerian side of my family is that they all, especially when I was growing up, lived in Brixton. So if we ever wanted to see the Nigerian side of the family, they’re, what, twenty minutes away. If we ever wanted to see the Turkish side of the family, they’d all be in Turkey, speaking Turkish. We’d go once a year, I’ve been to Turkey like twenty times now, in a row, and it’s great. This is the first year I’m breaking that tradition. And it hurts me! But Turkey’s winning twenty – nil. I haven’t been to Nigeria. I wanna go.
Me and my dad have a great relationship and we laugh loads. And he says ‘you’d really get on well with Nigerian people. You’d make them laugh too’. And I’m like ‘yah, of course I would, I’m funny’. But I took an interest in the Nigerian side of the family like 16, 17? We’ve always listened to Fela Kuti and stuff just at home and the same with Turkish rock, which is great. And I’m like… ‘what is this, what does this mean, what does wahala mean, I always hear it’. And he’s like ‘oh it’s trouble’. And he’s listening to all these Nigerian artists.
E: With your dad?
I: Yah. And we’re the cousins with the natural hair. Our aunts would always come and start touching it. And they’d be like ‘oh you should try some weave, get some extensions, it’d really look good. I can recommend my hairdresser’. We’re like ‘yes, Aunty Shola’. We’d see them every now and then, Grandma would come round for dinner.
But then, I always felt more Turkish growing up. Like, I spoke Turkish, I still speak it. When we’re in Turkey people think we foreign, and so speak to us in English and then all of a sudden, we hit them with some Turkish and they’re like ‘oh my god, I never expected it!’ We just mess around with it, it’s so funny. When we were small and were getting the bus to the beach or whatever, our mum would put us on random people’s laps and she was like ‘can you just hold them for me. It’s a crowded bus, I don’t want them to stand up’. They’d be like, ‘wow they’re so beautiful. Their brown skin!’ And there’d be the touching of the hair… but we were like toddlers.
When we grew up and started to be like ‘for god’s sake’. Mum would be like ‘no, Ilayda, tell them. If you don’t want them to touch your hair, then they shouldn’t touch it’. So it wasn’t like she came to save us from these random people, it was like if you don’t like it, you gotta let them know.
Sometimes people would come up to us and be like ‘who is this woman with you? A tour guide?’ And I’m like, ‘this is my mother, I came out of her’. My favourite phrase is ‘think you’ve taken after your dad, haven’t you?’ And it’s like ‘nope’. My winter colour is more like my mum. It’s funny.
E: Okay, so we also wanted to look at the media as well and the representations of mixed race people in the media. And how, on one hand, obviously you have light skinned Black women playing Black characters on TV but then the focus on mixed race people is always like, white and Black mixed race people. And it really obscures other mixed race people.
I: I’m not necessarily the wildest mix you could come up with. In terms of the white/black contrasting. I told you about the mixed race girl in that Ed Sheeran video. And she’s east Asian and African mix or African-American. And she looks really interesting, she’s so pretty in a way that you don’t see. And it’s unfair that you don’t see them because people like that exist. And you’re made to feel like you’re an other like you don’t fit into one of these boxes that we’ve put on these forms, white and Black African or you know.
Yah, representation in the media is a pile of shit.
Like I remember in the Fresh Prince, the mum, Vivienne, the actor just gets replaced. And we were like ‘who is this woman? Like another aunt, in the most African sense of the word, like is she just another aunty?’ And they started calling her Viv and we were like ‘that’s not her, that’s a younger, lighter skinned version of her. What happened to her?’
And then in media, it’s like how mixed race babies are… I don’t want to say the aim or the goal, but there’s a lot of like ‘such a cute mixed race baby, this, that and the other’. ‘Mixed with those green eyes’ and it like that goal.
E: Yah, you have a lot of people who are like ‘yah, I want a mixed race kid’.
I: Or you could maybe… erm… have a partner who you really like and work from there. Like your gonna love the child regardless, I hope. I dunno.
E: Yah, there’s a lot of desire for mixed race kids.
I: That’s weird.
E: Sometimes you get those articles that are like ‘oh, the UK will look like this in 2046’ and you’ll have an image of a light skinned, long blonde hair mixed race woman.
I: With freckles and green eyes. Like, alright.
E: Yah, this is what the world is gonna look like, okay.
I: Wow, beautiful. I guess I’m now something at the back of the Argos store.
E: It’s really strange. Well, it kinda strange. It’s just white people being like, ‘oh yah, we can totally not be racist but that means you guys disappear and there’ll be people who look more like us. Or like, ‘we’ll live on through these people’.
I: It makes no sense. I said to my mum once, ‘cause there was this girl that we knew who got pregnant. White girl, and the guy she got pregnant with was a black guy and she had a really cute, obviously, mixed race baby. I said to my mum, ‘oh she’s got this mixed race baby, and he’s so cute. I want a mixed race baby too but I’m not gonna have one because I’d have to get with a mixed race person to have a mixed race baby’. My mum was looking at me like ‘what is wrong with you? Where did this come from? Who have you been talking to? Why is that a goal?’ She was just like ‘you can just have a baby with the person you love and you’re gonna love it regardless.’
I dunno. I’d just been hanging around with all these white girls who were just loving the fact that he was mixed race. And I was like ‘I don’t get it if you like him because he’s mixed race, or because he’s this girl’s baby, or because he’s just a really cute baby boy’. And there’s never really a distinction between cute and brown. So you think cute and brown goes today but then he grows up and then he’s gonna be the one on the streets, like 6ft something being a threat to old white ladies. You can’t have it both ways. Yet they do. I’m waiting for karma to do its thing but it’s been a couple of hundred years and it hasn’t really kicked in yet. The fact that they generally tend to age badly isn’t good enough. It’s not okay.
E: Let me get in my last question before we go. So, I’m wondering, because you’ve said that the way that white people, the media talks about mixed race children, having mixed race kids, but then I’m thinking of the Black presence in the UK. Did you see the documentary with David Olusoga. He went round the UK, looking at the places where Black people were before the 16th century. He spoke about the abolitionist Granville Sharp and his like, secretary or something. He went to the secretary’s house with his seventh generation grandson. He had no idea that he had a black great grandfather. It made me wonder how you keep the Blackness going. I’m interested in what you think happens when you have mixed race people around, but they lose track, or somehow it’s not related to them that they have Black ancestry.
I: Not being in touch with it can be… it’s just like culture is so enriching if you choose it to be. I know this girl, she’s mixed race. She has beautiful ringlet hair, and that’s kind of the only thing that she has to show that part of her. And she just lives with all these white people and she grew up to think she was white. She thought of herself as white until she came to street dance and we were like ‘nah, you’ve got another side’. I think her dad was Ghanaian, and there was this whole, who makes better jollof. Obviously Nigerians. But anyways, now it’s kinda of a whole other conversation that she could have with other people. But she wasn’t taught about it before, which I think is unfair, really. Because, I mean, I haven’t been to Nigeria but I listen to Nigerian music, eat Nigerian food. Pounded yam, Semolina, you name it, we do it. But I’m not about to mess with okra though, I’m not about that.
I: No thank you, it’s not my thing.
E: I love okra… okay.
I: I just think culture can give you so much and it depends on what parts you want to take on. But I just think everyone should be given the opportunity to tap into that. It’s rude to not tell someone, like, ‘by the way, there’s this whole other avenue about you that you could pursue if you want to’. It doesn’t mean everyone is gonna do it, but everyone should be told though. I was watching a video the other day, it was about people mispronouncing your name. There was this girl and she said that her name was all she had to say her dad was Eritrean cause she grew up with only white people, but they still had to pronounce my name right. And that was all she had and when she grew up, she decided to go to Eritrea, did some research into her dad’s family. I dunno, it was a cool thing to add to her, another layer to who she was. So in that sense, it’s really important. And I’m lucky that I was presented with both sides of the culture growing up, so I haven’t had to do the personal discovery thing. But I know a lot of people are not that lucky, which is a shame. Hopefully, we raise a bunch of lucky people.
Image credit: Sahar Amer