Another family gathering full of enlightening conversation brought back the realization that after a few drinks and a little bit of Brexit chat, anyone has the potential to become an enemy. I’m joking of course, despite the heated discussions there were no punches pulled. I’m hesitant to write this because, well just like Beyoncé my mum mama taught be better than slating someone over the internet, (especially when they’re related to me) as we are definitely not one of those Jeremy Kyle type families who air their grievances in public, but as my experiences of casual racism gets more and more frequent, I feel it’s important to share them and moreover, it’s cathartic to vent.
Maybe it’s because I’m a self-confessed politically correct millennial who’s hyper sensitive when it comes to racial slurs, but I do take offense when my own relatives act like I don’t belong in this country. Talking to my colleague the other day, I realized that mixed race isn’t just a black white thing and my experience of being of mixed heritage isn’t a unique one either. Most significantly, we agreed that we are often claimed by everyone and nobody at the same time, having the best of both but belonging to neither. As much as that might not make sense to some, to anyone who is half and half it will.
Whenever I meet Irish people here, they say I look Irish with my green eyes and freckles, whenever I meet Italian people, they say they see the dark features in me and think I look like them. I probably do, after all I’m half and half so why wouldn’t I? The problem with this split straight down the middle attitude comes when I go beyond my fellow migrants in this country. When I go to Italy for example I’m known as the English girl, I hold an Italian passport and supposedly look Italian, but have all of the attitudes of an English girl. I go out and drink with boys, I am happy to be independent and had lived the majority of my adult life so far being single (before meeting my now partner) so my shameful behaviour is of course frequently contributed to my English mother (who is in fact Irish, but it’s all the same to them).
Back in England amongst British people it’s the same thing. I’m too foreign to be British, there are usually two reactions when people found out where I’m from. The first is an instant interrogation about my allegiances, “yeah but would you say you’re more Irish or more Italian?” It’s almost like they need to know what side I’m on before they comment any further. And they never believe me when I say I’m close to both sides of the family or that I’m as Irish as I am Italian. The second thing they say is “oh, but you’re English really, the Irish might as well be English and you were born here so you’re English”. I was in fact born here, but I also lived in Spain for a substantial chunk of my childhood too, so does that make me Spanish? I don’t have anything against being British. I’m grateful to have been afforded the opportunities which I have thanks to this country, but at the same time I’ve been brought up with very strong cultural values and have learnt about the hardships of being non-British as well as experienced them first hand. I’m not British when the crazy guy down the street shouts fucking foreigner after me. Nor am I British when I get told that I look like I work in a kebab shop, so why should I so easily assimilate knowing that I’ll always be foreign to someone?
I don’t claim to be some exotic, rare creature or even be unique in experiencing this. I’m certain that a lot of people have it a lot worse than I ever have. But it doesn’t mean that the little digs don’t still annoy me. Like when I sit down at interviews and they tell me they expected me to sound different because of my name and the way I look. I know it’s harmless and completely inoffensive but why does it matter? How does that effect my capabilities in any way? Or when people bash foreigners in my presence and then tell me that I’m alright though, because you know, I’m the right kind of foreign. What does that even mean? Is it because my Irish part makes me English? Have we already forgotten about when the English caused the great famine and shot my ancestors dead? Irish people weren’t English then were they? I know I sound like I have a complete chip on my shoulder and I really don’t. It’s just that recently, since Brexit, my own extended family seem to be of the mindset that casual racism is an acceptable conversation driver and I really can’t understand why. (They have been married into the family unfortunately).
Despite being born here, I am apparently an NHS tourist now. I’ve worked since I was 16 to pay my taxes and contribute to it, but apparently since the Brexiteers have developed a racist confidence, they’re entitled to once again deem me too foreign to be a part of their world. I’ve also only ever been to the hospital twice in my life. Once for a burst ear drum and the second time to have my wisdom teeth taken out, so it’s not exactly like I’ve just hopped on a plane over here to get my tits done and buggered off again. The most ironic thing about this statement was that the person who said it has been in my family longer than I have. Fully aware that I was born here, he has known my dad for 40 odd years but we still apparently need to get our plane tickets ready because we aren’t British enough. My mother though, she’s not Irish to him, she shouldn’t want an Irish passport, she’s British, (because she was born here might I add). Despite the non-sensical logic, it seems that the general consensus has this opinion that anyone who “looks English” can be and anyone who doesn’t like me definitely can’t. I’d love to see the little chart which measures foreignness so I can see just how far along that spectrum I am.
With their own patriotism and cultural pride leading the way, my parents decided to do genealogy tests a few months ago and the result was that ironically I’m not half Irish and half Italian, I’m around 43% Irish 40% Italian, 5% Arabic and everything else in between. So as I have a higher concentration of Irish blood running through my veins and being Irish is now British, does that mean I’m allowed to stay?
It’s a funny thing belonging the everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I definitely wouldn’t have it any other way but I do think that it’s a little tragic how people who are fed false information genuinely believe second generation immigrants are a threat who don’t belong here. I mean where are we even supposed to go?