How come youre not black?A black boy trapped in a white body, Elliot Ferryman-Avery talks about looking like somebody youre not. Like the majority of people in this country, I look white. However, unlike the majority, this isnt the full story. My mothers black and my fathers white, making me, like over 600,000 other British people, mixed race. Growing up as I did, its always seemed normal to be surround by those from different ethnicities but its often a shock to my friends when they see my family for the first time. When I was young I dont think I ever understood why some people seemed confused when they saw me with my mother but now that Im older my background can be a source of serious frustration for me, for a variety of reasons. I went to a different high school from my junior school classmates, which meant I had to go through the whole process of introducing myself and making new friends. This was something that at first I wasnt too worried about; I enjoy meeting new people. Yet the reaction after my form found out I was mixed-race made this a fairly daunting task. These reactions ranged from people suddenly wanting me to sit on their table (this from the other mixed race boy in the class), to somebody calling me a liar to my face. That was the first occasion on which my ethnicity caused such an upset amongst my peers but, unfortunately, it wasnt the last. I think that only about 50% of the class actually believed me at that point, and among those, some still had reservations. One boy, a perfectly decent human being in all other respects, accepted that my mother was black but to him this left the only conclusion to be that I was adopted. Others just asked a few too many questions about it for them to seem as though they really believed me. A question I grew tired of then but am still asked, even by those who completely believe me, is something which I think shows a fair amount of ignorance, How come youre not black? as if my ethnicity is dependent solely on my skin colour. Often it isnt something people say but the tone in which they say it, or certain looks that they give you that show they dont think Im black (despite the fact Im not black, Im mixed race, a distinction lost on many people, including black people) or that my mother is. Im not sure that Ill ever manage to understand why this is. Why would I lie about my ethnicity? What kind of benefit would I get from saying I was mixed-race if I wasnt? More importantly, why do others place so much importance on what my ethnic background is? These were all questions I found myself asking as I encountered mistrust and scepticism from others. Occasionally, because of how I look, even people who know about my background forget about it and make some slips of the tongue that definitely wouldnt occur if my heritage were more obvious. Theres one particular example of this that I dont think Ill ever forget. It was in my last year of high school. Four friends and I were sitting around chatting during registration - bear in mind that these people had been in my form for nearly five years at this point - when the conversation came round to where we lived. One of my friends, who will remain unnamed although if he ever reads this he knows who he is, quite unexpectedly told us that he never catches the bus from outside his house. We were quite surprised, as you can imagine, but not as surprised as we were by his reason for it. When we asked him why, it was apparently because theres too many niggers around there who think theyre all hard cause theyre black and shit. Silence fell around the table. Then, without thinking, I leant over and hit him right in the face. He looked surprised for about a second before starting to say something, then he realised why Id done it and went quiet. It might not have been the best way to handle it but it seemed sort of fitting and, I have to admit that given the chance Id do exactly the same again. That wasnt really common inside or outside of school, although that doesnt mean that less people were as prejudice, just that they were less blatant with their racism. Ill use another nameless friend as an example. I was sitting outside with group of mates discussing immigration - yes, I know its hard to believe teenage boys werent talking about girls or sport - when someone Id always thought intelligent decided to voice his views on it. I cant remember his exact words but his argument was something along the lines of, Theyre letting too many immigrants into our country, and giving them loads of free stuff! with they being the government of course. He went on to list everything he thought was wrong with all these immigrants; that they were taking jobs that naturally belong to British people, pushing up the house prices by living in so many bloody houses and obviously that so many of them cram into one house that it cant be hygienic. Notice the impeccable logic in his argument. I waited until he had finished before asking him precisely how he thought it was that my 80year-old grandmother, an immigrant from Jamaica, was causing all these wrongs. If you doubted his intelligence before then look away now; his reasoning behind all these claims was that hed read it in the Daily Mail. Thats right. He was basing his perceptions of thousands of people on what hed read in one of the worst news papers known to man.
This kind of view was by no means exceptional either; immigrants were a point of irritation for most of my school, let alone my year group. It was shocking how wide spread casual racism was and how few people realised that their attitudes were actually racist. The communal whipping-boy was anybody who was, or even looked, Muslim or Asian and the word Paki was a part of everyday vocabulary for nearly everyone, including people from other ethnic minorities. Naturally I, and the few others in my year with principles, would object to it but when its so widespread that its just part of normal conversation then theres not much you can do to stop it. This was something I had to put up with right through high school and I am still protesting against it now. Its upsetting to think that Ill probably be arguing with people over it for the rest of my life, perhaps even with the same people. In my school year, which I admit probably wasnt representative of Britain, Id say at least 90% of my peers not only held racist views but also considered those views to be acceptable or even normal. I find it terrifying to imagine what this country is heading for if those people dont realise where theyre going wrong.