When I was first asked to contribute to this piece, it took a while to figure out what I wanted to talk about. It wasn’t that I had nothing to say or didn’t know what to say; it was more that I found it difficult to put into words. How to be concise about an issue that at some level or another impacts multiple aspects of your life? Do I discuss the experiences I’ve had shopping with my sister where we’ve been followed around the shop and she has been accused of theft and made to turn out her pockets for no reason?
Do I talk about the time the pain I had in my wrist was played down and when I was eventually given painkillers, I wasn’t given the medication that also need to be taken with them so almost developed a stomach ulcer?
Do I share how when I first started acting 17 years ago I almost exclusively went up for roles where I was the child of dysfunctional and/or criminal parents, as if that were the only world in which I could exist?
Or do I open up and admit that in light of Brexit and the current political climate, filled with rhetoric my mother heard in the 70s and my grandparents heard in the 50s/60s, the country that I was born and raised in doesn’t feel too welcoming at times?
Or even the fact that writing these words makes me nervous of how people will respond as I have heard on the radio and on television countless times how I should be grateful to be living in Europe’s ‘least racist’ country. Here’s the problem with that phrase:
‘Least racist’ isn’t the same as ‘not racist’. ‘Least racist’ stops this conversation in its track; ‘least racist’ lets us set the bar too low. ‘Least racist’ is not enough. I’ll be honest, I’m tired of hearing ‘least racist’ because ‘least racist’ makes me unable sometimes to take situations at face-value because I’ve learned over the course of my life the many, many masks racism wears - all of them harmful.
So I’ve been wondering what to write and as it was suggested that I just write about my experience as a woman of mixed heritage. That is what I’ll do; some part of it at least. My heritage is Nigerian and Irish. When I share this, I’m often asked if I’ve ever ‘been back’ to Nigeria. The answer is no; I don’t feel I’d be going ‘back’ - I’ve lived my whole life in London, my mother was born and raised here too, so my ties feel different. To be fair, the first time I visited Belfast was two years ago for mine and my grandma’s birthday (we’re born 60 years apart). I suppose what I’m trying to say is that our heritage and the places we call home are unique to each of us; they’re a huge part of our identity.
I’ve had that called into question many times.
I don’t ‘look Nigerian’.
I don’t ‘look Irish’.
I have shown pictures of my family and had people insist that we can’t be related. So I have had to explain. I am not explaining how my cousin is my cousin; I am explaining why I don’t look like my cousin. When people ‘don’t understand’, ’can’t believe’ or ‘can’t see it’, they are asking me to tell them in what way I am ‘Other’. Their puzzlement implies I should feel ‘other’ in my own family. I am lucky enough to have never felt ‘other’ in my family and I refuse to let anyone make me feel that way.
I remember being out at Fresher’s Week with my cousin who was also studying in London and we ended up talking to another student at the event. Upon hearing we were cousins, he looked puzzled and asked, “Really?” I felt tense; I felt that I was going to have to explain myself, my family, yet again. Before I could say anything, he continued, “But she’s so tall and you’re so short!” I laughed; in my experience, it was refreshing that someone’s first port of call was my height rather than my skin colour.
I say that because there have been countless times when skin colour has come up as a reason to deny someone their heritage and identity. To deny someone to freely hold space in the country they call and have made their home. Just the other week, I was shown a twitter thread in which people were arguing that an Irish family wasn’t ‘really Irish’ because the picture showed that two of the family members weren’t white. Ironically, the vast majority of the people making this argument weren’t actually Irish themselves. I’m not bringing this up to talk about nationalities, I’m bringing this up to talk about the fact that because of a person’s race, they are told or made to feel that they will never truly be considered a part of where they live. I know that because I’ve felt it, I felt it throughout the Brexit campaign, I felt it during the general election. I even felt it during lockdown.
Even though I have felt that way, London is my hometown and it always will be. It’s where I was born; it’s where I went school; it’s where I’ve lived most my life. For me, it is Home. In that way, Britain is the place that I will ‘go back’ to; even if she ‘can’t see it’ yet. If we keep talking, keep questioning, keep challenging, keep learning, keep un-learning, keep doing - maybe she’ll be able to at last.
Jordan Loughran was born and raised in East London. She started acting as a young teenager and has a career spanning TV, Film and Theatre. She graduated from King’s College London with a degree in French and Spanish. She also writes and directs, having completed her first short film project this year.