Since sharing my identity issues and story about being raised white as a black woman at the end of 2016, some fairly interesting things have happened to me (nearly all of them good). Although I was scared about addressing an issue that had plagued me for years, and worried about the potential backlash I’d face from family members or strangers, pouring my heart out on the internet turned out to be the best decision I made last year. Here’s why:
- I’ve been offered a DNA test and assistance tracing my ancestry/potential other family
I decided to share my story online because not only was opening up about it extremely cathartic, but because I also knew it was too big to deal with alone and within my immediate community. Things were BEYOND tense with my Mum, conversations were difficult and I didn’t really know where to go with things. In opening up online I was kind of hoping someone else would get in contact with either a similar story (and henceforth, give me some advice and remove the pressure of having to decide the Next Big Step), or, offer some help about how to trace my heritage and find out my genetic make-up. Thankfully that’s exactly what’s happened and I’m *so excited* to see what happens now My Heritage have offered to help out. They’re a company that specialises in DNA tests, genetic mapping and ancestral tracing and they’ve offered me access to all their services after reading my story online. Hopefully now I can get a clearer picture of where it is I come from and potentially, where my other family members might be located. (The phrase “my other family” is still so strange to even type but that’s what this is, I guess). My Heritage want to make a short film about my experiences as I use their services and chart my journey, so the first step is meeting a videographer in Mexico City to get filmed. I’m feeling excited, nervous, weirded out… all the feels.
- I’ve had long overdue discussions with family and friends
Conversations that should occurred years ago, questions that should have been asked, reasons that should have been provided…I’m grateful that writing about my identity online has created a window for these words to trickle through and I have so much more that needs to be said. Writing about an unsaid, unspoken issue within my family (which was my unexplained blackness), has led to a few difficult exchanges. Hopefully now the people I love, (nearly all of whom are white), can see that I need(ed) some outlet for discussing issues pertaining to race. Especially as I’ve grown up something of racial outsider my whole life. And in turn, I’m starting to understand the difficulties other family members and friends have faced in addressing what they felt was a highly taboo topic. It’s still odd though that I’ve had 24 years of my appearance as a black person just kind of…glossed over in a family of white people. Like I’ve never, ever been referred to as “black” by either my Mum or Dad’s family, or family friends, or my parents or brother, up until this article came out. It’s really fucking bizarre when this is exactly what I am, but the refusal to acknowledge my appearance within my community, based on a fear of upsetting my parents, is what’s really contributed to me not accepting my own blackness for 24 years. The alternative, the reality, the truth was never mentioned or alluded to, ever. And I still have some way in finding out how we’ve all lived a lie for so long, or how race and identity issues have never infiltrated our every-day discussions despite occupying so much space in my psyche….but at least the article has been a catalyst for initial discussion.
I just wish my Dad was around to be a part of all this, because I know he would have offered whatever support he could have. The mere issue of us no longer being related, biologically wouldn’t have mattered an inch to him. However, what’s nice, is that any anxiety I had about no longer being part of my Dad’s family once this article came out have been shrugged off completely by relatives on that side of the family. My Mum spent Christmas 2016 with my Dad’s family, just like we all used to and I’ve been reassured time and time again that I’ll always be a Lawton, no matter what I find out in the future.
- Lots of people have contacted me with similar/crazier/stranger-than-fiction stories
In opening up about a taboo topic, I’ve encouraged others to do the same, which is cool. Loads of people have got in contact with similar stories and connecting with all these strangers has further confirmed to me that life is nothing more than a collection of fucking weird, random situations. And, that as humans we are so much more similar than we’d ever stop to realise. Since sharing my story, I’ve been privy to a range of similar family dramas through DMs and messenger that have involved; lost siblings, adoptions, mix-ups and identity crises and more crazy lies. It’s made me realise that identity issues can affect people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, countries. I’ve spoken with white, black and mixed-race people from Israel, Ireland, Holland and beyond. We’re shared the same fears and worries and anxieties despite having grown up thousands of miles apart. Sharing my life online has given me a platform to reach people further out, who I can resonate with. If I hadn’t bared my soul, I would never have had the chance to reach them. I feel privileged to have helped others discuss similar issues and when I return to London I have a few ideas on how to incorporate these influences into another project.
- I was trolled…kind of.
If a millennial shares a personal essay online RE identity issues and doesn’t get trolled…did it even happen? Well actually, no-one’s really gone to the effort of getting in contact with me to abuse me (yay for having lazy trolls), I just read some fucking stupid comments on xonecole, where a version of my blogpost was published. All publicity is good publicity though, lol.
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