Meet the biracial woman who grew up believing she was white until uncovering her mother's affair
‘I grew up believing I was white’: One writer’s story on unravelling a web of family secrets
When Georgina Lawton’s beloved dad died, she finally unravelled a web of family secrets that had plagued her for years
‘Why don’t you scratch yourself white?’ said a five-year-old girl in my class as we played in the sandpit at school.
This was the first time I experienced a sense of confusion about my own appearance. The way her fingernail felt as she scraped it across my beige forearm remains a vivid memory. Because even though I’ve looked black or mixed-race since birth, I grew up believing I was white. I’d been fed the same story by my parents: I wasn’t adopted, or switched at birth, or the product of an affair; I had inherited my genes from a dark-skinned Irish relative on my mother’s side, which had ‘skipped’ a few generations.
The truth, which only came to light last year after my father’s death, was that I was not his child, but the result of a brief hook-up between my mum and another man. My dear dad, with his economics degree and managerial job, never questioned Mum’s version of events. And my white brother Rory, who has Dad’s blue eyes and his long, curved feet, never queried it either. My brown skin and frizzy black hair stood out in family photos. But it was easier for everyone to ignore my differences.
Cloaked in the protective bubble of whiteness, I didn’t spend much time thinking about race. It didn’t affect me until an outsider – like a child at school – brought it up. Overall, my upbringing was a happy one: I had two very present, hands-on parents; at school, I was a high achiever with lots of friends.
And yet, looking back, it’s easy to pinpoint where the nagging self-doubt crept in. At 15, I flirted with bulimia; from 17, I bleached the life out of my hair, and with every passing comment about why I didn’t look like my family, I developed another layer of prickly defensiveness. The web of lies was already moulding my character.
The questions about ‘where I wasreallyfrom’ and the queries into my identity were persistent, unwavering, draining. If I beat observers to the punch, I could own my narrative. But when airport security would usher me into the queue for baggage check-in with the Caribbean couple in front of me, instead of my own family, it was alienating. At 13, I was told to ‘go back to Africa’ and was once labelled a ‘Paki’, which just intensified the confusion.
With each incident I went home and demanded answers from my parents, who would sit me down and repeat again that I was definitely theirs and that they loved me. Mum wanted to believe I was my father’s daughter, which by definition made me white.
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