When I left my home town in Yorkshire to head off to university some ten years ago, it never crossed my mind that I might meet more people that looked like me. In a way, it was almost selfish of me to think that I’d be the only mixed race face, but it’s all I’d known for pretty much the entire 18 years before. The small seaside town I called home was bereft of any colour, only the chalet huts adding a dash of vibrancy in a mostly dreary place where, as of the 2011 Census, was 98 per cent white. Looking back, I don’t think I even considered myself to be non-white, I was just the girl with “pretty skin” a shade darker than my peers, exotic, with curly hair that didn’t match their soft straight locks.
My mum, who was white, had raised me single-handedly, my absent Jamaican father dropping in intermittently until he mostly fell out of touch. We lived with my nan in my early years before moving to a place of our own. There’s no doubting how hard my mum worked to provide everything for me and would always be on hand to help me tame my hair into some attempt at a ballerina bun or do her best to pat down my frizz. We didn’t know about products like edge gel that would have smoothed down my baby hairs, or serums that would have hydrated and defined my curls. We lived in a town that only had products for European hair and make-up that ranged from pale milk to a sickly orange on offer. We had to work with what we had, there were no ‘aunties’ to help out and it never occurred to me, especially when Instagram or Twitter didn’t exist for tips and advice, to look for better options.