Mixed Up is a weekly series that explores mixed-race identity in the UK today.
Being mixed-race can encompass endless combinations of ethnic heritages, it is so much bigger than simply black and white.
As Britain becomes more diverse, the mixed population is on the rise. In fact, mixed-race is the fastest-growing ethnic group in the UK.
Each week in this series we aim to go beyond the stereotypes to get to the heart of being mixed-race. The joys, conflicts and contradictions that come with straddling two or more ethnic groups.
Reformed party boy Stevie Thomas says that despite his privileged upbringing in West London he has always had to work harder than anyone else around him, simply because of the colour of his skin.
‘My bloodline reads like a formula; I am half welsh, a quarter Jamaican, an eighth Irish and an eighth Portuguese to be exact,’ Stevie tells Metro.co.uk.
‘My fathers’ side is white Welsh, and my mothers’ father is Jamaican-Irish and her mother is Jamaican-Portuguese.
‘My mother and father were born streets apart in Cardiff – two very different worlds came together to create my sister and I.
‘My Dad came from a strong working-class background, and my mother came from a privately educated background due to academic scholarships.
‘As my father’s success grew, we moved around the home-counties due to my mother’s shrewd eye on the property market. They now still live in the home-counties and both my sister and I live in West London.
‘I am so proud of both my parents for what they achieved as a mixed-race couple in the 70s, the journey they went through to achieve their goals is astounding.
‘I was born in Milton Keynes, into middle class bliss, but stained from the sacrifices my parents made to get us there. We were the only mixed-race family in the area, and still not much has changed 15 years on.
‘I would say I was raised and grown in West London, Notting Hill. This is where I first witnessed multiracial cultures mixing and interacting; where I saw boys, girls and adults the same colour as me. Moving here felt like home for the first time in my life.’
Growing up around select echelons of upper middle class society, Stevie was often the odd one out. At school he was one of two boys with black heritage, and that didn’t change much as he grew older and widened his friendship circles.
But for most of his youth Stevie rarely thought about race. It just never came up. And if it ever did, he would struggle to connect that to his own identity.
‘Only recently have I realised how much my race has been involved in my life. I had no idea I was playing up to a role that I was putting upon myself,’ he explains.
‘We were brought up to believe we could be anyone or anything we wanted to be, so it being a bad thing to be a person of colour never occurred to me, it gave me strength if anything.
‘It never held me back from dreaming big, or achieving my goals – I was blind to the criticism and racist jibes because I was so supported by my family, so consumed by work and achieving my own personal goals.
‘Race never became a factor until my later life, when I actually stopped and saw the difference in how I was treated in public if I didn’t wear a certain watch, comb my hair or wear the right shirt.
‘I would have flashbacks of back-handed jokes about my skin colour or height from the previous night out. I’d laugh the jokes off as banter, but in the cold light of day, it was affecting me on a deep level.’
Stevie spent his 20s partying in London’s most exclusive nightclubs, he was even on Channel 4 reality show Shipwrecked back in 2007.
But looking back, he isn’t sure how real any of that was – and he’s acutely aware that other people’s perception of him in those years was intrinsically influenced by his race.
‘Now in my mid-30s, I realise that my 20s were largely an act,’ Stevie tells us.
‘I would put on a bouncing act, almost playing a role of class-clown – a mask I would put on to kill my anxiety and fear of not being a part of the environment I was in.
‘I was “exotic” to most of the people I met. I stood out, and not just because I’m 6ft 6!
‘I was different from my friends. I wasn’t the average white, middle class kid, so I played up to being a fun, lively mixed-race dude.’
Following in the footsteps of his father’s hospitality empire, Stevie went on to become one of the original founders of Notting Hill’s iconic Rum Kitchen – a Caribbean inspired restaurant and bar. He says felt like an opportunity to connect to his roots.
‘I felt like I had found a missing piece of my heritage,’ explains Stevie.
‘Bringing back the Mangrove site, a true staple of Black history in Notting Hill, I felt true pride in our work at the Rum Kitchen, which echoed throughout my Jamaican family. It was as though we had blown off the cobwebs of an old history book and put it back on its shelf.
‘One of my proudest moments in my life was having my grandmother eat and enjoy her meal at the All Saints Road, Notting Hill branch. At 90 she even hit back a can or two of Red Stripe and got in the mood when some of her favourite songs came on.
‘I was the only founder with any Caribbean heritage; and living in Notting Hill meant I naturally connected with the original wave of customers and local community.
‘I was fully immersed in the culture. I ate it, listened to it, smoked it, drunk it, I was it – a walking, be-bopping, billboard for the brand.
‘I truly embodied what we were trying to achieve, the bridge between old and new Caribbean culture. Together, with the original team, we made the site legendary.’
Stevie’s ability to stand out in any crowd has been invaluable in his career – it draws people too him and allows him to feel comfortable among different kinds of people, in a way many of his peers can’t.
But Stevie’s conspicuousness has been a double-edged sword. It is only in recent years that he has been able to look back on some of the treatment he has received with a renewed sense of clarity.
And that began with a new understanding of his own family history.
‘It was only a few years ago that I realised the true story behind my heritage’ says Stevie.
‘When I would be pushed to explain my bloodline to strangers, I would skirt over the facts.
‘I would breeze over the European countries in my bloodline if I was ever asked, as it gets quite complicated explaining my linage – especially when the dark truth of being a great-great-grandson of slaves comes up. Not exactly dinner party material.
‘After a long, heartfelt talk with my mum I found out that my grandparents arrived in this country on a boat in 1953. And hearing about what their grandparents went through really puts life into perspective.
‘Having gained reasonable success off my own back and slowed down, I realise now how truly lucky I am to be where I am today.
‘I am proud of my story. The mountains my parents had to climb to give me the opportunities I had are unbelievable.
‘Everything I have been given I have cherished and been truly thankful for. Money and schooling may open doors, but it is down to your own strength in character to burst through and keep that door open for yourself.
‘Being mixed-race and privileged gave me an edge, but also ensured I had to work just as hard, if not harder, to prove I am worthy of whatever role I am in.’
The birth of the Royal baby, Archie, was a real catalyst in Stevie’s altered perspective. He saw himself in that child, and realised that he wasn’t OK with narratives in the media and among his own friends.
‘With the birth of Archie, the wind changed for me. The poor child being openly quizzed on what colour he is at just two days old put a lot into perspective for me,’ he says.
‘I couldn’t believe that this was still an issue, that in 2019, this was still happening. This child will have a huge number of hurdles to overcome, and being a few generations before him, being in a privileged position myself, I felt it was time to speak up.
‘I received a number of racist jokes from a friend that made my stomach churn. They wanted me to join in, mocking the race of the child as a member of the royal family.
‘It became this quiet in-joke between friends, and I need people to know that this behaviour is simply wrong. It must stop now. And the best way to stop it is to educate, not humiliate.
‘I explained why this was wrong, the emotions I felt for the newborn and why this material should never be shared.’
Stevie’s parents gave him every opportunity in life – with a comfortable upbringing and a fantastic education – but that doesn’t mean it has been easy.
‘I have always had a point to prove, whether it is to myself, to my family or peer group. This I feel is down to my race,’ says Stevie.
‘It’s almost like having this beautiful chip on my shoulder – I am an underdog from the get-go because of who I am, and it’s down to me to prove the naysayers wrong.
‘I have been told, “we don’t want people like you here”, by my own neighbours in Kensington. I’ve been looked down on countless times, there was even a period of time where I couldn’t catch a black cab home.
‘At times I have felt rejected by the black community too, being a light-skinned-brother sometimes puts you on your back foot in large groups, especially with a private school accent. But normally it doesn’t take long to warm up the crowd and get them onside.’
Despite Stevie’s ability to get people ‘onside’, he isn’t immune to racist abuse. He says that as an adult he will experience racism – usually in the form of drunken comments on public transport – every few months.
But it is the stuff that happened to him as a kid that really sticks with him.
‘One story I remember so vividly,’ says Stevie.
‘I was around 10 years old, possibly younger, and I was called a “jungle-bunny” by boys much older than me, almost grown men.
‘Not knowing this was racist I played along, hopping from seat to seat on the school bus, the older years in hysterics.
‘Over the next few weeks I was spat at, worse still, I wasn’t allowed to sit on a seat on the bus to or from school; muddying my uniform as I slipped around on the floor trying to hold myself still.
‘This happened every day for weeks. The bus driver ignored this abuse until I rose up and beat down the main bully.
‘Violence was not the answer, but going to my parents did not feel like an option at the time.
‘It was only when the boy’s father confronted my Dad, accusing me of being a bully (he came home with a black eye) that I opened up about the abuse I was receiving on the bus. My parents kicked off.
‘I learned in that moment that violence is the wrong path to take, and doing the right thing will pay dividends. Nearly 25 years later I still remember that day as if it were yesterday.’
Despite these visceral memories that no doubt stay with him for a lifetime, Stevie loves who he is. He loves his identity and embrace being different as best he can.
‘I absolutely love being mixed-race. I feel like I am different for all the right reasons. I truly believe we are special, we are the future,’ he explains.
‘I feel that I can understand both sides of the fence, and actively try and bridge the gap between both sides (should you see it that way). I can connect with almost anyone I encounter, and rarely find anyone that doesn’t genuinely like me for my character.
‘Being mixed-race has defined who I am. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘My culture has come through in my work, in my attitude to life; I have embraced all the cultures that run through my blood and I hope I have done my parents proud.’
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Mixed Up is our weekly series that gets to the heart of what it means to be mixed-race in the UK today.
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