Growing up, I wrote a lot of stories. (Fiction is so in my blood that it still feels odd writing non-fiction as much as I do now.) The main characters – almost all the characters – were white.
Thinking back to my main project from when I was eleven and twelve, I can only recall two non-white characters, both of whom die in their first scene. The main character’s best friend is presented as the best of people: brave and ethical and loyal and giving. She’s also very pale, with straight blonde hair, something the main character always envies.
The main and ideal characters in books I had been reading were always white. I didn’t even try to insert people like me into my creations.
When I was younger than that, I tried to be white. Except, I didn’t think of it as whiteness, I thought of it as normal, so I wouldn’t be quite as much the weird, quiet, bookish, sick kid. I got it into my head that Englishness was the epitome of whiteness I should be aiming for. I altered the way I talked, the accent, the expressions, so that I’d sound like the kids in Harry Potter.
It didn’t work, of course: I didn’t get whiter, and no kid at school was fooled. Big blue eyes and stolen phraseology don’t whiteness make.
I wish, I wish I’d had more positive representations of people like me growing up, more representations at all. There were so few people I encountered on the library shelves who were not white that I thought I’d better get white if I wanted to be okay. It pains me to think of what the girl I was went through, and it pains me to still be fielding questions about whether I’m from England. It kills me to think that I tried to write myself out of my own life. I love who I am at long last, but that kind of damage doesn’t go away fast. I’m still picking shards of something else out of myself.