On Tuesday, we #PasstheMic to those with enriching perspectives to share their views and goals. Today, Meera McCann, Lead Talent Partner shares her lived experiences and learnings with us.
Pass the Mic
I'm a British born Indian and I'm happy to say, I am proud of who I am. I am proud of my heritage, proud of my culture and proud of my skin. I say this now, but sadly this has not always been the case. I spent a lot of my childhood, teenage years and even some of my 20’s, wishing I wasn’t different, wishing I was more like my friends, my white friends specifically. My parents moved to England from India in the 1960’s, they worked hard to build a life here and integrate with British society, whilst not losing their identity. Yet I grew up with a constant conflict around my identity, and who I really was and wanted to be.
Recently I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on why I had these feelings growing up. Was it due to the fact I was bullied at school for having the “wrong” colour skin? Perhaps it was because I never thought I’d be seen as attractive to anyone, well not as attractive as my cool white friends. Or maybe I hated the expectations that teachers had of me that I’d excel at Maths & Science and all the subjects that Indian children are meant to be good at, because after all, the teachers were sure my parents would want me to be a Doctor when I grew up. Fortunately for me, my parents didn't ever push me into anything I didn't want to do, they just wanted me to be happy and to do my best, but I know that wasn't the case for many Indian teenagers.
One of the things I struggled the most with was the questions I’d get asked by people when I was a child, things like “do you eat curry every night?” to which I’d proudly reply “no I had Pasta last night!” (like I had to justify what I ate) and “oh I like your mum’s costumes, does she get them in India?” or “where are you from?” to which I’d reply “England” oh no, I mean “where are you really from?” upon responding with “India” I’d meet the response “Ohhhh my mum/ dad/ sister/ brother has an Indian friend!”
Reading this, you may think these are harmless, and mildly amusing comments, and on the surface, they probably are - but these are the kind of comments that made me wish the ground would swallow me up so I didn’t have to answer them. I feel like, in general society has moved on a lot since I was at school and University, and those kind of slightly ignorant questions are now few and far between thankfully! I now feel that people are a bit more interested in my culture, in me, and in the experiences my parents had growing up in India.
In many countries in Asia, skin whitening products are sold, freely, in mainstream stores, because certain cultures believe that you’re more beautiful if you're fair skinned. You’ll be more successful, you’ll be happier and more desired. I’ve travelled a lot and experienced many cultures and also experienced a pretty hard sale on some of these products! Yet in England, we are barraged with tanning products and tanning salons, because no-one wants to be white and pale - it’s no wonder I was confused as a teenager!
I guess, all round, I just thought maybe life would be easier if I was white, and maybe it would have been, but then I wouldn’t be me! I wouldn’t have had the enriching experiences I have had. I have spent the last few years of my life ensuring that I surround myself with people who make me feel comfortable being myself, and who don’t pretend that they don’t notice my skin colour, but instead take in interest in understanding who I really am. It feels so prevalent that I’m now so comfortable in my own skin, as I raise my mixed race daughter, I am determined that she grows up feeling proud of her Indian & Irish roots and confidently dispels any prejudices in a way that I was never really able to do.