North London is a vibrant and energetic place to live.
With locations like Crouch End, Muswell Hill and Hornsey, these areas have attracted more and more mixed families over the past 10 years, increasing the diversity which can be found in the area and among its residents.
But even amidst this progression, there remains a lack of cultural inclusion and appreciation that leaves some blended families detached from their local communities.
“To see colour and to understand it are different things,” says Melanie, a resident in Crouch End.
As a mother-of-three and assistant manager of a fitness centre, she is an example of a busy working parent balancing home life and her career while dealing with the handful of experiences that come with being a Black mother raising mixed children.
“My kids are not my complexion. In fact, they don’t even look blended. So imagine the looks I get when they see us together: dark mom, pale kids,” she says. “You can see the disconnect in their eyes.”
Melanie is originally from east London, where her Ghanaian dad and Jamaican mother met in 1979. She was raised in a household rich with culture through traditional food, clothing and celebratory customs.
She watched her dad take careful pride in his roots, subtly persuading her of its importance, it’s relevance and the need for it to take up space in a whitewashed society.
This changed slightly when Melanie attend secondary school – a time she says placed more importance on survival than anything else.
“It was good life training, really,” she says.
She completed secondary school and attended university where she studied business and later worked for a property and contracting company where she met her husband, Anthony – a white man – who worked as a domestic repairman.
“The idea of being with Anthony was never novel to me,” she admits.
“Some people have fetishes, they want to experiment, they want to be able to say they’ve tried that. I never thought of it that way,” she says.
“I mean what’s to ‘try’? Black, brown, yellow or white it’s all the same in the end.”
After getting married, Melanie and Anthony moved to north London in 2007 in a bid to lay down roots for the family they were about to start.
Living within this affluent community, Melanie says that seeing an interracial marriage was still quite rare at the time.
“I like Crouch End, you know. It’s grown on us. I’d like to think we helped blaze the trail; its definitely more mixed than when we first got here,” she shares.
“There are still far too many instances of racism and classism, but I can’t let ignorance outshine the good.”
The couple embraced life in this part of the city and went on to have three children – Gianna, 14, Blanche, 3, and Mick, 5.
As a mother of three, Melanie has had an interesting experience navigating the ins and outs of Black motherhood with mixed kids in a predominantly white community.
“When my oldest calls me mum in front of Black people, they always comment and it’s usually with shock that she is my child,” she says. “White people usually wear their shock on their faces.
“In certain areas, you are made to feel bad because your child’s father is white. Like you betrayed yourself somehow and now you’re this shameful thing.”
When asked how she manages these frustrations, Melanie says she hasn’t “found any tools or tactics to use.”
“If I get loud or rude, then I’m their stereotype confirmed. So I sit on my anger till I can find people with similar situations, then we vent together.”
This experience has reinforced the importance of teaching her children how to love and appreciate both sides of themselves, while admiring how social media has helped them to understand aspects of their Blackness – like their hair – in a way that wasn’t as accessible when she was growing up.
“What has been a massive help is having my eldest use her teenage social media know-how to figure out her own hair. The internet has been my bible when it comes to curly hair,” she says.
“The information on there is expanding. Curly hair is the biggest trend now and all the companies are carrying ‘natural’ hair products. You can’t really mess it up like you could have 20 years ago.”
Understanding the vast and wonderful world of Black hair, from maintaing afros and curls to learning how to do braids, is something that goes far beyond appearance but is representative of Black culture which emanates throughout our society – something which has impacted Melanie’s children in a positive way as they learn to navigate their way in the world.
“Gianna is 14 and she’s had a handful of questions, especially in the wake of the George Floyd protests,” Melanie says, adding that it’s “been a slow and steady climb.”
While Melanie’s daughter is beginnning to become more aware of what’s going on in the world, this hasn’t changed how she identifies or sees herself.
“Unless we’re all out as a family, she is seen as Black, devoid of whiteness or any mix. And she’s okay with that,” says Melanie.
“She hasn’t brought up any difficulties or encounters around that. She has had questions in the past…school friends asking how is it that she has a white dad. People not understanding the different shades between her and her younger siblings. But they haven’t stuck or hurt as much as they could have. And I’m grateful for that.”