by Rose Miyonga
Last week, TK was fortunate to have the sparkled voice of Tahmina Beghum of XXY magazine as she shared her experience of dual identity and frustrations with rigid concepts of personhood. This week, we are so excited for Rose Miyonga, one of our contributing editors to share with us her experiences the same subject.
My mother is White British and my father is Black Kenyan.
My sisters, Poppy and Jasmine and I have had to explain what this means to people our whole life, so I have been aware of my racial identities for as long as I can remember.
During my early years, my family lived in Brixton. I don’t remember my brown skin or my hair (usually in dreadlocks or cut short) being an issue. Of course, in my immediate family, it didn’t matter.
I knew that my parents had different skin colours, just as I knew as they had different eye colours and that they loved my sister and me. It was just one thing that blended in with a whole host of other things that happened to be true about my family.
When I was six years old, our family moved to Kenya, and my sister and I were enrolled in a local school on the outskirts of Nairobi. The cracks in our ‘deeply flawed’ system of categorisation and classification of ‘race’ were clearly exposed when our race changed somewhere between Heathrow and Jomo Kenyatta Airport. Suddenly, without warning or consultation, we were white. To my Kenyan classmates, my skin was pale, my hair was soft, and I could see that relatively, I was more white than most of my friends on the school playground… It was a lesson in ‘context’.
This is not to say that race and racism do not exist, as the realities that we have to battle with every day make them evidently tangible, but that race and racism were created and constructed as tools to justify slavery and subjugation; to divide and dehumanise.
I didn’t fully understand how other people’s perception of my skin tone would come to deeply affect me when I was six, but I had learned something important, and something that would repeat itself in various iterations over and over again:
As a teenager in rural England, my Blackness was constantly highlighted by my peers, and I was forced to grapple with it, accept it, and eventually fall in love with it, and when I spent two years at school in the U.S., I remember trying in vain to explain to some (not all) of the people I encountered that I was actually not just black.
I’ve given up explaining now (well, for the most part). Although my heritage does matter, I don’t want my skin colour to define how I live my life. I can’t control how I am perceived and treated by others, but I can control how I look at myself, and I choose to look at myself without judgment, to see my beauty without boundaries, and to love myself without limitations
Interview by Rose Miyonga
I first came across Ronan Mckenzie’s photography in December 2015, around the time of her Dalston exhibition A Black Body, and have been a fan ever since, so I was delighted when she agreed to share some of her stories and inspirations with us.
Her photographs capture the epitome of ‘London cool’, but also convey a deeper message: the celebration and demystification of the black body. As such she challenges the mainstream representations that fear and fetishise Blackness, refusing to be silenced and exploring the diversity of faces, bodies and opinions that exists.
Mckenzie has been featured in Dazed and Confused, i-D and Vogue, to name but a few.
She may be young, shockingly young considering the depth and breadth of her work, but don’t be fooled, the 21 year old knows what she’s talking about.
I’m 21, I was born and live in Walthamstow – North East London. I had loads of fun as a kid, there were some tough times, but i have a lot of funny and happy memories; one time my brother took a biscuit without asking from the cupboard so my mum took us all to the police station and got a police officer to tell us off, I never stole anything again.
We were always around cameras when we were young, my parents took a lot of photos and videos of us, and my mum always gave us disposable cameras or Polaroids to take on school trips, but I only thought of photography as a career early last year.
It just wasn’t for me, I didn’t feel like myself – I was coming home feeling low and didn’t put any passion into any of my work so I knew there was no point me being there. I was going to try and stick it out until Christmas but I just trusted my instinct and jumped ship after 2 weeks.
I just wanted to show black beauty and diversity, that was the main idea. I felt and still feel for the most part that black people were always portrayed as one type of person in the media, and I wanted to create a space full of different black faces, bodies and personalities.
Well when I first started it was more about getting my work seen by as many people as possible so I would shoot and send it off to small magazines, websites and anyone who would take it. When it came to my exhibition, because I’d been interning and assisting in the fashion industry since I was 16, I had a few friends that helped me get exposure on big platforms like i-D and Dazed. It is difficult to get exposure in mainstream magazines, and now that I know my work and my style, I’m not about just pushing my work to anyone and more about selecting what’s best for me and creating my own platforms..
I think this is a very exciting time for women, and all creatives because opportunities are broad, and if you work hard you can achieve. I think with platforms like Gal Dem, ethnic minority women have a safe place to speak openly on their experiences which is amazing. We need that to become mainstream.
I just shoot anyone that catches my eye, it’s difficult to explain but I love faces that for some reason jump out at me. It could be that I see the kindness in their eyes or they just have incredible ears haha, but it just catches my eye.
A warm soul.
At the moment I’m so inspired by Simone Biles!! 4’9, from a non conventional family, defied all odds and is world champion! That shows true determination and passion!
I have a few things in the pipeline.. 😉
Being happy working on wherever my path leads me! 🙂
Follow Ronan on Instagram