Mixed Up: 'If white people love hip hop, why the hell can't we love rock music?'

Sophie K is a DJ and breakfast show presenter at Kerrang! Radio with Ugandan, British and Polish heritage. She says progressing as a woman of colour in the rock world hasn’t been easy.

‘My mother was from Uganda and was spotted by somebody from the fashion industry who brought her over to the UK,’ explains Sophie.

‘She had a totally unusual look for the time in this country, and brought an androgyny that the catwalks didn’t really have.

‘My father, who was half Polish and half British, is from Huddersfield. He moved down to London to further his education and my parents met at a party.

‘They would often get racist abuse thrown at them, especially since people often couldn’t tell what gender my mother was.

‘My mum used to say “f*** ’em”, she wasn’t someone who got angry about racism. I think it was so normal for her that she just had to pretend she didn’t care for her own sanity.’

Self-acceptance for Sophie took some time. Sparked by a feeling of alienation from both sides of her family, these emotions manifested as a kind of self-disgust. Luckily that didn’t last.

‘As a child I hated my skin,’ she tells us.

‘Some days I would pray that I could be black, that maybe then it would make me lovable to my black family. On other days I would pray to be white so that I could belong with my British family and not always feel like the outsider. All I ever wanted was to belong.

‘However in 2019, well, I love it!

‘We are all a mix of our parents, mine just happened to have different skin colours. Being mixed represents a union between races, being mixed represents me and the complex history I have had on this planet.

‘I have a big black ass and curly, wavy hair. Being mixed-race to me, is being whatever the hell you identify with and not letting people put you in the “other” box because they feel you don’t belong in their heritage.’

Never has Sophie felt this sense of otherness more keenly than in the professional sphere. She loves the world of rock and feels firmly as though she belongs as part of this music-loving family, but she also felt that breaking into this scene was made exponentially harder because she didn’t look like everyone else.

‘The people who hold the keys to jobs in this world are not usually that open,’ explains Sophie.

‘Being a woman is hard in rock, but a woman of colour?! Let’s just say I didn’t get to where I am through luck, nepotism or listening when someone said no. I had to fight damn hard to get here and that makes me so proud.

‘At Download Festival in 2014, a young black girl ran up to me and asked for a hug. She said, “I didn’t expect anyone here to look like me,” and, damn that cut me deep.

‘It fuelled me, people need to feel they belong whatever their gender, race, orientation. That is so important to me.’

Contrary to outdated beliefs, black and mixed-race people are multi-faceted and can have a multitude of interests and passions outside of stereotypical norms. Sophie says she wants people to understand this multiplicity and not make snap assumptions purely because she doesn’t fit the typical mould of a rock fan.

‘I go to gigs and I see so many black and mixed faces, I nearly hugged a black goth stranger the other day because I was so excited,’ says Sophie.

‘We are people like anyone else, if white people love hip hop why the hell can’t we love rock?!

‘We are constantly being put in a box and I feel like my choices are limited by the representations we see on screen. Yes, there is more representation now, but it’s through a white lens. I am offered the choice of looking like a girl in a hip hop video, an arty African queen or in street wear, all are awesome – but they are not me.

Sophie thinks it’s important to show the next generation that they can be anything they want: ‘If you want to be a geek, you do you! If you are cute and arty you don’t have to look like Zooey Deschanel.

‘To achieve true equality as people of colour, we have to stop being seen as stereotypes. It isn’t only white people who have complexity and nuance to their personalities, and this needs to be shown. Especially for darker skinned women! Don’t get me started on that.’

Sophie grew up in a small flat in Camberwell. She moved to Uganda with her parents when she was 10 as the wanted to start a business. Her memories of that time are pretty traumatic.

‘I hated it!’ she says. ‘My mother was an alcoholic and because she was quite abusive towards me, her family were even worse.

‘I was treated like an outcast and regularly mocked in a language I didn’t speak. By contrast, my grandmother on my dad’s side was kind and loving, so at 16 I moved back to the UK.

‘I identify with different qualities of both sides of my heritage. I guess I’m more British because this is my home – from the food to the humour to all the rain! I love being English.

‘I would say I identify more with African blackness rather than being Ugandan. It was too different from the UK for me. However I need to chat with an African if I want someone to identify with fitting these thighs and bum into a pair of high street jeans made for European women.’

Sophie has experienced racism, as most people of colour in the UK will have at some point in their lives. Sophie’s strongest memories of experiencing direct hostility come from her childhood.

‘I remember getting shouted at when I was in the supermarket by a cashier. I was told to stop “harassing the nice family”, but it was my own family’ says Sophie.

‘I was told I should “get back and mind my own business”. My grandma didn’t hear because she was a bit deaf, so I just stood back and cried when I got home.

‘A lot of racism has come from people with darker skin than mine. However as I’m older I have learnt to process that as inherited colourism that is ingrained in society.

‘We are taught to hate each other so we don’t band together and focus on the real racism problem.

‘With white people it has been more institutional. Even down to the fact that I got screwed over when buying my flat due to racism. Although, I have been pinned by the neck in a shop while they checked to see if I had stolen any clothes because I was trying on a dress from the designer range.’

As difficult as racism is to experience, in any form, Sophie says one of the hardest things is when people question the legitimacy of what actually happened.

‘The hardest thing about racism is that non-black people gaslight you,’ she explains.

‘You know what happened, you know where it came from, but people say things like, “no, you are just looking for it”. I am so thankful for my black friends who accept me as part of the rainbow of black women.’

This acceptance from other black women is particularly important for Sophie. She is acutely aware of the damaging effects that colourism has on black communities in this country, and thinks it’s vitally important to acknowledge and understand light skin privilege.

‘I am aware of my privilege and to me it is important to champion black women and support them within the industries I work in.

‘I loved my mum and thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world, so when I see black women I think they are so strong and beautiful, whether they are skinny or “thicc”, have natural hair, are tall or short. I probably don’t have that lenience with other races if i’m completely honest.

‘The hardest thing for me was often the hatred that I was treated with.

‘I remember in Manchester a girl attacked me and my mixed friend in a club because “we thought we were too nice”. I wish I could sit that girl down and say actually I was crippled with self hatred and doubt because I didn’t belong.

‘I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to have my own race struggles because I was always “lucky”. All the while white people were calling me black and black people were calling me white.

‘Our day-to-day struggles are closer to black heritage than they are to white, and yet the truth of our struggles are often seen as not having any value.’

Sophie loves being mixed and sees it as an integral part of who she is: ‘I love that being mixed has given me deeper empathy for the world and the inequality within it.

‘I love that I am mixed in a time where I can be who I want to be and I love that I came from a black woman.’

Mixed Up

Being mixed-race is so much more than just black and white (Pictures: Jerry Syder)

Mixed Up is our weekly series that gets to the heart of what it means to be mixed-race in the UK today.

Going beyond discussions of divided identity, this series takes a look at the unique joys, privileges and complexities that come with being mixed-race – across of variety of different contexts.

The mixed-race population is the UK’s fastest-growing ethnic group, and yet there is still so much more to understand about the varied lived experiences of individuals within this hugely heterogenous group.

Each week we speak to the people who know exactly how it feels to navigate this inbetween space.

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