Zoe Amar: “I feel most at home when I’m not at home”
The digital entrepreneur on flexing to fit and writing her own language
Hi, welcome to the first Mixed Messages of 2022! This week, I’m speaking to digital entrepreneur Zoe Amar, who is of mixed Chinese and English heritage. Zoe’s sense of identity has shifted throughout her life with a fluidity she hopes we all embrace, and she looks to her children’s generation to lead that charge. Read her story below.
How do you define your race?
I’m half-Chinese and half-English. My mum was a child refugee, leaving China for Hong Kong at a very young age and then coming to England when she was 17. She met my English dad while she trained to be a nurse and he was training to be a doctor.
Has your sense of identity changed over time?
I think inevitably as a mixed person your sense of identity changes according to the place and life situation that you’re inhabiting. I grew up in multicultural Greenwich in South East London, which I think helped.
I started to feel different when I went to the University of Warwick. I felt like a fish out of water and like people struggled to talk to me. Music was the thing that saved me. I’ve made so many friends through being into dance music - the club scene felt like the only place I could really be myself. If I’m in a crowd, singing and dancing, no one cares who I am.
Did you ever seek out a community of other mixed people?
I do end up naturally gravitating towards people who are different - if you feel like you stand out from the norm, you will share a sense of common ground with those people.
I’ve always felt like an outsider, so I’ve sought to create that sense of community in other ways, through music, the work I do in the charity sector, building communities in digital and so on.
How are you dealing with conversations about identity with your children?
My husband is half-Indian, half-Scottish, and we want our children to feel lucky to have access to all these different perspectives and experiences. Connecting our children with their heritage cultures is really important to us. We celebrate Diwali, Chinese New Year, Rakhri and of course they get Christmas. We cook a lot of Chinese and Indian food too, as well as British food. My kids are currently obsessed with gulab jamun.
I asked my son what he thought about being mixed-race and he said “I think it’s cool, it makes me unique.” He has a lot of mixed-race friends too, which means he sees other people who have different perspectives around him. My daughter also told her teacher about her background, and the teacher replied that she herself was a fifth Scottish. I hope we get to a point where it becomes normal to talk about this stuff.
Who do you think speaks interestingly about mixedness at the moment?
I loved Biracial Britain by Dr Remi Adekoya, and I think Phil Wang’s book Sidesplitter is a brilliant and brave book on the impact of mixed identity.
How do you hope the conversation changes in future?
I hope people realise the nuance and complexity that’s involved with mixedness, and how that can be a real strength. Who you are doesn’t need to be defined in terms of fixed points, these things change through our lifetime. We’re all human and we evolve.
How has your mixedness impacted your career?
What I’ve realised is that if you’re different, you really need to see it as a licence to be different. My work as a digital consultant working with charities is all about disruption and challenging the status quo. If you’re not part of the status quo, it’s a lot easier to see the change that needs to happen.
As a consultant, I go from organisation to organisation, and I’m happy doing that because I feel most at home when I’m not at home. Coming from a mixed background, you become really good at reading situations and flexing who you are. Whenever you have experiences of not being included as well, you also make an extra effort to make everyone feel included.
What’s the best thing about being mixed for you?
There's no template for who you are. Mixed people all have their own unique imprints, you have to write your own language and teach yourself to speak. I don't want others to own and define who I am. I make the choice to do that.
How would you define your mixed identity in one word?
Strength. My husband once said to me, ‘twin roots make you stronger.’
Next week, I’ll be talking to Brie Read, CEO of Snag Tights. Subscribe to get Mixed Messages in your inbox on Monday.
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Mixed Messages is a weekly exploration of the mixed-race experience, from me, Isabella Silvers. My mom is Punjabi (by way of East Africa) and my dad is white British, but finding my place between these two cultures hasn’t always been easy. That’s why I started Mixed Messages, where each week I’ll speak to a prominent mixed voice to delve into what it really feels like to be mixed.