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Why am I so white?

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

When I was at primary school my great grandmother who had been in my life for ten short years died. She was Nana Gibb to me and I knew very little about her, nothing really stood out of interest to me about her or her life she was my grandmothers mother and we visited her in a nursing home and she gave me lollies, and that was really where it ended; until I grew up and at some point realised that she was a woman of colour and became curious.

My curiosity was met by one reply "shhhhhhhhhh"

No one talked about it. No one wanted to answer my questions and everyone I tried said that it was best not to upset people by asking them my questions. This obviously made me even more curious. Why was the subject of Nana Gibb's colour off limits?

Rebecca Gibb had married Geordie Gibb one of the palest of the earths inhabitants, a man who left Scotland for a new life in the promised land of New Zealand. At some point in the story bachelor Geordie came in contact with a beautiful woman of Jamaican decent born in Oamaru to a Wharf worker and his "friend" who was Irish. There was nothing in the four children's complexion that boasted anything from Ireland however; they were all various shades of cocoa; the boys being a very very dark version and the girls a shade or three paler.

Rebecca and her siblings were placed into a Presbyterian run orphanage in Dunedin when their Jamaican wharf worker father dropped dead in his early fifties leaving his Irish Margaret up the creek without a paddle, a home, an income or any kind of future. When they were old enough to leave the Dunedin home and find work they each set out to make their own way and Rebecca found her way to the North Island where she met Geordie. With seventeen years difference between them Geordie must have thought himself quite the lucky fellow, he had done well for himself in his eyes and took the beautiful young Rebecca back to his farm in Kimbolton where they raised 8 children giving 3 to the war effort receiving 2 home at the end. Rebecca died in 1979 and was buried in Kimbolton, her funeral attracted hundreds of people because of the legacy she had left behind; a legacy that was difficult to piece together because of the issue of her colour, all I have is random pieces of information my mother has been able to give me of snippets she can remember, combined with snippets that others have been able to piece together. All of us aware that it was her colour that made the telling of the story and the asking of questions somehow difficult. Yet as we look back with a 2023 cultural lens it's difficult to understand the lens of the 1940's.

As in most multi cultural homes there were a mixture of skin colours in this family, half the children looked as if they were Maori and half as if they were Scottish. All attended the same small rural school and all suffered from the same taunts for the fact that they shared a mother who was hurtfully referred to on the playground by the "N" word. My grandmother was the second born and the first pure white child that their union created. She looked like she had stepped straight out of the moors of Scotland with her fine white hair that never changed colour from her birth to her death and her pale complexion that never changed even when the sun did touch it. Mary Elizabeth Gibb my grandmother wasn't able to tell me about her mother; the pain of her childhood taunts had made it difficult for her and her siblings; the racism had caused the unmentionable 'colour' to be an unwanted conversation.

I still wanted to know.

My fascination with family heritage and my desire to know my make up led me to DNA testing. I wanted to know how much of me I had inherited from my Jamaican great great grandfather; and was delighted to see that there was a full 7.2% that had contributed to my makeup. I was Identified as 7.2% Middle Eastern showing up in Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the home of many from Jamaica. I was also identified as 12.7% Eastern European with Ukraine, Romania and Poland identified. Having my DNA testing done helped me to see how white I am, 77.5% of my genetic information comes from very white countries with only 22.5% of my genetic information coming from countries where white skin is non dominant.

We are all a great big melting pot, and although my exterior tells a story my interior has another one. Bit by bit I have pieced together the story of "Darkie" the notorious Oamaru Wharfie who was regularly in the paper for disordered behaviour but also occasionally for his bravery. He is a part of my history and his DNA runs in my veins. My desire is that the English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Scandanavian, Romanian, Middle Eastern and Ashkenazi Jewish are all reflected in who I am not just as a percentage but for the essence of who I am. The world may see me as a White Woman but that is not how I identify. I identify as mixed race and my cultural identity is a constant work in progress.

BSc.psychology, Diploma Professional Coaching, Master Trainer

Marina is a coach, professional development expert, and facilitator who specialises in helping people develop themselves so they can be the best version of themselves and conduct their personal and professional lives more effectively.

Learn more about her HERE

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