In Not Quite White, 28-year-old London-born writer and musician Laila Woozeer shares a personal story of growing up mixed race in a rural white village in North Wales. Laila takes readers on a funny, vivid and profoundly moving journey of self-discovery, identity and belonging, travelling between Mauritius, the USA, and the UK to make sense of the world and one’s place within it.
Neither here, nor there; neither one, nor the other. What does it feel like to be an indescribable shade somewhere in between? Can you even exist in a binary world that seems so black and white? Why is there no easy way to describe someone who is a Welsh-French-Scottish-American-Indian-Mauritian?
This is the real-life story of Laila Woozeer - lost, confused, and finally found – trying desperately to understand how to exist, how to survive, and what it might mean to thrive. From early childhood memories of self-discovery to an identity crisis of adolescence to a misunderstood existence in adult life, Not Quite White charts Laila’s struggle to find a meaningful place in the world.
From falling at the first hurdle in the classroom with no Laila-coloured crayons to draw themself, growing up desperately searching for visible representation in popular culture, side-eyeing the colour matches in the beauty aisle to constantly being fetishised in the dating world and struggling to find an accurate tick-box on the census. With a critical eye on history and a generous dose of humour, this is an important and powerful story of belonging and not belonging, of not knowing if you exist, and of making sure that you do.
“In my younger years I was genuinely unclear on whether I was supposed to exist. Between confusing messaging from society and a lack of representation in media it was a constant battle for my own sense of self – I wrote this book for the me that undid the damage and gaslighting wrought on me, and I wrote it for everyone else out there trying to will themselves into existence the way I did.” – Laila Woozeer
The brutality of racism and colonialism are at the core of the book. Their cumulative effect on a single life are addressed directly through Laila’s own experiences of family members and the outside world. Intertwined with this is a compelling account of the growth of a creative mind as Laila’s travels between the UK, USA and Mauritius become opportunities to connect the dots of family history and fill in the missing gaps of Britain’s colonial past that had been whitewashed from history lessons at school.
Using the healing stream of connection – with personal and family history, friends, nature and imagination – and the act of creation, Laila illustrates the way a self was forged. Between past lives and personhood, and from colonialism to creativity, this is an emotive, poetic and witty account of identity, endurance, courage, growth and artistry.
Not Quite White: A Memoir by Laila Woozeer is published in hardback by Simon & Schuster on 23 June 2022, £16.99