It’s taken around 20 years but Mid Ulster woman Sara Keenan has finally learned to accept herself. 

Growing up as a mixed-race girl in rural Tyrone, and with her African dad not in her life until recently, Sara was surrounded by mostly white people, and put pressure on herself to fit in.

When lockdown hit, the 23-year-old from Pomeroy finally let her natural hair have a rest after spending years straightening it three times a day. Sara was learning to love herself and now she is sharing her story with the world through her own podcast, Out of Sight.

Sara recently spoke about growing up mixed race in Northern Ireland on an episode of Evelyn McAleer’s Podcast, Effortless Attraction. The episode was aptly named ‘Self-Acceptance with Sara Keenan’, and Sara tells us how loving herself was never straightforward. 

“Growing up mixed race in Ireland, I never faced severe racism, but there were microaggressions,” she says.

“Whenever I would tell people I was from Ireland, they would ask, ‘Where are you really from?’ I was dealing with things like that, and I had a bit of an identity crisis.

Sara’s mum always encouraged her to love herself

“I wasn’t sure where I fitted in. I thought ‘I’m not black enough, or white enough.’ I was straightening my hair three times a day as I grew up, and then when lockdown hit, I decided I was just going to be myself for a while.”

When Sara chose to wear her hair natural three years ago, she started to embrace her black culture and heritage.

And, around the same time, the protests following George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement helped her realise there were other black and mixed-race people here feeling the same way as she did.

She tells us that it was the first time she spoke publicly about being mixed race, taking to social media to share her thoughts. Sara says: “I was seeing black people speaking out, and it made me realise I wasn’t alone in how I felt.”

She started to understand there was a community here that she belonged to, and she says it was only because she accepted herself that she could see that.

“Growing up, there were black people in my school, but I didn’t spend a lot of time with them, or other black people, because I hadn’t fully accepted that I was black,” she explains.

When asked if she thinks having her dad in her life as a child would have made any difference, Sara answers that it’s hard to know: “I still think the questions about where I was really from would have still happened.

“And my mum always encouraged me to be myself. I wanted to get my hair permanently straightened when I was younger and she wouldn’t let me. She always told me to love myself, and love my differences.

Sara grew up mixed race in Northern Ireland

“But I think it would have made some difference to have my dad around. If I had a black side growing up, it maybe would have been easier to accept who I was.”

Sara’s dad contacted her two years ago, which was the first time in her life she had heard from him. But Sara says she doesn’t hold a grudge against him for not being there when she was younger.

“I know from his point of view that it would have been hard to think about coming back into my life and how scary that would have been for him,” she says.

“When he first reached out, I was thinking about how he hadn’t contacted me for so long but I didn’t want to have any regrets, so I decided I wanted to talk to him.

“And I thought, if I was going to do that, I needed to fully commit to it and not have any bitterness about the past.”

Sara spoke to her dad for some time before finally meeting in person in January.

She explains: “I was emotional that morning when I was planning to meet him, but I didn’t cry when I saw him, because I don’t think it’s a sad thing. I think it’s a nice thing.”

There have been many emotional moments while reconnecting with her dad, particularly when she discovered she had five more younger siblings she didn’t know about.

She says: “Whenever I saw pictures of them for the first time, I burst into tears. I have two other younger sisters, and I’m so close to them, and it felt like I was becoming an older sister again, so that was nice, too.”

Sara hasn’t yet met her siblings on her dad’s side yet, but says she cannot wait to meet them, and more of her extended family someday: “I think meeting my dad was the hardest part, and I’m ready for everything else now.”

Sara is currently studying a Master’s Degree in Journalism in London

After growing up wanting to fit in, Sara has spent the last three years learning to accept her race, her differences and her dad back into her life again.

And she says all of it has made her want to share her story, as well as doing a Master’s Degree in Journalism in London.

She talks of her studies: “I want to talk about race in my journalism and I think my course has given me the confidence to talk about it again. I want to spread awareness and give a platform to anyone who has been unrepresented.”

That’s why Sara has started her own podcast where she’s speaking to anyone she feels hasn’t had a chance to step into the spotlight.

She adds: “I wouldn’t change anything about how I grew up. It’s made me who I am, and if it had all been easy, I wouldn’t be able to help anyone now.”