Little Mix songstress Jade Thirlwall recently opened up about her Arab heritage and the “horrific” bullying she experienced because of it in efforts to emphasize the importance of education and open conversations about race and identity. In an intimately honest interview with BBC Sounds’ podcast No Country for Young Women, Thirlwall revealed incidents during her adolescence that triggered feelings of shame about her multicultural background and stemmed into insecurities she’s still learning how to overcome today. “I think because I was bullied quite badly in school because of the color of my skin and for being Arab, I wasn’t very proud of who I was.”
Although Thirlwall’s father is British, her maternal grandmother is Egyptian and her maternal grandfather is Yemeni. While studying at school in the UK as a teen, Thirlwall faced emotional and physical abuse from her fellow classmates as she struggled to fit in. “When I went to secondary school I was literally one of three people of color in the school,” she explained, adding that once her face was even whitened for an amateur stage production.
When Thirlwall first auditioned for The X Factor UK back in 2011 and was chosen to become one of the four members of the eventual first-place winning girl group Little Mix, the young artist kept her mixed-race a secret and avoided publicly speaking about it. “I think when I then entered the group, I subconsciously didn’t want to talk about my heritage or what my background was in fear of not being as popular,” shared the Secret Love Song artist, “which sounds awful to say, but I was only 18 years old and through years of being ashamed of who I was, I found it quite hard to talk about it.”
After almost a decade in the spotlight, the Brit Award winner is still dealing with the deep-rooted aftermath of her childhood and struggling to find a place where she belongs. “I have constantly had this inner battle of not really having who I am or where I fit in or what community I fit into.”
However, looking back, she criticizes not the people but the “lack of education” about race and ethnicity growing up and is using her platform to speak out about the impact and importance of being true to yourself. “Even now I am constantly learning what the right things are to say and I would hate to talk about my race and my heritage and not say the right things.”