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We need to talk more about being mixed race
The hardest thing about being mixed race for me has been navigating society after being raised in a home environment in which my mixed-race identity was entrenched. Let’s get one thing straight: on a personal level, I do not see myself as black or as white – because I am not. I am both. Both my parents are British: my mum is ethnically English, and my dad is ethnically Jamaican. Some may think that this pedantic, but let me elaborate.
At home, it was not only my and my brother’s ethnicity that was mixed, but it was also our environment. I grew up listening to ABBA one moment, and then Jamaican dancehall the next. Some Sundays my family and I would tuck into a carvery at the local pub, and other Sundays would consist of huge family get-togethers, with everyone eagerly awaiting my aunts emerging carrying pots of curry goat and trays of jerk chicken. The cultural exchange that I remember from my childhood was huge, and the language we spoke at home was a melting-pot of Jamaican and English.
This is not about me not being proud of being black, or being white – but more about being confused at how the world sees me. If I see my mixed heritage as an intrinsic part of my personhood, but seen to be a particular race by the rest of the world, can I be anything else?
The photos of my cousin’s son, with alabaster skin and red hair, sitting on his great-grandfather’s lap, a Jamaican man, were amazing to behold and encapsulated my home environment’s attitude to skin: it is a spectrum. Before I started school, I saw everyone in my family as a spectrum of colour. But outside of the comfort of family, and as I get older, I realise how uncomfortable society makes me by trying to place me into a box that I do not fit into.
On my street at home, there was gossip and confusion about ‘that black girl with the afro living with the blonde woman across the street’ – referring to my mother and me. My identity was inconceivable to them. But I am proud of my identity. My existence is a testament to my parent’s resilience to the racial pejoratives regarding their interracial relationship that they received in the late 80s and 90s in Birmingham. I am continually thankful to my mum for all her strength in putting up with being so mocked and ridiculed for having two children of mixed heritage.
Starting the ‘Mixed Race and Mixed Heritage’ forum on Facebook, in some respects, was a culmination of many moments: my white grandfather and I having an argument about immigration, and him defending why he chose to vote UKIP; my white mother telling me to celebrate my mixed heritage, but my black father reminding me that the world sees me as black.
Then, during the ‘Match4Lara’ campaign, I realised that the mixed-race struggle runs deeper than appearances. Even biologically we can be at a huge disadvantage, as only three per cent of people on the stem cell and bone marrow registry are mixed race.
After that, I realised that a space needed to exist for people like me – for mixed-race and mixed-heritage people who have these unique identities, and unique struggles. A place for people who are frequently met with the classic ‘What are you?’ or ‘You’re a half-breed, haha!’ in a world in which you already feel like you don’t have a space.
In making the ‘Mixed Race and Mixed Heritage’ forum, I hoped to create a space in which people can share their experiences in an environment free from judgement or misunderstanding. It is a space to promote solidarity. Of course, not all mixed-race people are the same. The socially constructed dichotomy of people of colour versus white people is eroded by the existence of mixed-race people.
As time goes on, our erasure will become more and more difficult. Mixed-race people are the fastest-growing minority in the UK. In future years, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to try and put mixed-race people into one category or the other, be it on paper on poorly worded forms asking about ethnicity, or in society more generally. This is about celebrating and understanding the unique identity and life experiences I, and many other people, have as a result of our ethnic background.
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We are therefore almost entirely reliant on advertising for funding and we expect to have a tough few months and years ahead.
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The mixed-race experience: 'There are times I feel like the odd one out'
Last year the photographer Tenee Attoh began taking portraits of multiracial friends and acquaintances against a mottled black background at the Bussey Building in Peckham, southeast London. Attoh is half-Dutch on her mother’s side, half-Ghanaian on her father’s, and identifies as mixed-race. Born in the UK, she spent most of the first 23 years of her life in Accra and Amsterdam, shuttling between cities and cultures, an experience she found enlightening but problematic. “On the one hand it allows you to develop a different understanding of the world,” she says of her duality. “But there’s still a lot of ignorance in society. People perceive you as either black or white, and you’re not – you’re mixed.”
Working in London, Attoh heard similar stories from other mixed-race people, and soon she began publishing her images online (at mixedracefaces.com and on Instagram) alongside small texts that allowed her subjects to share personal thoughts on identity, race and self, something they couldn’t do elsewhere. Following the death of her mother, to whom the series is dedicated, the project helped Attoh dissect her own multiracial experience – what it means to be connected to two worlds at once, and how society perceives that condition – but it has also sparked an open forum on diversity. “It’s not a topic people usually talk about,” Attoh says. “So the website has become a platform for people with mixed heritage. It’s given a lot of them a sense of belonging.”
When she was starting out, friends and family corralled subjects for Attoh to shoot. (She is indebted to her family, she says, for the work they’ve contributed for free: the space in which the portraits are taken is co-run by her son; the 90 or so hour-long interviews were transcribed by her daughter-in-law, often late at night.) Now subjects, keen to share their personal histories, approach Attoh directly, and she notices themes reoccurring. Many subjects celebrate the benefit of being able to flit between cultures while embracing both. Others talk of the strain inherent in not being of one place – of being from neither here nor there, tugged between one identity and another. Some find it easy, others less so.
Attoh has now taken more than 90 images, a selection of which are published here. Those photographed represent great portions of the world – Japan, Jamaica, Malaysia, Sweden, Iran, China, South Africa – but also provide a portrait of contemporary Britain. In the 2011 census 1.25 million people identified as mixed race, making it the fastest-growing ethnic group in the UK. “A mixed-race girl just married a prince!” says Attoh. But discrimination persists. “It’s 2018, and mixed-race people are still asked the question, ‘Where are you really from?’”
Later this year Attoh will organise an exhibition of the photos she’s made so far. In the meantime she’ll turn her lens on subjects in Holland, to examine differences in the mixed-race experience. But mostly her project is meant to raise public awareness. “I’m hoping it will become a platform for wider discussion,” Attoh says. “To help people understand these different points of view, these different experiences.”
Liz Loginova, North Korean/Russian
I grew up in Moscow until I was about nine and then we moved to the UK. I feel Russian, really. I speak Russian at home. Culturally I don’t have any real Korean connections; if anything, I feel more British than North Korean. When I was younger I didn’t want to be Asian at all; I was embarrassed by it. It doesn’t bother me now, but then I alternated between thinking it was something interesting about myself and hating the fact that I looked different. I really wanted to have lighter hair.
Fintan O’Haire, Indian Jamaican/Irish
I’m Irish on my dad’s side, mixed Jamaican and Indian on my mum’s. There are times I feel like the odd one out, especially at family functions. You’ll see a sea of white faces, and then there’s me and my brother. It can be isolating; there aren’t many people I can relate to. In my adult years I’ve learned to appreciate where I come from. I can’t tell people I’m one race because I’d be disrespecting the other. I try to maintain the balance.
Marie Creasey, Colombian/British
I was born and raised in San Francisco. My mother is Colombian and my dad is mixed Scottish and English. They met on a blind date; 14 days later they were married. When I was little I was very dark, but when I turned seven I became very fair. There was an awkward time when people thought my mum was my nanny. Because I was so light-skinned I would embrace being English rather than being Colombian. My son is a blond-haired, blue-eyed child, but I want him to know he is mixed Colombian.
Robert Sae-Heng, Mexican/Thai
I was born in London but lived in Mexico until I was eight because of my disability – I was born deaf. I went to live with my grandmother in a small village. We had a pet donkey called Jesús. We also had chickens, pigs, goats, you name it. It was a great childhood. But in school in Mexico, I was always seen as being different. In Mexico people call each other by nicknames. My family’s nickname was ‘Japonicitos’ – Japanese. In Mexico they’d never really seen an Oriental person before, apart from what they’d seen on TV, on Dragon Ball Z.
Jade Duncan-Knight, British Irish/Indian Jamaican
I’ve spent my whole life in England so I’ve always identified as British. My mother is half-Jamaican and half-Indian; my dad is half-English and half-Irish. I appreciated visiting people on both sides of the family; each time I could learn and experience different and unique things about the cultures I was connected to: food, music, traditions, stories. It was interesting to hear from those who spoke patois, while others spoke with London accents. Though sometimes the middle ground felt like a lonely place.
Raymond Antrobus, British/Jamaican
I’m a teacher, I spend a lot of time with younger people, and I’m hearing so many younger mixed-race people interrogating what they call their ‘privilege theory’. What are their privileges as a light-skinned person? How does their status relate to that of their darker-skinned friends, or people who look more African or more European? It’s a hell of a thing to navigate, and I think there’s a pressure on younger people to understand it. But your identity can be about many things. It doesn’t have to be just about race. It could be about being a parent, a cyclist, a musician.
Paksie Vernon, British/Lesotho
Dad and Mum met in Lesotho. Dad worked for NGOs. I was born in Wales, but I didn’t live in the UK until I was 13. When we were young we lived in many countries: Ghana, Uganda, Mali, Kenya. I loved the food in Ghana. Even for a mixed-race person I’m quite fair, so until I was 13 I thought of myself as white (every African country has a word for ‘white person’.) When I came to the UK I was told I was black. It highlighted a lot about race: how so much of your identity is what other people put on you.
Nina Camara, Guinean/Slovak
I was born and brought up in a small town in Slovakia. It’s not mixed at all: around 95% white. Race wasn’t really an issue, but I did come across people who would shout at me on the street, things like ‘black girl’, which I found very unpleasant. I became guarded. I came to the UK because I wanted to experience something different, to be treated like a normal human being. That’s what I like about London: it’s so diverse, you don’t get labelled. The culture I grew up in doesn’t really reflect who I am. When someone thinks of Slovaks, they don’t picture faces like mine.
Dean Atta, Greek Cypriot/Jamaican
My mum’s family are from Cyprus. My dad’s family are Jamaican, with African heritage. But I grew up in northwest London. When I was the president of the African Caribbean Society at university, one of my friends who ran the society with me told me I wasn’t really black because I had a white mum. I think from that point onwards I’ve always referred to myself as black – very intentionally. I stand in solidarity with all black people. I don’t think being mixed makes me any less black. Whiteness is set up to exclude all those who are not white.
Julie Lythcott-Haims on Being a ‘Real American’ and Growing Up Black
San Francisco, California
Mina Kim, Host
Julie Lythcott-Haims sold Girl Scout cookies and later ran track in high school. But as a black and biracial woman, Lythcott-Haims says her identity was often questioned, even though she felt as American as her peers. As the descendant of a South Carolina slave and her owner, Lythcott-Haims writes, “I’m so American it hurts,” She joins Forum to talk about her book “Real American: A Memoir”, what it means to be a real American and the racism and microaggressions she faced throughout her life…
Download the interview (00:53:00) here.
Comments Off on Julie Lythcott-Haims on Being a ‘Real American’ and Growing Up BlackSours: https://www.mixedracestudies.org/?tag=forum
Forum mixed race
.Race, mixed-race identities, and multicuralism - Dorry Guerra - TEDxChungnamScienceSchool
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