Collage with photos by Luizclas at Pexels
Kate Rogers investigates the grey areas that define being mixed race in a black and white world
The world cannot decide if it wants to be divided by ethnicity or not. There seems to be a conflict over minority groups’ attempts to integrate, to earn the rights that their white peers flaunt, and to protect the cultures that those same people aim to appropriate.
Within this battle is the obvious idea that when a society becomes more accepting of other races the integration doesn’t stop at just sharing classrooms. This is where Mixed kids make their appearance. We are evidently viewed as an example of progression, in the media; see every John Lewis advert from the last 10 years, we are ‘more palatable’ than our fully black counterparts. Mixed race people are an anomaly – misunderstood and misrepresented – coexisting in the grey area of society. Never too present but undoubtedly there.
My awareness of my mixed-race-ness started at around the time of my first World Book Day. Though it wasn’t an obvious enlightenment about my two cultural identities, it was the start of my sheer stubbornness in refusing to dress up as book characters who didn’t look like me.
Why would I want to? When other children actually looked like Matilda, why would I want to come as her? The red bow would be hidden under my curls anyway. So, I went as Lilac, Anna Hibiscus, Lotta and even Ruby Bridges at one point. But, racially, I was as close to these people as I was to the white characters that were plastered on the front page of nearly every book I read.
World Book Day, unbeknownst to me at the time, was the perfect example of how the rest of my life would feel
My classmates weren’t sure who I was when I came in, excited to show off my purple dress or the flower in my hair. But at least they weren’t confused because I didn’t look like them. I never had anyone tell me that Pipi Longstocking had straight red hair not the dark frizzy plaits that I donned, so I’d avoided the problem I feared. Yet I was never as dark as the characters I chose, and my hair was always a pale imitation of the intricacies of black hair, styles my white mother just couldn’t recreate.
World Book Day, unbeknownst to me was the perfect example of how the rest of my life would feel. Not quite black and not quite white. As time went on and I was introduced to more black people that my primary school could offer, they asked me the question: why do you act so white?
When interviewing other mixed ethnicity people in my area I asked them what this question meant to them. They’d all experienced it and the general consensus was that to act white is to be well behaved, clever, dedicated and articulate. Asking someone why they act so white is asking them why they have these positive attributes. Because the stereotypes that are put upon black people make it inconceivable that a black person might be any of these things.
It’s an insult, a back-handed question, to ask an interracial why they’re so white. It’s like pointing a big red arrow at us and saying “you’re an inadequate black person”.
I came across people at school who outright didn’t think that mixed people should exist
Colourism, which is racial prejudice based on the tone of someone’s skin, favouring those with lighter skin, is prevalent in so many different cultures. So being black and being light is a gateway to opportunities that fully black people can’t receive. It’s almost a given that there would be a hostility between the groups. Though it’s still humorous that it was my black peers who wanted to know why I was so white, staring at me like an animal in a cage, wondering why I didn’t gel my hair or get braids. Yet it felt like they didn’t realise by criticising me they were misrepresenting themselves.
“Why aren’t you like me?” meant “why are you treated better than me?” – that was my experience at a predominantly white school. And when I met people who’d received their education in more diverse spaces where People of Colour dominated the environment – teacher and student body – I came across people who outright didn’t think that mixed people should exist.
The extremism of either side vouches for the isolation of both races. Whispers of black preservations and fears of a white genocide are present in the minds of most people when talking about being black or white. I can see why, I, an inconvenient amalgamation of both, displease either side. Being mixed is like being stuck between a rock and a hard place, defend one side of my ethnicity too far and I offend the other.
But there is beauty in being mixed race, having not one but two cultures, histories, language and art to learn and be inspired by. It isn’t all warring histories and conflicting opinions. Although, more often than not, the foundation of being mixed race, in such a highly politicised society, is deeply uncomfortable. Community and unity when you’re literally split in two, an ally and an enemy, creates a growing population of people that no one wants to understand. A problem when, in fact, the future is likely going to be pretty interracial.