Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Mixed Race: A mixed matter

Me with my big sisters

Last week I read a great blog post, see it here! It was one of those experiences where your heart races a little faster with both the comprehension of the subject and excitement with it! My great friend Mama-andmore wrote about a subject that we have spoken about in many contexts before, a subject which drew us to one another when we first met at college many years ago and one that intrigues us further since having our own offspring. It is the subject of identifying as mixed-race.

I always have so much to say on this subject that it is very easy for me to get carried away thinking I'm writing my dissertation all over again! In fact, I'm very late in publishing this post because I've re-written it a number of times realizing that I may be going off track somewhat. So, anyway Mama-andmore asked me for a response to her post and without giving it too much thought (so as not to get into dissertation mode) this is what I wrote:

'This is a great post Zaz, really effortless and natural! I am mixed-race with a Ghanaian(West African) father and a white British mother. I spent my early years in Ghana and moved to Britain when I was ten and on occasion I was both celebrated and insulted in equal measure from both 'sides'. There were cultural issues to face as the question of race and identity were very different for each 'side'. I learned very quickly to be adaptable and accepting of each 'sides' prejudices and misunderstandings and saw my role as an advocate for both camps! I would love to say with confidence that the colour of a persons skin bares little meaning but I don't believe it to be true. I definitely choose for my 7 year old and four year old boys to keep their hair long because it is their hair and not their skin colour that identifies them as 'mixed' and it is very important to us as a family that they have a sense of both pride and clarity in their ethnic and family background. I feel equally passionate about sharing with them stories about their white great-grandmother who was a single parent back in the 1940's, all of these histories are fundamental in shaping who we are and where we came from. However, skin colour visibly 'outs you' whichever side of the fence you sit on and when being in the minority means always standing out in a crowd, that can be a burden whether it's a mixed-race girl in a predominantly white school or a white woman in rural west africa in the 1960's like my mother experienced. I could go on and on ... but I won't! I'll definitely be linking this great post on my blog for others to see Zaz, it's such a great topic for debate and shared experiences!'

On reflection, my comment seemed rather negative and I came away thinking that I may have done 'both sides' a disservice but actually I think that's because where I live right now I don't really have to think about the colour of my skin. In my average day to day experiences it's all pretty cosy and middle class and safe but this has not been the case all of my life. Even seventeen odd years ago when that hubby of mine and I first started dating there were definitely places where we knew not to hold hands because it wasn't worth the hassle of something kicking off. I've never mentioned this to my eldest son - a boy with a real sense of justice he would find it shocking because thankfully he hasn't had any negative experiences so far of that type. He thinks it's normal to get stopped repeatedly wherever we go and told how 'AMAZING' his hair is! There are definitely advantages to living in a country where 'Mixed-Race' is one of the fastest growing ethnic groups! My cousins and siblings were right all those years ago in Ghana when we said 'one day there will be a third race, the 'mixed-race!'

Mama-andmore and I would love to hear about your experiences too, so do get in touch and leave comments. Lastly, here's a short but interesting article that appeared in a paper today.


  1. So I've gone one further, and tweeted your post out... this is such a rich topic, with so much to say. Thank you my dear friend for joining in and fuelling the topic. You are absolutely right, skin colour does "out" you, and as a good friend of mine also pointed out, it has everything to do with the viewer's context in terms of how they view you - the window cleaner who assumed I was the cleaner/nanny this week (honestly!) probably had his own views on where I should fit in as a norm... and it wasn't in a 3 storey house in West London! On the other hand, it's also still the case to some people that if you are not white you are "other" - although what I find interesting is that over recent years, the "other" is not necessarily as marginalised as in years gone by, or perhaps I am being naive and cocooned. I could go on and on and on!!!

  2. That's great Zazou, thank you for tweeting about the post! I agree with your friend that 'the viewer's context' is key in how we define individuals. Each of us when looking at a person uses this personal 'viewer's context' to very quickly form an opinion about the person and unfortunately some peoples experience is very narrow, perhaps like your window cleaner! A similar experience I have had many times over the years is shock and disbelief that my mother is white. Many times as a teenager my friends parents would ask me to explain who this woman was as they had presumed I was 'black'. It still happens now, if my mum picks the kids up from school on my behalf the following day the majority of people will say 'I saw your mother-in-law'. I don't find this offensive but it does show that skin colour is hugely significant in how perceive others and the reality/fact/evidence of physical difference is still relevant in how we define identity and a sense of belonging.
    On the subject of 'other', I was thinking just the other day what a great relief it is to no longer have to tick that 'other' box on forms and how that has a greater bearing on my own sense of 'otherness'. I agree that the 'other' is not marginalised in the same way as it was some years back and I definitely attribute that to the rise in visibility of mixed-race couples and mixed race children and the increase of 'mixed race' as an ethnic group in our country and society at large.