A CRE eConference · 4-6 September 2007
|Against the term 'mixed-race' (Linda Bellos, Diversity Solutions)|
|28 August 2007|
Against the term 'mixed-race'
Posted on: Tuesday 28 August 2007
I loathe the term 'mixed race' almost as much I as I loath 'half-caste' as a description of who I am or part of who I am. What does 'full-caste' look like, I wonder? What exactly is a 'race' in terms of biology, genetics or societies?
These are some of the questions that arise when a racist society seeks to define individuals in terms of their 'race'.
I do acknowledge that racism exists, but I have difficultly recognising a race, either pure or mixed. It is significant that being of mixed cultural heritage does not seem to include those who are, for example, a mixture of part French or German or Dutch or English or Danish. Such combinations of European peoples are not often described as mixed race, even where people refer to French or German race. So what seems to be going on is that mixed race is confined to visible mixtures which include European and Non-European heritage. I used to think that mixed race referred only to African and European mixes, but I note that it is applied to European and Indian/Pakistani/Sri Lankan as well as Chinese heritage. If I am correct, then the term mixed is even more worrying than I thought. In fact the word miscegenation seem have been coined to describe the mixing of races. One dictionary defines it thus: marriage, cohabitation, or sexual intercourse between a white person and a member of another race. In this definition whiteness is a race just as Blackness is.
Notions of race come from the pseudo science of the Nineteenth century in which the world's peoples are divided into 5 groups, with Mongoloid and Negroid at the bottom of this short pyramid. We know that a science was developed to provide proof that it was justified to have enslaved or colonised African and Asian peoples who were deemed to be inferior races compared to Europeans.
What strikes me about defining a relationship to Blackness is that Black is not a Country, it is not a culture. It is a measurement of melanin, but it has become a measurement of negative human value. These days I describe myself as of African heritage; one by the way, I am intensely proud of. But when I was a small child I was encouraged to be ashamed of my African heritage. It was, without doubt, something one was made to feel should be hidden or denied. Playground bullying in the early to late 1950's for many of us featured a heavy dose of racism; for all the half-caste definitions, the racisms came in undiluted measures. I am glad to say that I have a strong (then) Black Consciousness, and recognized divide and rule when I say it. But from the age of seven, there was no doubt that if I had to decide what I was, it was Black, not half Black or half White; I cannot ever recall being called 'a half nigger'. Racists make sure the world is either Black or White.
In a world that sees Africans as low achievers, without culture or history, it is surprising that so many of us are proud of our heritage. However, it is against this backdrop that we are measured and named. It does not have to be a conscious racism that sees Africans as less than full human beings, but there are a set of cultural assumptions about being of African heritage that assume a negative value judgment even if one was not intended.
It seems to me that the term mixed race has merely replaced the concept of miscegenation; a word of clear racist intent. Mixed race/mixed heritage are a politer way of saying the same thing, that those called mixed race are the product of a relationship between a White person and a person of another race. In this context there is Black and White; Chinese people and those from the Indian subcontinent have been viewed and treated Anglo-Indians or their equivalent. These terms are the products of domination and conquest by Imperialism, and we are now many decades from the times when the rules and ethos of imperialism held sway, but their legacies live on, not least in the notion of mixed racial heritage. What is a race? The notion of a White race is explicit in the definition of miscegenation, but is there really a White race? A group of people with low melanin levels who also share other characteristics? Do they share a history or language? Clearly, White people have huge variations and differences, as do many African, Indians and Chinese people. In fact the concept of biological races has long been shown to be a fallacy, but we persist in referring to mixed race people, when in fact what we are naming is the presence of physical characteristics which are common in much of Africa.
What many of us of African heritage have been willing to do is engage in a discussion in which we deny any commonality with other African people on the grounds that we are part European (read White). This is a more recent phenomenon which seems to have arisen in the generations that were not born during the Civil Rights struggles in the USA. Those of us who were born before 1970 are more likely to have, what we then called, a 'Black Consciousness and pride'. These days we and younger generations call it an African consciousness or even an Afrikan Consciousness. It is not about exalting our Africaness but instead acknowledging with pride that we are of African heritage. It does not require us to deny any other aspect of our heritage. It is however an anomaly in British Society in the early 21st century to be proud to be African. I have been accused of denying other aspects of my heritage because I assert my Africaness. In fact I am intensely proud of my mother's Jewish heritage as well as my father's Nigerian culture and heritage, but it has to be said that in a racist society I am seen first for the colour of my skin.
The need to describe oneself as mixed, or the desire of society to define us as such is something which should be questioned. Let us not confuse the need to define our own identity with a rush to put us in a category which subtly but unmistakably names us as 'part Black' as though it was a taint. If one parent or grandparent is African we are right to call ourselves African if we wish, but it should not be mandatory. But if one is not proud of one's African heritage, it is not hidden by the term mixed. All it does is reinforce the notions that African or Black is not good - just like the old days. It is African heritage and Africa's history which must be reclaimed with pride and respect, with all of the nuances of the Caribbean, Manchester, London or Accra.
If we must be counted by skin colour, and personally I would prefer it if we were not, it must be for a reason. In fact, if we are to be counted for any reason I want to know what that reason is. If it is to tackle discrimination I am prepared to state all the things I am but not if you try to give me a label based solely upon the colour of my skin.
About the author
Linda Bellos is a Director of Diversity Solutions Consultancy Ltd, a specialist equality and diversity company she formed in February 2002. Since the early eighties, Linda has worked with a range of public authorities and the private sector advising on change management and policy formulation. [Read more]
This paper is taken with kind permission from the forthcoming Runnymede Trust publication: Mixed Heritage: Identity, Policy and Practice.