& mixing

New perspectives on mixed-race Britons

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

Linda Bellos: picture by Linda Nyland

Linda Bellos

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.

>"Individual Black folks who grow to >maturity in all-white settings that may >have allowed them to remain ignorant >of color caste systems are soon >initiated when they have contact with >other Black people."

>-bell hooks
>05 September 2007

This above post is the kind of pathetic racist, ignorant and emotional black mail that mixed race people face from some black people.

Black people are not mixed race, and not all mixed race people have strong black appearances, ie like guitar rock god Slash. I'm against the racist view that mixed race people's dominant or culture should be black. All mixed race people have different experiences of being mixed. Both good and bad.

It's about time the public knew black people are just as racist, if not more racist towards mixed race people in their views than whites.

Look at Charley from Big Brother. I read in an interview that she was called "Half Breed" by black kids when she was at school. Where were her rights when she was called this. If white kids said that it would be acknowledged as racism. But because mixed race people have been viewed just as black for way too long, black people get away with it and it's hidden under the carpet.

Black people have no right to tell mixed race people who don't come from black environments they are ignorant to the caste system.

It seem some black people still want to live in the 1700's, and think the mixed race identity is "we are better than black people". It's not like that, we just want our mixed race identity acknowledge. And have our rights against various forms of racism we can also face from black people acknowledged by the CRE. Such as the racist post I've highlighted at the top, which is calm and calculated form of racism.

Ben S
10 September 2007

Hi Linda,
I think we all search for a name that is descriptive, reasonably accurate and above all respectable. I’ve yet to find one that is absolutely acceptable to everyone. The term mixed race is one of the names now in use but it belies that it means someone with a combination of two of white, black or Asian mix. Yes it’s all to do with colour and shades thereof.
When I was at school shortly after WW2 (Don’t go to sleep just yet) I was one of two boys in the school that might be described as mixed race. We were good friends, the other boy was half German he had a German sounding name so I guess his dad was German. How he came to be in England I don’t know.
This other mixed race boy was tall, slim, very fair skinned, blonde hair and hansom. I suppose one could say he was stereotypically German or at least Nordic. He, as far as I know was never subjected to any racist abuse despite the fact that the school was close to Clapham Junction Station and the area was littered with the scars of bombing, many of the pupils and teaching staff lived in bomb-damaged houses and had lost loved ones due to enemy action.
I was short, dark skinned and foreign looking. My father had been in the British Army during the war, we lived in a few rooms in a bomb-damaged house. Two of my uncles had been killed due to enemy action. I was subjected to taunts from fellow schoolboys and severe racist abuse from one teacher in particular, he also openly taught racist dogma to his class that I was in. Strangely this man was my hero as he had fought in WW1 and had told the class some of his experiences. However he has left me with some mental scars that even to this day are with me.
Fortunately the science teacher a Mr Stiles helped me no end, many of the positive things in my life I owe to him.
Yes I’ve rambled on a bit but only to show what a touch of not-white can do in some peoples’ minds. The question I have for you is not only based on my schoolboy days but a lifetime of racial abuse including having my home set on fire while my family and I were sleeping in the early hours of the morning.
What respectable name can you give to a person that might be described as mixed race non-white/white? Who is considered inferior by many people simply because of their shading and parentage. Who also is shunned by many people in mainstream society. I could go on but that will cover the main attributes. Any name that may be evolved is a bit academic and can always soiled by racists such as our Union flag or our English flag has been.
May I respectfully suggest to you and any other people like us, be happy with yourself and if anyone has a problem with how they see you, let it be their problem not yours.
I long for the day when being black or white or some shade in-between would be as important as a person that say is a little shorter or little taller than the average person. That day I’m sorry to say is as far off as a fair and just settlement for the Middle East crisis.
Hey, I’ve just thought , our own dear Tony Blair is on that case now! But that’s another story.
Allan M

Allan M
09 September 2007

mixed- heritage, race, background (i don't know what to call myself after reading this!!) born, adopted and raise in Dublin, Ireland in an all white family... i moved here in 2001 and the only direct ,overt, horrible racism i have experienced have been at the hands of black people. I have been called a traitor for walking down the street with white people, my white boyfriend is literally ignored by black men who hit on me (even when he is standing right in front of them) and i have been accused repeatedly of thinking i was superior cause i was lighter skinned…. So my whole youth I was too ‘dark’ to really be accepted as Irish and then I move to what I thought was a much more advance society (which it is; it has had to be ) in terms of the ethnic debate and experience and i get this: a very rude awakening!
Siobhan McKenna
06 September 2007

"Individual Black folks who grow to maturity in all-white settings that may have allowed them to remain ignorant of color caste systems are soon initiated when they have contact with other Black people."

-bell hooks

05 September 2007

I agree partially with Linda Bellos in that notions of mixed and wholeness arise from 19th century conceptualisation of scientific racism which is heirarchally based on the notion of five groups of human beings. Yet, I also have empathy with the views of Ben S. In particular with his views on the right we have to define ourselves, rather than being assigned labels by others. In conscious rejection of the term 'race' (which is contested) as a person with a Ghanaian father and English mother, I prefer to to use the term dual ethnic origin or multiple ethnic origin rather than mixed race.

All human beings have an ethnic origin, some of us are enriched by an accident of our birth which means we have more than one ethnic origin. Significantly, as far as I understand the process of gentics few people have origins in one ethnic group.
Gina Awoko Higginbottom

Gina Higginbottom
04 September 2007

'Multiracial' works for me, for various reasons.

One, it moves us away from the tired old notion the 'mixed race' just refers to black/white, thereby completely excluding everyone else who is mixed from the debate.

Two, this is the term used by the multiracial community - and yes there is one - in America (see www.mavin.org)so we may as well get with it: the US has been discussing these issues for way longer than the UK, and conferences like this one have been happening for at least the last 15 years over the Pond. I'm so glad this is happening in the UK now, but people please, let's deal with the fact that we ALL, of any mix, identify with many of each other's themes and experiences and therefore we do share something, and therefore there is at least the possibility of a community. 'Mixed race' as used in the UK excludes many of us from the debate and nascent community.

Three, basically, I just love the look of confusion that generally crawls across people's faces when I reply that I'm 'multiracial'; the "what are you" is reflected right back...try it...!

Four, my children are Italian, Persian, Jamaican, Indian and French. We live in London. What are they? 'Mixed race' is just not glorious enough. We're going with Jamfritalindersian. Or plain multiracial, for short.
Madeleine Champagnie 4th September

Madeleine Champagnie
04 September 2007

I do believe it is time we stopped using 'colour'. I am no more white than someone else is black. I also do not perceive people to be 'mixed'. If your parents are of different countries, you stand for two parents of two cultures, of which you can celebrate and learn from both.
Jennie Elmore
04 September 2007

I am always surprised when some people choose to deny the existence of the term race or hate the use of mixed-race. If you are not white then race has had an often-negative effect on your well-being and life chances in a racist society, so why would you want to dismiss that. To describe yourself, as mixed-race does not mean you are denying your African heritage, if you have one, but why should you put one race above another. Yes, we would all like to be seen as human and there be no reference to race but there is. Yes, we know it is down to colonialism, racism and many other isms and that is why we need to show it. By using the term mixed-race, we are saying we recognise and accept all of our racial identity, whatever that may be. I would not describe people who are a mix of European ancestry as mixed-race but I would describe them as dual or multiple heritages and that is why I use the term mixed-race and not those terms. Yes, it often describes visible mixtures and it is a sad thing that society often makes assumptions about us because of the way we look but denying that or pretending it does not exist will not change anything. Highlighting our achievements and changing societies, perceptions will. To me Africa is the motherland with a rich culture, history and sense of achievement and I make sure my children and everyone else I can are aware of that but I don't have to identify myself as an African to do that. I have never lived in Africa and any suffering I may receive because of my African identity is nowhere near the same as that of a Black African. Having a British mother has afforded my privileges many African's will never know and being conscious enables me to know that it is just to stand up for my African brothers and sisters but I will not insult them by letting myself be used as the acceptable face of black. Every time I swell a statistic that is used to represent the black population I distort the true picture of racism. Every time I take up a position as a black person I deprive one of being there and every time my light skinned face is used as a pretty face of colour we lose the chance to show the real beauty of blackness. When African women were being raped on plantations and giving birth to mixed-race babies did they envisage that one day those very children would be used to mask the inequality and racism their black brothers and sisters still face today.
Sharron Hall
04 September 2007

When our children were young we told them they were Black and to be proud of that. When they went to school the darker-skinned children told them "You're not black - you're half-caste!" They then informed us they were neither black nor white, they were beige! And now, as adults, they prefer the term "mixed-race", knowing there's no such thing as race, yet disliking any of the other labels. What they would really like, they say, is not to need any label at all - just to be themselves.
Gill Lawrence
03 September 2007

Linda Bellos view that mixed race who chose not to call themselves African, is actually racist one used used by slave owners who viewed all mixed race people as African in the USA. It's called the Jim Crow, One Drop Rule. Meaning anybody with one drop of African blood was classed as black.

I'd say that as mixed race people have been wrongly just been classed as black until very recently. That in it's self sends out more of a negative statement about being of partly African heritage. That really say's "you have black blood, which is the lowest of the low, and therefore you are denied your white heritage".

Many mixed race people like myself are brought up happily in white environments. Why should I have to deny the culture I grew up in, and deny part of my appearence by calling myself African.

I'm not African, I'm mixed race and I've never felt the need to deny I'm half Ghanian. In fact the only negative feed back I've ever had about my African heritage has been from Afro Carribean people.

Linda Bellos's agrument against the term mixed race is weak, and the kind of thing I'd expect from the likes of BNP leader Nick Griffin.

I feel offended everytime I hear Lewis Hamilton and other mixed race stars refered to as black in the media. I suggest Linda Bellos stops living in the past and starts to love herself and see that she is mixed race.

Ben S
30 August 2007

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