A CRE eConference · 4-6 September 2007
|First person: Amanda Hussain (Amanda Hussain, Journalist and broadcaster)|
|03 September 2007|
First person: Amanda Hussain
Posted on: Monday 3 September 2007
I'm a broadcaster and live in Winchester, Hampshire, with my husband Ian, a film publicist, and our five-year-old daughter, Lola. I'm used to describing myself as mixed race and yet a friend recently picked me upon it and argued that we should now be saying 'dual heritage' instead.
I suppose the confusion with the term originally started for me years back with the ethnic-monitoring, box-ticking exercise when you're filling out forms. I've tended to say 'half Asian half English' but with Americans you get into the whole Asian complication where they don't refer to Indians/Pakistanis as Asian.
I'm basically half Pakistani, half English white. I find people are awkward even alluding to the question now about ethnicity. There's the issue when asking 'where are you from?' as to whether people want to know where you live or what your ethnic background is. Funnily enough, I've got no problem with the question either way but I find lots of people dance around the subject uncomfortably. When I was young, people used the term 'half caste', and then once I was old enough to realise the implications of the caste system, I stopped using it.
It's often assumed that I'm Mediterranean due to my skin colour and then my Muslim surname throws people. I think I've often been seen as the acceptable face of being ethnic in that I grew up in Welwyn Garden City, a largely white area and spoke with a standard R.P accent. Oh and my white English mother brought me up solely when my parents divorced so it wasn't as if there were a different language spoken at home or curry for supper.
I grew up with people telling 'Paki taxi driver jokes' and I would wait for the punchline and then say, 'My father's Pakistani and he doesn't drive a minicab!' I remember doing this from an early age. And the reaction was always the same...Oh, no, we don't mean you! The way I see it, I managed to escape racism on the whole because people saw me as pretty much like them, even if I did look more tanned.
I would almost take perverse delight in the surprise of those thrown by my Pakistani roots but I guess I could only do that because I had been afforded a certain sense of acceptance in the first place. As I grew older that then became a double-edged sword because I realised how offensive it was, albeit ironically, that I was 'all right'. So for me, now, it's almost more gauling. In general, with white society I've been on the acceptable side but that doesn't always mean that I see that as a good thing.
I grew up in Hertfordshire which was very white and I think the other reason that we were so accepted was because there were only a few brown faces and I think had I grown up maybe somewhere like Bradford, Birmingham or the east end of London, amongst a much more multicultural community, I think perhaps I would have been seen as more 'different'. But I think if you've just got a few brown faces in a sea of white, it doesn't represent any kind of threat. There aren't those fears like 'I don't want my kids to go to school learning all these weird languages', so I scaped all that.
After my parents' divorce, when I was three, I spent most of my time with my mother and though I maintained contact with my father, I hadn't learnt Urdu. Interestingly, even my (English) mother tried to persuade me to learn but because my friends didn't speak it, I had no interest. In due course, my father re-married Helen, who was also white English anyway so English was their language at home too. I remember having had one Indian friend in my town, Neela, and funnily enough, I remember finding her family very different in their language and diet.
So, I see that I am the acceptable face of ethnicity because I fit in. And that isn't because I've tried hard to fit, it's because that's what I've grown up with. If anything, I've felt more alienated by the Asian side of my life and that has been relevant to my career as well. One of the first jobs I ever did was present a BBC 2 live show called Network East and I was seen as a pretty radical choice because I don't speak any of the languages...No Urdu, Hindi, nothing. We had all kinds of criticism. The producer, Sarah, who happened to be white, really went out on a limb to cast me I think. I got threatening mail... Fancy having a half-white girl who wasn't even a practicing Muslim present an Asian show! Since then, until recently when I've presented on BBC Asian Network, I've worked solely in the mainstream, non-Asian, media.
It's simplistic to assume that all mixed race people will face problems. I think I'm the richer for it. There have been many benefits...not least on holidays with white friends horrendously envious because I never burn and dying to get as brown as me which was never going to happen.
About the author
Amanda Hussain is a journalist and broadcaster.