& mixing

New perspectives on mixed-race Britons

A CRE eConference · 4-6 September 2007

Forum: Day 1, Equality
What do you call yourself?
Posted on: 04/09/2007 13:45:00
Posted by: Eve Ahmed
I think it's fantastic that mixed people are now of such significant numbers that they have an e-conference dedicated to them - I just wish it had happened sooner, like 10 or 20 years ago. However, I have been struck recently by the fact that not all mixed people are as overjoyed as I am that there finally does appear to be a mixed consciousness/group/community developing in the UK. I was talking to a young (early 20's)mixed white/African Caribbean guy recently who told me he identified himself as black, not mixed. Why? 'Because that's how society sees me, because I have dark skin, so I just go along with it,' he said. 'It's easier that way'.
That made me feel sad. Of course, he is free to identify himself as whatever he pleases - that is his right. However, if he defines himself as black mainly because that is how the outside world sees him and what it calls him, whatever he might feel on the inside, then how much real choice does he actually have in what he calls himself?
This struck me as weird. This seems to be a reality for young mixed people today, just as it was in my day. I got the opposite thing. Because I have olive skin, Pakistanis refused to believe I was half Pakistani, though my surname (Ahmed) says it all. And I got white people refusing to believe I was half Pakistani, because I was not dark enough, supposedly. So both sides of the oustide world refused to accept my Asian side. Yet, going on inside my world, I was being brought up in a strict Moslem household, just as all traditoinal Pakistani girls are. That sort of stuff - denyial of your reality, by people who think they know better - can drive you mad, if you're not careful!
The point I'm trying to make is that, after years of being told I couldn't possibly be part Asian, because I didn't look it enough, while actually living an authentic Asian life inside the home, meant that I felt so happy when I sensed that a mixed race community was growing so big and that I could count myself as one of them. At last I had an ethnic identity of my own!
Yet this young guy I spoke to is still struggling with labelling himself as just one part of what he really is, thereby denying his white mum any involvement in his conception, simply because the oustide world is still judging people by their outsides, by the colour of their skin.
So how much has this world of ours really moved on, with its stubborn labelling, its putting people in boxes and categorising them as one or the other, because you can't possibly be both?

Re:What do you call yourself?
Posted on: 04/09/2007 14:24:00
Posted by: Bob Macintosh
I don't think that to call oneself 'black' is to deny one's 'white half' necessarily. But the fact is one is never entirely free to choose an identity, indeed if you choose to call yourself some things ('member of the Royal Family', or 'doctor' for example) you are liable to get into trouble. You can't be Asian if Asians won't accept you, and you can't be white if whites won't accept you. No one would accept me as mixed though my family is mixed, what can I do, buy an afro wig? :-) In some ways all we need is two categories, 'subject to prejudice' and 'less subject to prejudice'. When I have to, I call myself 'white', not because I make any particular identification, but because, in the context of this sort of discussion, that is how 'everyone' sees me.

Re:Re:What do you call yourself?
Posted on: 04/09/2007 14:44:00
Posted by: Eve Ahmed
Hi Bob, I take on board what you are saying but I still don't see why we have to define ourselves based on how others choose to see us. What if they are blind? I don't mean literally, but figuratively - as in blinded by their own narrow-minded prejudices, which they seek to impose on others? Self-definition comes from within, not from forces without.

Re:What do you call yourself?
Posted on: 04/09/2007 14:41:00
Posted by: Wildcard User2
I would really be interested to hear the terminology people use apart from 'mixed'. In South America, there is 'mestizo', in French, 'mulatre' or 'mulatresse' has been replaced by 'metisse'. Plus I have heard 'zebra', 'penguin' 'coconut' 'bounty' 'cookies and cream'. Are they any names not related to animals or food?

Re:Re:What do you call yourself?
Posted on: 04/09/2007 15:08:00
Posted by: Hamish Macpherson
There is some research in our links section that explored people's prefernces re: terminology that you might want to look at. Of course what people want to be called will vary and we shoud ultimately respect self-identification but some findings:

"In unprompted open response around three-quarters of respondents gave a
description of their racial/ethnic identity rather than a generic term only (like ‘mixed race’ or ‘mixed eritage’). Many of these were fairly short, combining two terms, although others revealed more complex heritage.

Most respondents identified themselves in the stated way because they felt it
was their ‘own sense of personal identity’. A majority also indicated that it was because their ‘parents are from different racial/ethnic groups’.

Slightly larger numbers felt it was very/fairly important overall to identify with their known ancestry than to identify with all such specific racial/ethnic groups.

The salient general term of choice amongst respondents was ‘mixed race’. The only other terms that attracted significant support were ‘mixed heritage’ and ‘mixed parentage’. Very few preferred ‘dual heritage’.

Respondents identified eleven different terms as offensive, most frequently ‘dual heritage’, ‘half-caste’ and ‘mixed origins’.

The reasons for the dislike of ‘dual heritage’ focussed mainly on its limitation to two groups.

Half-caste’ was regarded as pejorative by several respondents, on the ground of partial recognition & historical connotations."

Re:Re:Re:What do you call yourself?
Posted on: 04/09/2007 16:17:00
Posted by: Wildcard User2
Hi Hamish I am Agnes Poitevin-Navarre. The reason I am interested in the semantics is because it is at the core of my art practice. The very point of my "Colour Coding Julien & Jasper - The Age of innocence" is to question the terminology that the next generation will use. Is there any way I can post some images?

Posted on: 04/09/2007 15:41:00
Posted by: Wildcard User2
I identify as a Mulato [French]Creole because though I'm mixed with Native American [West Indian], White & Black; my experience has been only White & Black [so far]. Yet, ethnically, there's STRONG Huguenot, Scottish, British, German & Irish elements to my identity.

Posted on: 04/09/2007 15:43:00
Posted by: Hamish Macpherson
Since many people registered with the site share the same log-in details (Wildcard User 2) please can leave your name in your posts so everyone knows who is saying what! Sorry for any confusion

Posted on: 04/09/2007 15:47:00
Posted by: Wildcard User2
Sure Thing! I'm KAHLIL.

"Hey Everybody!
Love & Respect from CHICAGO!" ~;D

Re:What do you call yourself?
Posted on: 04/09/2007 15:42:00
Posted by: Bob Macintosh
From now on I'm going to call myself 'socially constructed'.

Re:Re:What do you call yourself?
Posted on: 04/09/2007 20:36:00
Posted by: Adebe D.A.
I like that answer! It's witty and to the point. My point would be that I think no matter how we as mixed-race individuals address ourselves, we will still be met with confusion and criticism from all "outside" parties, because our status is one that can be understood only by interrogation. In other words, to be mixed is to live with the conflict of realizing it may never be ultimately "acceptable" to be more than one thing. Because society says so, and because society is what ultimately constructs us.

Re:Re:Re:What do you call yourself?
Posted on: 04/09/2007 21:14:00
Posted by: agnes poitevin-navarre
Well actually this conference is the very platform where we can explore ideas that the mainstream will eventually take on board. We are not passively constructed by society. Terminology is a reflection of our time, hence my earlier question.

Re:Re:Re:What do you call yourself?
Posted on: 04/09/2007 22:44:00
Posted by: Hamish Macpherson
Maybe it's important to avoid generalising about what 'all of society' thinks about 'mixed-race' people. There is diversity in experiences and attitudes which always offers the potential for the predominant view to change (whatever that really is).

Re:Re:Re:Re:What do you call yourself?
Posted on: 05/09/2007 00:07:00
Posted by: agnes poitevin-navarre
On Saturday's Guardian Review, Zadie Smith was reviewing Zora Neale Thurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God". The quote "I am not tragically colored" springs to mind and could be altered into "I am not tragically mixed". Ten years ago [22/5/97], an article in The Guardian entitled 'Beige Britain' included a quote by Bernie Grant the then Labour MP for Tottenham who declared "society sees mixed-race as black and they are treated as black. They are not accepted as white so they have no choice". I was writing my MA dissertation at the time, 'The Theorem of the Epidermis', and wasn't aware that 1991 census had such an impact in creating a new community of people happy label themselves 'mixed'. The graph In Charlie Owen's Paper on 'Statistics' certainly reveals the timescale of the growth of a new generation that has an impact on society. Or is it that up to recently, children were labelled 'mixed race' 'half-caste' 'mulatto' but as adult turned 'black'? Black Europeans... like Alessandro de Medici, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, Mary Seacole or the composer Le Chevalier de Saint Georges...

What do you call yourself?
Posted on: 07/09/2007 00:41:00
Posted by: Gill
I think sometimes people of mixed heritage make labels their own, where before they may have been seen as insulting. For instance in Finsbury Park there appeared on a wall in huge letters "Half-Caste Power!" Whoever wrote that was apparently not intimidated by not belonging to either culture, and was happy to use this ugly term, reversing the connotations and making it positive. From some of the responses on this site, and from those of my own children, I see that some "mixed race" people are fed up of being told they must call themselves some "politically correct" term. They want to define themselves whichever way they feel comfortable, without being sneered at for not being p.c.