Being mixed race in the UK: a personal identity conflict
Image: Pixabay

I’m mixed-race. My mum’s Indian, my dad’s white and I’ve known that my whole life. It was only when I started high school, however, that I realised that in some people’s eyes I’m very different to others.

My parents raised me with the knowledge of both sides of my heritage, encouraging me to stand up for myself and what I believe in. I only recently gained the confidence to challenge those being racist towards (either side of) my heritage, feeling before that I didn’t have the ‘right’ to stand up to such abuse.

Why has my confidence grown? Well…

  • Unfortunately, I’ve had racism directed towards me more frequently, and sometimes from people I am close to. It is easier to confront people about their views when you’ve had the experience of being discriminated against whilst others stand by.
  • I’ve been more open about my heritage to others, allowing me to accept my own identity more.
  • I no longer care what others think when I challenge them. Racism is racism. Confronting someone is never easy, but it’s got to be done.

Being mixed race has shaped my life.

Some positives of being mixed-race include celebrating twice the number of religious festivals; cooking and eating multiple cuisines; feeling a part of two cultures, with a connection to other mixed-race people.

Negative experiences, however, are not a rarity. Two occasions in particular made me hyper-aware of my mixed-race heritage.

A few weeks after starting high school, someone asked me “are you a half-caste?”. My parents tried to shield me from racism as much as they could, but they would usually explain why something I’d heard was racist. But I’d never been asked if I was a ‘half-caste’ before that day in Year 7, neither had I ever heard the term before. I soon learned that the word ‘caste’ means pure, so the racist jibe ‘half-caste’ literally means ‘half pure’ or ‘unpure’.

The second negative experience happened a few weeks ago on the now all too familiar medium of Zoom, celebrating Diwali with my mum’s family. This was the first obvious racism I’d ever experienced in my own family: my uncle asked my mum if I “even know what Diwali is”, wrongly insinuating that my parents haven’t taught me about both sides of my heritage. The comment made me feel like my uncle doesn’t see me as Indian, or that he sees me as ‘too White’. This is a painfully destructive comment to make because mixed-race people already spend too much time trying to prove they are enough for one or the other side of the heritage, when in fact, we are both. I am Indian, and I am white.

What saddens me most is that there have probably been other times that racist comments toward me have gone unnoticed. From now on when seeing that side of my family, I will tragically expect to hear racism. 

“I am both Indian and white, and yet neither fully. That is the beauty of my identity.”

As a society, we are too focused on putting others into boxes and imposing labels upon people. As a mixed-race person, to be put into the box of either Indian or White and not both, is really insulting to everything that makes me who I am.

What needs to change?

I believe mixed-race people need to be able to define their racial identity themselves and not have race ‘categories’ imposed on them by legislation or authorities. For example, if a mixed-race person is repeatedly told they’re not x enough, they might consequently choose to identify with their other race(s) because they feel an imposter among people of x heritage. 

Secondly, please please please, if you are not mixed race, do not ask us: “what are you?”. Yes, we know what you mean, but there are so many other ways to ask a mixed-race person what their race/ethnicity is  (“what ethnicity are you?”, for example). Most mixed-race people will be more than happy to talk about their heritage if spoken to like human beings. 

Personally, I think being mixed-race is great. I love both sides of my heritage and am proud to be mixed-race. Most of all, however, I will take forward my attitude of self-determination; I do not let the negative experiences define me as a person, and I hope others like me will do the same.