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It's not that Black or White…

Mixed Race
Mixed Race

I often think that my mixed heritage gives me a fantastic advantage of speaking about race issues.  A perspective that some times I feel neither Black or White people can truly understand.

Looking in the mirror every day as a child and wondering where my brown features came from was a particularly hard thing to
grapple with but apart from one time in infancy, I don’t ever remember being troubled by my ethnicity.Quite the opposite in fact, I always felt proud of who I am, despite not having much actual detail.
I was born to a White woman in the 1970′s, my Black father has never been a part of my life. I was adopted from Manchester and went to live in the Derbyshire countryside with a loving, childless, working class White couple.

Despite the obvious pitfalls that would follow. My early life was great.

Being one of the only kids with a drop of colour in the area certainly provided it’s challenges. My adoptive parents, who are the only parents I have ever known faced the normal whispering campaign by the village gossips and bigots but on the whole people were supportive of their decision to take in a “coloured” child.

I always had plenty of friends to play with, but there were experiences that revealed the racism engrained in English society
in the Seventies and Eighties.

Racist 80s

Some of the nicknames I had were Choccy, Coony, and Chalky. Seriously, this seems unreal now, but the number of mixed race guys
I have met over the years who were also dubbed “Chalky” after the Jim Davison character “Chalky White”. Although my parents tried their best to protect me from this name calling, there was a limit to what they could do.

At the time I was so woefully ignorant of the true meaning of these slurs. Yet I honestly believe that the kids who called me these names, were too. These were names picked up from the culture of their parents. Comedians such as Jim Davidson and Bernard Manning were popular in those days and “Black Jokes” were part of the “comedy” landscape. I bore it all, until puberty.

 

I have, like many people suffered racism, and like many mixed race people, I have suffered discrimination at the hands of Black,
White and Asian people. I probably have too many experiences of racism to go into here but indulge me, whilst I present to you a few of the ones that
stick in the mind, for your examination.

  • One School report day, my mum sat me down to discuss my distinctly average grades. Almost every class report said, Philip is intelligent , he refuses to apply himself. My mum told me that one of the Teachers had said to her “Negroes are naturally indolent, they need to be pushed at every turn”.
  • Aged about 12 I was hanging around at the other end of the village and this little kid came up to us and was chatting to us, he let me sit on his bike. I was cycling round and round in circles and suddenly his dad came running out into the garden bare chested. Saw me on the bike and shouted “get off that bike, you Black Bastard”. Naturally, stunned I jumped off the bike, dashed it to the floor and flipped him the bird and shouted “up yours” before sprinting off before retribution was visited.
  • Like so many Black and mixed race kids my ageI had no reason to love the police in the 80′s. Aged 14 I was cycling my Bike through the Village of Bradwell, suddenly a Cop car past me and pulled me over. I faced a barrage of questions such as “Where are you from”, “what’s your name” , “whats your name?…”where are you from?”, “who’s bike is that?”, “where did you buy it?”, “whats your name again?”. After explaining several times who I was, and that I was from the next village, the cop let me go on my way. when I asked him why pulled me up, he told me that a bike fitting the description had been stolen from the area, but I know that was a croc of lies because he never even took the frame number, it was just intimidation , plain and simple.
  • In Junior School I was something of a wimp, but I was turning 11, when something clicked in me. I had decided that I wasn’t going to take racism anymore, because I knew that if I didn’t start standing up for myself, I’d be in trouble when I got to high school. One sunny afternoon I was strolling around the village when I was challenged by another boy, who was in fact, a year younger than me to get off the path. In fact his words were “move Choccy!” , I just laughed and said, “No, you move.” this went on for a few minutes before we resolved to settle this like men at one o’clock on the corner of the street. He went and spread the word, lots of the older kids came down on their bikes, I’m sure they thought he was gonna beat me up, he had a reputation for being a hardnut. That day the worm turned. I battered that kid, in fact he only landed one punch in the whole fight and that was when I was trying to pull my coat off, because I’d gotten too hot from punching him repeatedly. He didn’t know my Dad had taught me a load of boxing moves. That day things largely changed forever. High School was a breeze and I had respect.

 

Changing 90′s 

When I was around 16/17 I used to go drinking in the Ex-Servicemans Club. It was a Private Members Club and you could be a member at 16. There were these two blokes, who used to go in there who would just sit and abuse me. They were in their mid 20′s and I was just a skinny 17 yr old so the best I could do was give them some verbal back. I have no problem naming these Idiots, because in my eyes they still haven’t paid for the abuse they gave me.

Years later I walked into the George Hotel, and was having a drink when I spotted one of these Idiots sitting in the pool room, he was clearly drunk so I thought I’d have a word. Bear in mind that I was about 24 at this point and I’d filled out considerably, strolled over to him and said “Hello there, Frank”. “oh, hello mate” he said. Well that was it, red rag to a bull time! I started shouting at him, “Don’t you want to call me Nigger, or Coon , or Wog?

“its mate now is it? , I’ve a good mind to smash you all over this place! ” He started protesting his innocence and a few other people intervened. It was totally worth it to see the cowardly reaction he gave though without the backup of his mate Mo.
You see so many of these racists had clearly identified me as being different to them, simply by the colour of my skin, to them I was Black.
Yet conversely, many Black people I have known have sneered at me or frowned upon me for being “too White”.

In the late 90′s I was at University, I had a wide social circle that included people from Norway to Nigeria, Greece to Ghana. When meeting some of the Black guys for the first time they would all greet me with the stereotypical Black handshake which consisted of a hand grasp, then sliding the fingers, then a thumb lock and flick/click of the fingers or a gimme five motion.

The maddening thing was that no two guys ever seemed to do the same shake. they always looked at me with suspicion when I couldn’t do it. You see, that despite being heavily interested in Black politics and left wing movements, I’d had little contact with Black people on the whole.

Years later in Africa, I had no such experience, no African I met in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia or Mozambique greeted me in the same way as the Black guys at Uni. Instead of regarding me with suspicion they treated me like a long lost brother.

Another example of my “Whiteboyness” came at a Jamaican wedding, my first one. I didn’t know any of the dance steps. Everyone else in the room did.. I prayed for the ground to eat me up, I dropped out, my girlfriend at the time was cringing and I can’t remember feeling so alone in a crowd. Even eating the food was an issue. what man doesn’t like “Curry Goat” , but Pigs foot? No, I wasn’t up for eating a pigs foot and again I stood out from the crowd.

Over the years I have received both plaudits and criticism from Black people over the creation of this site my motives for creating it. I have been told I’m “Not Black”. My answer is I’m not White either, and I look Black, and have been treated the same way you have. I have also pointed out that had I been living in America, or Apartheid South Africa, I would have been treated as a Black person. It bought little creedance.

You see the thing with being mixed race in Britain is that you STILL don’t actually fully fit in anywhere. My point of view is, that people of all colours need to know the struggles of peoples of African Descent, before anyone can truly begin to understand that the colour of a persons skin does not wholly define them. It is merely a part of their identity. Culture and experience actually count for much more than a superficial marker like skin colour.

6 thoughts on “It's not that Black or White…

  • 9th October 2011 at 6:43 pm
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    thank you so much for sharing. do you get an opportunity now to interact or mentor mixed race children raised by white parents?

    Reply
  • 11th October 2011 at 6:06 am
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    My point of view is that people of all colours need to know the struggles of peoples of African Descent, before anyone can truly begin to understand that the colour of a persons skin does not wholly define them.

    Comment:

    I’m a black American living in the Netherlands. My wife is a white Nederlandse. I’ve two sons (mixed race).

    Although your statement / opinion above may be true; the fact remains that people of all colours have been subject to discrimination. Discrimination is just that….. discriminatory. Skinny kids; weaker kids; gay kids; minority kids; less fortunate kids have more than likely experienced what you’ve mentioned.

    Often, the one’s discriminating are aware of the victims descent and / or hardships. These are the cowards / preditors which unfortunately exist. They exist in all walks of life. It’s not only “white black”. It’s “black black”. And “red red”, if you will.

    My assumption, and please don’t think I’m making light of discrimination because it is a serious problem, is that you also had anger within yourself because you may not truly have known yourself.
    Discriminitory preditor’s can smell this very easily. And act on it quickly. It’s been taught. And therefore ingrained.

    What are you proud of? Not knowing the hood handshake was a disappointment possibly, but you would probably also be ashamed if you were in Japan and didn’t realize a custom.

    To be honest; you’re not black. Or maybe you are black. To be honest you’re not white. Or maybe you are white. There’s a beauty in the combination, as would be with any combination.

    What are you proud of?

    Take care and good luck with your life decisions.

    Reply
    • 12th May 2014 at 11:00 pm
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      Thanks to the author for a great article. I am mixed myself so this issue intrigues me. Yours, Mr. Smith is also an interesting reply. I’ve seen this knee-jerk response too many times to count. “We’ve all been abused and we all bleed red” – that kind of thing. A kind of equalizer or perhaps compensation. I say this because I believe mixed people might be more apt to equalize, and less likely to take sides, this also seems consistent with what you said and what I think Mr. Phil might’ve implied when discussing racist encounters from both directions. The feeling of entrapment endears itself to either full assimilation or two-way confrontation. I think the two way confrontation is a cul de sac. But I also believe mixed people to be unusually gifted with conflict resolution skills earned earnestly through experience. A “mixed bag” so to speak.

      The Apartheid South Africa example is apt to describe a situation where such ambivalence is impossible. where passing was stated to be improbable; this white condemnation to blackness is sickening and I am in full agreement that it needs to be understood why it is so. I do not agree everyone ought to understand how Africans feel, but BECAUSE one cannot change how the majority views oneself it is of UTMOST importance to hold onto that which is ones defining trait, ones otherness, ergo: it’s important for African descended people to know about the struggles of African people.

      Racism from “home-base” is also peculiar, but understandable. It’s unfortunate, but loyalty to ones group is compromised when mingling or producing offspring with other groups. Like spies out in the open, or double agents, they might be viewed with suspicion.

      But, like you said, this could happen to anyone outside of his/her’s dominant group. As for mixed race people there is no such group. Such a group would’ve passed through the stages of ethnogenesis and claimed its own identity and myth of heritage, coming out with a unique culture of its own. I’ve been, amateurishly so, researching how groups come to undergo this process. I’ve noticed that oppression seems to work as an effective bottleneck. When in countries with such well established birth-myth of the majority the mixed race person finds little identity refuge, going against the majority could lead to a legitimized minority extermination, creating a colony at the side could be interpreted as territorial encroachment. It’s a tough situation where conflict with the majority is an ominous ever present undercurrent.

      Living side by side as it might be conceived, isn’t impossible. But I wonder, what with all that I have said, would it be segregation (ethnic majority dominion over minority) or a mutual co-existence in separation, or would it be a gradual ethnogenesis – birth, painful as it always is?

      Reply
  • 16th November 2011 at 12:31 am
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    Love your post, felt I had to comment about just how much has changed since I was at school in the late 1980’s, when discrimination was still present and accepted to some extent, I felt very much the same as yourself, I was always asked questions by the other kids too, which was hard. now it would just be accepted.

    Reply
  • 5th November 2012 at 1:31 pm
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    Read this and so much here is similar to my childhood. I grew up pretty well adjusted despite the issues – always the only brown face in a white school! Born to a nigerian father and white mother who remained thankfully a strong family unit I grew up in white areas with only white friends but if anything being different always defined me in a positive way. My white mum told me from an early age that some people would expect less of me because I was black and it was my job to prove them wrong. I hope I have done that. I am now a mother to my own mixed race children and I hope I can give them the same confidence my mother gave me. I know exactly what you mean about “not fitting in”. I have stopped trying, this is who I am and if someone has a problem with it (black,white,whatever) that is their problem NOT mine!

    Reply
    • 5th November 2012 at 1:36 pm
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      Hi Abi,
      Thank you for your comment. I think you are quite right in your approach. I too have stopped trying and execute my own agenda. Hopefully growing up mixed race today is a different story than how it was in the 1970’s and 80’s. My own daughter has, as of yet not reported any overt racism. Both myself and my partner were very angry though when one teacher combed her hair on School photo day, saying it looked “wild”. We had sent her to school that day with her down on purpose to show her natural curls.

      That teacher was lucky I was out of town that week.

      Reply

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