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A Mixed-Race Experience
Bradley Lincoln
Multiple Heritage Project

I am 37 year-old man living in Manchester. A son, a brother an uncle and I love reggae music. I have worked in education for the past 15 years and currently manage the Multiple Heritage Project. Who I am is made up of lots of different things and shifts depending on the context and what questions I am being asked. Some things people find quirky about me, my liking for brown shoes is just one. My racial identity is also something of a talking-point to people. I self-identify as mixed race, not black. Not confused, not caught between cultures, not a marginal man. I am me. But getting to know me wasn't easy!

When I was younger I had an experience that went something like this:

My parents split up when I was quite young and I would visit my Dad at weekends and take holidays with him and his second family. During one holiday I was called names and got into a fight with some lads. After the fight my Dad asked what all the fuss was about. I told him the boys had called me a "nigger" and "blackie". He responded by saying: "...Well, you are not black, so what are you worrying about"? This statement left me feeling slightly confused but I soon pushed the incident to the back of mind. A similar experience happened a few months later when I was at home with my mother. I got into another argument with some boys and they made similar racist remarks. I told my Mum and she said: "Tell them you're black and proud." This again left me feeling a little confused, yet able to recognise that my parents' 'mono-heritage' perspective was very different to my own 'mixed heritage'.

I wasn't able to articulate my frustration at that time but I was able to separate the fact that both my parents loved and wanted to protect me. At the same time they did not see the world as I did. I was about nine years-old when this happened and looking back I can see this was a major turning point for me in relation to developing my racial identity.

Previous to these incidents I hadn't considered myself to be any different to my three older white siblings. Me and my brothers were fed the same food, played the same games and on many occasions would receive the same 'licks'. However, when we were out in the street my racial identity was increasingly bought into question. Questions such as, "Where's your father from?" or "Are you adopted?" were regularly thrown in my direction and because of this experience I became much more aware of my mixed race appearance which meant I increasingly internalised external opinions of my identity from the adults around me. Often those opinions were quite negative.

I made a mental note during this period to revisit the issue in more detail at a later date. When I became a little older I looked to my teachers and school to demystify some of what troubled me, only to discover that mixed race young people were completely invisible in school, or stereotyped. In conversations with my older white siblings whenever I approached the subject it was met with complete confusion - they really did not know what all the fuss was about.

The majority of my extended family were white and so were my friends. I tried to explain that the mono-heritage world in which they existed did not ask them to self-identity as white or black. They were not asked to deny one side of their parent heritage in order to fit in. They were not accused of being neither black enough nor white enough.

I spent many years silently mulling this information over and over in my head. I even tried to 'over-identify' with one side of my parent heritage in order to fit in but of course that did not work. I developed a thirst for information and started a journey through the academic text books. To my surprise I discovered the majority was written from an Afrocentric/Black American perspective reinforcing the doctrine of the 'one drop' rule. The bulk of this writing focussed on negative historical myths such as, anyone who has 'one drop' of black blood is considered black. Other literature reinforced negative stereotypes adopted from the work of people like Robert Parks and Everette Stonequist's Marginal Man theory. Very rarely did any of this literature speak about the positive aspects of mixed race identity.

Because of this lack of information I decided to start a discussion with young people across the country. In March 2006 I set up the Multiple Heritage Project which aims to raise the profile of issues relating to children and families from mixed race backgrounds. I self-funded the project and was fortunate to sign up a number of schools quite quickly.

That was nearly 18 months ago. Since then I have run conferences and school programmes for young people of mixed race backgrounds in Manchester, Leicester, Birmingham and Nottingham. I invite about 50 students from 5 schools in the city to attend and basically create a 'safe' space for them to talk out loud about issues that they feel are relevant to living the mixed race experience.

The students have taught me a lot about the subject. Through their insights it has helped me to understand further that "Mixed-race" is not a homogenous group. By its very nature it is diverse, cutting across cultures, religions, nationalities, histories and races. There is no such thing as a mixed-race community in the conventional sense. The ties of culture, tradition, history and religion do not bind the mixed race population as a separate ethnic grouping. Quite the contrary many of these things bind mixed race people to other ethnic groups.

In my opinion, it is time to recognise that platforms like this for young people are crucial for a number of reasons. For example, young people of mixed-race tend to be subsumed under a 'black identity' where their specific concerns are rarely raised. They are often forced to choose one racial identity at the exclusion of another. The young people tell me they no longer want to be ignored and whilst their cultural heritage is only a part of who they actually are, it is still significant. They see their 'mixedness' as a cause for celebration and they want schools and wider society to join them in this positive recognition.

There are many young people across the country who have had similar experiences to me. But actually, whether the story is the same or different, it doesn't really matter. The important thing is that the 'lived' experience of mixed-race young people is heard, listened to and understood.

Read what young people have to say about The Multiple Heritage Project

This paper was first submitted as part of the e-conference mixedness and mixing 4-6 September 2007.

Click here to visit our forums and read the comments posted about this paper or to add your own comments.

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