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It's Time For Foundation
Sharron Hall
Sharron Hall

As a working class mixed-race woman I do not see the mixed-race experience from an academic's view. Instead I live it, feel it, am hurt and comforted by it.

Ten years ago the term mixed-race wasn't even in general UK circulation, white mothers were being advised to tell their mixed-race children they were black and the idea of a mixed-race identity and history were dreams to people like me and nightmares to those who wanted to keep the races pure.

Identity and history are two words that are not commonly associated with the term mixed-race, except by those who say we are confused about our identity and have no history. Having met many mixed-race individuals both in my personal life and as the founder of Intermix I can honestly say there are very few mixed-race people who are confused about their identity. They know that they are not just one race, they are mixed. It is the rest of society that is confused about mixed-race individuals; for many it is hard to imagine what it must be like to live with more than one racial background, so they assign us a racial identity nearest to our physical appearance.

At present there is no talk of a mixed-race history, and many do not know of its existence -- but it is there. The mixed-race experience is not a 20th Century phenomenon as some would believe. It has been around as long as the idea of race itself. Icons such as William Wells Brown, St Martin De Porres and Robert Wedderburn go as far back as the 1600s, and others go further.

Having a mixed racial background does not necessarily mean that your experiences will always be different from that of monoracial people. We are all mixed to some extent, however, if your racial mix results in you looking different from other members of your family and many of those around you, then it can often affect how you are perceived and treated by others. To what degree that treatment will affect your well-being will depend on many different social factors: where you live, the experiences of your parents, the representation of racially mixed people in society, etc. Not everyone will want to identify as mixed-race but for those that do, and I believe that there are a great many, then that option should be available and acknowledged.

No two people's experience of being racially mixed will ever be the same, yet there will be some common elements. I see racially mixed people as a community! I see mixed-race families wanting to share experiences, wanting their children to know others like themselves, wanting to swap coping strategies and help each other through difficult times. I see individuals, who thought they were the only ones, find friends and partners who have some understanding of why they feel and act the way they do.

Yes we may come from different backgrounds and that in itself may mean that we lead very different lives but the things we have in common - our racial diversity, the way we can marry together different parts of our various cultures to create a balanced reflection, being able to step from one community to another and merge into each one - these things help bind us together. If that's not community, I don't know what is.

There is talk that mixed-race individuals cannot be seen as a coherent group because there is no empirical evidence: I disagree with this. We cannot say that the white community or the black community are coherent groups; there are groups within each community but there are just as many if not more, that do not participate. I believe a coherent mixed-race group is already present and growing.

I was recently asked what would I like to see happen in the future for mixed-race people and how we could improve their lives. Whilst there is a great amount of work to do to ensure that mixed-race people are treated equally within society there are two things that are of the utmost importance.

We need to reach agreement on the most acceptable term to describe people who are racially mixed

Mixed-race is already the most used term to describe people who are racially mixed. When asked, most young people say it is the term they feel most comfortable using. There are some people who are using other terms such as mixed, dual or multiple heritage. What I would like is for us all to reach agreement to use one term and to stick to that term. This will stop any confusion.

I use the term mixed-race because it is the least offensive of all the terms to describe racial mixedness that I have come across. There are some who dislike the use of the term race and some who even deny such a term exists but I think it's important. It is because I am racially mixed that others have such difficulty accepting me. My existence is a reminder that racism exists. It will affect my life chances, first impressions and how others relate to me. Until the day when our racial background has no bearing on how society views and treats us then race needs to remain connected to the word mixed.

I don't accept the terms mixed heritage, dual heritage or multiple heritage because they say nothing about how the racial element affects my identity. Anyone can have more than one heritage, you can be Scottish and French or Swedish, Irish and Welsh but that does not mean that society will treat you differently say from someone who is English. The word heritage is associated with property: we are the property of no-one and considering the legacy of slavery that was imposed upon some of our ancestors, it is understandable why many of us could not accept such a title. Oona King recently stated that the term dual heritage, 'sounds like a stately home off a minor motorway'.(1) I'm sure that many using the term might not see or be offended by the connection to ownership but for those of us that do it will never be accepted. The term biracial is used more in the US. My only problem with this term is that it gives the idea that there are two races present and many people have more than two racial mixes.

We need to accept that people who are racially mixed have a different racial identity from those that are not, and they have the right to have that identity acknowledged and made visible throughout society

It's sad that you have to choose between the two groups. I don't even think that should be an issue. I have to rise above that stuff. I'm a part of both cultures. I can't be eternally conflicted with myself.

Nate Creekmore Artist (2)

They're growing up multiracial citizens of the world, born to two cultures, neither more worthy or intrinsically interesting than the other. Because passing for black is no better than passing for white.

Debra J. Dickerson (3)

We need to acknowledge the existence of a mixed-race identity and see it reflected in society alongside that of others such as black, white, etc. If this is not done then there can be no accurate data gathered for mixed-race individuals because it will become blurred within other races. We also cannot get an accurate picture of the more subtle elements of racism that exist in society such as shadism.

Once we have addressed these two items we will have a firm foundation to move forward and, more importantly, so will countless others.

(1) King, Oona (2006) 'Diversity: We all Have Dual Heritage Somewhere'. The New Statesman, 7 August

(2) Creekmore, N. (2007) 'Nate Creekmore's Maintaining',, 7 June

(3) Dickerson, D.J. (2007) 'Don't Be Black On My Account: A black mother's gift to her biracial children.', 5 March

This paper is taken with kind permission from the forthcoming Runnymede Trust publication: Mixed Heritage: Identity, Policy and Practice.

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