helen-louise (baratron) wrote,
helen-louise
baratron

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on racial mixing and white privilege

I haven't said very much about the "Racefail" business that's been happening on various parts of the internet due to lack of coherent comment, but I thought of something interesting yesterday.

My racial identity is mixed-race, which is interesting in itself. The concept of mixed-race did not exist formally in the UK until after the 2001 census. Before that, whenever I had to fill in a form with a "Race" box, I had to tick "Other", and possibly go into slightly more detail than I wanted to. Now, there exists a box that fits my identity: "Mixed - White and Asian". I don't like to think of myself in terms of fitting ticky boxes, but having spent too many years as an unspecified Other, I like that there now is a box for me.

There remain people who deny the concept of mixed-race, or wish to change it for everyone. The former Labour MP Oona King described how she had trouble adopting a baby because she had described herself on the form as "mixed-race". She was promptly told by the social worker that the term was no longer acceptable, and she needed to start describing herself as "dual heritage" instead. That made me incredibly angry. My heritage is mixed. My four grandparents each came from a different country. Two of them were white and two of them were Asian, but are you telling me that two Asians from different countries have the same heritage? 'Cos I think that's rather disrespectful. Are you telling me that Scottish and English is the same heritage? 'Cos I'm sure I could find a dozen Scots who would argue that their culture is different in several important ways from that of the English. Besides, if you go further back a few more generations, you'll find I have French and Jewish blood as well. And I must be at least part-Irish because of my mother's maiden name and the strange tooth mutation I have, which is only ever found in people of Irish descent. I'm not dual-anything. If I want to describe myself as "Heinz 57 varieties", I mean no disrespect either to myself or to the Heinz company. I'm proud to have ancestors from all over the globe.

Anyway. As a person of mixed race, I do not identify as "white", but I'm not a "person of colour" either. My skin is light enough that, in these days of ozone holes and skin cancer, I pass for white most of the time. (Less so when I was a child and we weren't afraid of suntans). Though enough people notice my colouring in London that I regularly get chatted up because of an incorrect assumption about my race. I've been mistaken for Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Turkish, Brazilian, Pacific Islander... No one ever guesses correctly. And often when I tell people of my actual heritage, they think I'm lying to them. Which makes no freaking sense at all to me. Few people have heard of the country that my father's parents left during a coup d'état when he was a child, despite its recent prevalence in the news. (For reasons which are too complicated to go into, I won't ever say which country in a public internet post, though it's easy enough to find out). And my name gives you no clue, being 100% British because my Asian grandfather changed his name.

Do you think I like having "white privilege"? Of course not. In fact, if I ever think someone is giving me special treatment because they think I'm white, I'll go out of my way to tell them that I'm not. But I don't always know that someone is treating me differently because of a racial assumption, just as I don't always know that someone is treating me differently because of my gender, presumed age (I look about 10 years younger than I really am), or disability status. Nonetheless, being able to "claim" white privilege when I'm not entitled to it feels exactly like claiming heterosexual privilege for my primary relationship when I'm bisexual. And I'm sure a lot of you know just how comfortable that one feels.
Tags: queer, racism, thoughts, tilting at windmills
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