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helen-louise
baratron
baratron
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.

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barakta From: barakta Date: 29th May 2009 20:28 (UTC) (Link)
This is a very interesting post - thanks for writing it.

You're one of the people I think of when I remind myself that non all "non-white" people fit an official "BME" label and so on. I didn't realise you were mixed race till about 2 years ago, I don't always notice even "obviously" mixed race people - a bit like my inability to gender people which in mainstream worlds gets me laughed at.

I get a lot of this with deaf/hearing privilege - I pass well enough as a hearie that it does affect personal and political identities. If I was much deafer than I am, requiring a lot more patience from people or BSL to communicate I would not be as able to integrate into my non-Deaf communities of choice.
johnckirk From: johnckirk Date: 29th May 2009 23:34 (UTC) (Link)
(Disclaimer: I haven't heard about the "racefail" business, so I don't know the background context to your post.)

I think the "mixed race" thing is a bit tricky, because it depends how far back you go. For instance, I'd guess that some of my ancestors were French (via the Norman conquest), and others were Italian (via Roman Britain); there may be a few Viking rapists in there too. However, I just describe myself as "White British". For that matter, if you go back far enough, we probably all started out in the same part of Africa, but there's not much point using the same term to describe everyone.
baratron From: baratron Date: 30th May 2009 00:25 (UTC) (Link)
I'm sure one of the North American SF fans will be able to fill you in on the Racefail business, as I'm not sure I could even begin to summarise such a complicated few months of Drama in my current state of exam-taking. So I'll just comment on your comment.

Oh, of course it depends on how far back you go. Richard is in the interesting position of having had a mother who was seriously into family history and traced their descent back several hundred years through parish records. He knows for a fact that he is descended from, as he calls them, "pointless peasants" - and is about as white and English as anyone could be, considering the number of times the island has been invaded.

And there is the issue that the concept of race is a construct, as it combines genetic heritage, ethnicity, and cultural heritage. Sometimes people with similar genetic heritage have very different cultural heritage, and vice versa. Also, people with similar genetic heritage can express those genes differently and so have different apparent or visible ethnicity. This is why I find the idea of race somewhat strange, because it combines too many variables to be useful.

However, we're stuck with the idea because it is in people's nature to make judgements about other people. And as a genuinely mixed-race person with different coloured parents, I am in the rather odd position of being a different race than anyone else in my family. I'm neither the same race as my mum's family, nor the same race as my dad's family. And considering that my dad himself is technically mixed-race (parents from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds), I'm a sort of unique and special snowflake. Which... makes some things rather difficult.

When I was a child, apart from some of my cousins, I was the only person I knew who had different coloured parents. I knew kids with two white parents or two brown parents, but no one who had one white parent and one brown parent. Books and TV never expressed my reality, because kids either had two matching parents or only one parent. If I went out with my mum alone, people would stare at us, because I was visibly of a different ethnic origin to her. (Not so much now, considering that we look similar as adults and it's only our colouring that's different).

Nowadays, not only do I see parents with blended children all the time, but I also frequently see grandparents whose grandchildren are a very different colour. And I like the world better this way. I'm always much happier with continuums and continuous variables than with discrete data.
anansi133 From: anansi133 Date: 30th May 2009 08:02 (UTC) (Link)
My science-fiction brain is revving up, wondering how long it would take before "mixed race" gets lost in the noise. It wasn't that long ago, where having Irish ancestry made a person not-white. If Barack Obama's kids only ever make babies with white partners, how many generations would have to pass before the progeny were no longer considered "other"?

And that half-breed Spock, you can never tell what he's going to be up to, or who he's making it with. Human female is bad enough, but a black human female? Makes K/S fiction seem practically vanilla.

I would like it a lot if "other" were considered sufficient answer to any question about race, and this new ethnicity of "other" could be populated by anyone who bothered to claim the title. White people would eventually bring discrimination lawsuits against these "other"s, because they felt they were being mistreated simply because they claimed their white heritage.
baratron From: baratron Date: 10th June 2009 01:29 (UTC) (Link)
I'm aware that a skin colour allele can lie hidden in offspring for many years before suddenly, in the tenth or eleventh generation, a dark-skinned baby is born to a "white" family. Also, sometimes mixed-race people end up like me with characteristics in the middle, and sometimes you get the situation of my cousins who are brothers with the same parents: where one is tall, white-skinned, blond hair, blue eyes, American-looking; and the other is short, dark-skinned, black hair, brown eyes, Asian-looking. So considering all the recessive alleles which can be hidden, I don't think the world will ever get overrun with people who all look the same. I suppose the question has to be asked as to whether different skin colours convey any advantage in the modern world (where we can use sunscreen, go inside, or take vitamin D tablets) and whether humans are still undergoing natural selection.

I want to write a science fiction story where humans have been bioengineered to have green skin and photosynthesise. The idea that no one would actually die of starvation as long as water was available, but food would still be required for nitrate, phosphates and the various trace minerals. I wonder in that world whether people would still eat meat? I wonder what would happen to other animals in that world. My science fiction writing skills are, however, incredibly rusty.
From: hatter Date: 30th May 2009 09:39 (UTC) (Link)
Was the racefail thing related to the white 'african american' college (white bloke, born and bred in africa, moved to america - some black not particularly african americans whine, college kicks out bloke) ? Plus I still boggle at the fail of the world press to acknowledge the point that the USA has a mixed-race president.

People like boxes for other people though, nothing you can really do about that, other than remind them they are just convenient not 100% accurate.


the hatter
baratron From: baratron Date: 10th June 2009 01:21 (UTC) (Link)
Part of my love for Obama stems from the fact that he's proudly mixed-race. When he was getting the family dog, he suggested that he wanted to get "a mutt, like me", and my heart sang. I love that it's no longer unusual to be neither one nor the other but somewhere inbetween.

It's funny how much of my identity stems from being somewhere inbetween established norms.
ailbhe From: ailbhe Date: 30th May 2009 16:26 (UTC) (Link)
What Irish tooth mutation thing?

(Irish women also have the longest-lasting fertility in Europe, apparently, and so need to use contraception for longer/can have babies longer, thank the bountiful lord for toddlers AND teenagers during menopause, hurrah hurrah for the rhythm method, etc.)
baratron From: baratron Date: 10th June 2009 01:19 (UTC) (Link)
My wisdom teeth at the top are only half-sized. They're like baby teeth. I don't think it's a common mutation, but it's interesting. Not least of all because if the evil NHS orthodontist had had his way and taken out 8 of my teeth, I'd have been left with only one functioning molar!

The other strange tooth mutation I have is that I've had three canines on my right hand side at the top. I had the baby tooth, it fell out, a new one grew, then when I was 15 or so that one fell out and a new one grew. It's definitely the canine and not a displaced other tooth because canines aren't anything like incisors or premolars in shape. Weird...
alexilian From: alexilian Date: 1st June 2009 10:13 (UTC) (Link)

I like your phrasing

I appreciate your wording.

I can relate to what you say about claiming heterosexual privilege for a primary relationship while being bisexual. I have felt uncomfortable about that. Usually I come out as a bisexual at that point.

I have a similar thing with gender. Somehow I am not totally convinced (in my mind) that I am a woman. Sometimes I feel like "us women", sometimes "us men" and sometimes "in the grey area in between". You might consider that a mixed situation too. My body however is being perceived as female most of the time. Fortunately most women-only space I encounter are trans-friendly.
turkish_coffee From: turkish_coffee Date: 5th June 2009 06:02 (UTC) (Link)
I've always been white-- Er, caucasian and gotten notices about African-American grants.

First-of-all None of them have a dual citizenship, specifically with anywhere in Africa. They're just American, like everyone else.

Secondly, "African" is not a race it is an ethnicity or possibly a heritage.

Third My school is required to give the same notices to all students to avoid assertions that it favors one race, but I never get any anouncements about Caucasian-American grants.

I'm not sure if there is a "white advantage", but I'm 98% sure I've never gotten it. Although, I fall into a scruffy teenager group so perhaps that hinders it somewhat.
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