A black and white issue: The future of society is mixed
The melting pot is bubbling nicely. 'Mixed race' is the UK's fastest-growing ethnic group. Are we ready for generation M? Amina Taylor, a black woman with a white partner, ponders what the future holds for her children
Sunday 26 November 2006
On current trends, mixed-race babies will soon outnumber those born to black couples in Britain. The last census showed that people of mixed race make up the third-largest minority group behind Indians and Pakistanis. But with half of them aged 16 or younger, they are the fastest growing. In time, people of mixed race will become Britain's largest ethnic minority.
As a black woman in an 11-year relationship with a white man, my part in this "new Britain" has been one of the most challenged and explored areas of my life. One night after dinner with a white male friend, a group of young black men attempted "to reason with me". The most outspoken warned me to "think about the children I could have". The fact that 50 per cent of black men have white partners was not the point: he was angry about what he felt I represented.
I am aware now, as I was then, that for couples from different racial backgrounds, the simple act of falling in love is somehow a political statement.
As a couple, Dylan and I are strong. But could we withstand the increased scrutiny that the simple act of walking to the shops holding our offspring would bring? One in five pre-schoolers in London might be mixed race, but there are still area of the UK where our presence would do more than raise eyebrows.
"The situation is improving but, like everything, it is a slow process," says Val Hoskins, trustee and co-ordinator with People In Harmony, a mixed-race support and advocacy group. "The idea still prevails that people in a mixed-race situation have issues. Those looking in see identity problems when in fact it is people who are thrown by families looking different. People are asked to state where they are from and almost told that 'those people cannot be your brother/sister/parents etc'. It is a disbelief that says so much."
In America, "Generation M" is claiming an identity all of its own. Pop star Cassie, whose father is Filipino and whose mother is black-Mexican, typifies the Tiger Woods approach to racial categorisation: they refuse one. She said she was "proud of every aspect of her background" and felt "culturally richer" for it.
Would a child of mine feel that way? After all, it was only in 2001 that people of mixed race had their own box on the census form, rather than having to tick "other".
Yet mixed-race faces are all around us - Zadie Smith, Mel Brown, Craig David, Rory Underwood. Advertisers who use mixed-race models may be responding to growing evidence that there is a genetic imperative to find people of mixed race more attractive because their mixed heritage makes them stronger.
Craig Roberts, a biologist at Liverpool University, compared beauty with diversity of histocompatability (MHC) genes and found that those with a higher diversity quota were seen as more attractive. Or maybe it is still that, as Val Hoskins says, mixed race is "somehow more acceptable because their skin might be a lighter colour and their hair slightly different."
I hope my mixed-race child will not have to struggle with a sense of who he or she is. They won't be a symbol of a whole new world: they will simply be allowed to be and come to their own conclusions in their own sweet time. If only the rest of the country could catch up.
Natasha Mann: 'I feel I have an identity to be proud of'
Natasha Mann, 25, from north London, has a black Jamaican mother and white British father
I was lucky to grow up where there weren't massive racial divides. At school there were loads of people with one black and one white parent. But there are always assumptions about you if you have brown skin, that you will identify more with black culture. At work [in the music industry] I mentioned liking a jazz film and my client said he was surprised that I would like that kind of music. He assumed I would only like R'n'B and hip hop. At school I would get comments from black boys if I was going out with a white boy: people still think that mixed-race couples are always a white woman and a black man. I'd never say that being mixed race takes anything away from you. I feel I have a strong background and identity to be proud of.
Sally Okasor: 'I'm lucky to be made of two massively rich cultures'
Sally Okasor, 25, from Malvern, has a Nigerian father and Indian mother
My mum had to run away to marry Dad. To marry a black man was the worst thing she could possibly do. I went to a wedding on my mum's side and my cousin barely acknowledged me. Racism can be as indirect as a feeling of being unwelcome. I feel lucky to be able to call myself mixed race. I've got these two massively rich cultures that I'm made of - India and Africa - two continents full of mystery and spices and wonderful things, and I'm from both of them.
Paritosh Shepland: 'It's a very good time to be mixed race and I rejoice in it'
Paritosh Shepland, 64, from Leicester, has a white mother and Indian father
I was born in Cornwall in 1942. My elder brother was fair, so I was conscious that I was different. At school they would call me "dark and hairy". There was nothing malicious about that - it was almost an accolade. But when I moved to Leicester to teach, it wasn't uncommon for me to be called "Paki" and told to "f off" and to get back "to your own country". People would spit on the ground as I walked by and I was assaulted on a couple of occasions. When I found out that my mother had had an Indian boyfriend - my father - it was a great relief. Now when I go into Indian shops and they ask me where I come from I can say: "My mum was English and my dad was Indian." It's a very good time to be a mixed-race person and I rejoice in it. I feel perfectly comfortable in white society and in Indian society - and more complete. The downside is that sometimes you don't feel that you belong in either.
In the mix: The faces of the future
The roll call of mixed-race achievers grows rapidly, a reflection of the dramatic growth of this group in the UK and its establishment as an identity in its own right. One in five pre-school children in London belongs to Generation M.
Dame Kelly Holmes
The Olympic double gold medal winner grew up in Kent. Her father is Jamaican, her mother white British
The novelist was born in her father's native Bangladesh but moved to Britain as a child. Her mother is white British
The 'Crash' actress's mother is Zimbabwean (Newton says she is a Shona princess), her father white British
The singer tipped to win this series of 'The X-Factor' has a white British mother and black father
Interviews by Sarah Harris. People in Harmony - information, support and advice for mixed-race people: 01753 552 559 www.pih.org.uk
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