‘With most people […] they’ll be whatever race their parents are, and stay being that for life. For mixed-race children it’s a little more confusing. We don’t come out looking like our parents, and often we’ll be racialised differently to them’ A Guide To Being Black | Varaidzo | The Good Immigrant
If you are mixed race, you will find you have a natural disconnect from your parents. This is less about them not getting you when you’re going through the various stages of teenage angst, and more about the fact that being different races means there is a part of each other you will never understand. When it comes to race, this is uncommon in most families. However, if you’re the child of parents from two different ethnic backgrounds, your disconnect becomes unique.
When you have one black parent and one white parent, who do you go to when you’re racially abused as a child? I don’t think I went to either, because I felt different to both. Using myself as an example (instead of the nation’s favourite East End family), here’s why:
The first understanding of difference within my family and racial inequality, was fairly young. My grandparents lived through a time when inter-racial marriage was frowned upon, and even illegal in the US. My parents had to face them, individuals whose views were formed at a time when racism was even more rife than it is today.
When your dad is disapproved of because of his colour, a colour I hold, but my mum doesn’t, it can leave you questioning how you’ve been given a ‘pass’, and recognising that it is the whiteness within you that has allowed you in. Generations are different, we have come an extremely long way, but as a child I was forced to wonder whether the same discrimination my dad faced, was also felt towards me. Then introduce the other side: many mixed race children growing up are disconnected both in distance and culture from their grandparents. Unable to speak a language, or simply ‘pop over’ in the same way many peers would growing up; you can be left feeling that the non-English, non-white side of you is fake.
2. MY DAD
My dad has experienced racism, of course, but he grew up in a country where people were his colour. Our childhoods were different. He experienced inequality in terms of his country having less, therefore experienced a harder childhood in a way I will never understand. There are racial divides in Mauritius, but most people are black or brown. Although growing up with more privilege, I experienced childhood as a brown girl in a predominantly white society, where white kids at school found my colour a point of comedy. My dad grew up with black as a norm, I grew up feeling abnormal as brown. He arrived in the UK as an adult with his own mind, content with blackness, he cares less about the racism he has experienced here. I arrived in the UK out of the womb (where I’m ‘originally’ from), took racism quietly and internalised it to feel inadequate.
It is difficult for my dad to understand racism from my perspective, he’d seen segregation after all. But my experience growing up around white people was different. We cannot entirely understand each other on race.
3. MY MUM
My mum is white, but mixed race. We hold different views to each other on race, but make effort to understand each other’s perspectives. Society can make brown to white feel even further than brown to black. Last year, we were lucky enough to cross the path of an EDL march. I stood on the curb attempting to be defiant with a small crowd of brown women doing the same, as the EDL stared at us with hate for our colour. My mum, doing her best to cheer me up, would not be able to understand the way in which this march felt like a direct attack on my colour.
I grew up sitting in front of the mirror using her powder and being both amused and confused by how it didn’t match my skin. I would wonder whether people would know I was her daughter in public, or assume my white friend was. When she shared a photo at work, would people be surprised her kids were brown?
My point is, in mixed race families, there can be explaining to do about your perception of the world based on your race and identity, even to your own parents. Your experience is not just understood by default, and sometimes you will even see racism within your own family. Where many family units can unite on privileges or be defiant against challenges they may face as a result of their race, mixed race families can’t. When it comes to race, the mixed race family disconnect is real.
This blog was adapted from its original version, featured here.