Black Girl Dancing at Lughnasa

Irish-Nigerian Visual Sociologist PhD Researcher. Popular Culture, music, magic, and esoteric African Diasporic musings.

Why I see myself as a daughter of the Diaspora rather than mixed-race

Why this ‘mixed’ girl rejects the ‘mixed-race’ label.

There is nothing like hearing the arguments of members of the multiracial movement and certain ‘mixed-race’ activists to make me want to distance myself from them as much as possible and exclusively identify as black! However, after all these years, I refuse to be pushed into making essentialist identity choices.

 ‘Mixed-race’ has been both pathologized and celebrated across time and space, often simultaneously.  Whether we are being positioned as the halfcaste underclass - Waynetta Slob’s ‘brown babies,’ endemic of a broken Britain populated by brown-skinned, hooded feral youth, or we are cast in the role as mixed-race messiahs; genetically superior, physically fitter, inheritors of a bright new, beautiful brown post-racial future - like all non-white people, we continue to be racialised.

Both constructions assign mixed race people a specific and limited identity based on their ‘race’, and continue the work of 18th century scientific racism ascribing particular physical and mental attributes to people based on so called racial difference. Further, the myth of a new, beautiful mixed race generation as the epitome of liberal, cool, race-less Britain, masks enduring structural racism and inequalities, which will be allowed to continue unchecked if we are seduced by it.

The media and social studies join forces to perpetuate a damaging and a-historical construction of being ‘mixed-race’, where mixedness is presented as something new. But black and white people have been having children since their first encounters with each other. This is a process that has been in place since the conquests of the Americas at least. The populations of the New World are largely mixed-race populations. Although they are popularly categorised as black or white, their origins are heterogeneous. In such a context, it seems nonsensical to categorise the child of one black Caribbean parent and one white European parent as suddenly and magically ‘mixed-race’, yet we continue to do so.

This is in large part due to Britain’s refusal to entertain a dialogue with its colonial history and to acknowledge its central role in these events. The reality of the historical frequency of ‘mixedness’ is systematically ignored and ‘mixedness’ is repackaged as something hip and new, a bargaining chip for Britain to exploit when it wants to present a multicultural face to the world.

While contemporary academic discourse acknowledges the existence of multiple identities, and it is possible to talk about having identities that are both/and rather than either/or (Collins 1990) for a child with one black and one white parent, this is usually restricted to a choice of being both mixed race and black. You can never claim whiteness. Whiteness is sustained and preserved through a myth of purity, exclusivity and restricted access. The addition of a ‘mixed-race’ category on the census does nothing to challenge the racial hierarchy and this is one of the reasons I reject it. Similarly, a decision for me to identify exclusively as black fails to disrupt the status quo and may be problematic.However, in spite of the narrow troupes of blackness that are peddled to us via mass media, blackness remains, diverse and dynamic. Blackness can accommodate mixedness, in a way that whiteness, with its obsessional policing of purity, cannot.

It is the fluid and multidimensional models for identity that are reminiscent of a time before we had been conditioned into a belief in rigid racial classification which are so interesting and potentially offer such scope to the ‘mixed’ person – and indeed all people. 

So…. in some contexts I am black, in others mixed, sometimes I am Irish, at others Nigerian, (white is still off limits) but I am always me, always with the potential to identify as any of these things. Further, I would add -blackness has the elasticity to support all of these identities. It offers so much more scope than whiteness (in fact whiteness could learn a thing or two from good old blackness).

Our passion for categorization is such that some people, both black and white, may struggle to accept this, but really claiming one does not preclude claiming another, and so I remain deeply skeptical of the addition of a ‘mixed race’ category, which statically fixes the subject and demands that we subscribe to an easily manageable, one-dimensional identity.

Ultimately though, I identify as a daughter of the Diaspora. The descendants of the millions of Africans taken to the new world share a similar heritage to mine; black African and white European, and I feel an affinity with these fellow Diasporians. I reject a racist hierarchy of value and worth and refuse to position myself as separate from other black people in a bid to try and position myself that little bit closer to whiteness. The historical processes, of which we Diasporians are a part, stem from the same source: the European slave trade and the subsequent European colonisation of Africa. And it is for this reason that I locate myself within this historical continuum rather than buy into an ideologically problematic, a-historical approach which constructs being ‘mixed-race’ as something new.

 Catch the debate on “Being Mixed Race” at WOW Women of the World 2013

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  7. bongsniffer reblogged this from thediasporadiva and added:
    good post on identity fluidity and rejecting the term “mixed race”
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    I wish I had been at this debate and am so looking forward to listening to this later. I have a lot of work to do on my...
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