Is being mixed race now fashionable?

I have noticed that there seems to be a wave of articles being written recently, all about how cool it is to be mixed race. Maybe I notice it more, being mixed race myself, but it had me questioning, is it really true? DO people really accept and have an attraction to mixed race people? Mixed race people of my age will have grown up with the usual prejudice expected, of non conformity with any race, and being teased and bullied for being different. Being a non white in the UK will have come with identity and prejudice issues as it is, but to me I felt like being mixed race came almost with double the amount. Not only did I not fit into my English peers, personally being very westernised, I didn't fit into my Chinese peers groups fully either at first. Admittedly, I had some very genuine English friends as a child, and did have a very happy childhood, although that wasn't without it's racially motivated physical attacks and bullying. As I've grown up, I have experienced less racism, and more attention for being mixed race, but even to this day I still get the odd shallow minded comment from both races about pride, culture and heritage. I'll freely admit, due to my experiences as a child and young adult, I subconciously ended up gravitating to my Chinese side more and wanting to identify more heavily with it, perhaps not wanting to feel that I was a watered down version of both cultures. I made a very concious decision not to put my children though the uncertainty and identity crisis that I went through, and to not let them lose the heritage and culture that I have regained over the years, and so have always leaned towards dating Chinese men in adulthood. So the recent spate of articles have got me wondering, do people truly aspire to having mixed race children? Are men and women really more attracted to mixed race partners? Admittedly, all of the examples in the articles below, are very attractive and wealthy, successful mixed race celebrities. But isn't that WHY they're accepted and celebrated? Because their successful, wealthy and popular? I guess time will tell, but in my rather skeptical mind, I have my reservations as to being mixed race will ever really be truly accepted.

At last! It's cool to be mixed race (which is handy because I'm African, American, Jewish, Geordie, Irish, Scottish and Hungarian)
By Oona King, Last updated at 12:52 AM on 25th April 2010

White supremacy is so last century. These days it's on-trend to be a mixed-race supremacist . Unlike the British National Party, mixed-race people can now point to scientifically credible research that highlights the various biological advantages of their ethnicity. And that's not to mention the anecdotal evidence pointing to sports stars and celebrities such as Lewis Hamilton, Theo Walcott and Leona Lewis as representing the new ideal of physical beauty.

But is this just a media fad, sparked by the election of the world's most famous mixed-race person as President of the United States? And now that mixed-race people are our fastest growing ethnic group, what does it mean for Britain's uneasy relationship with race?

Being mixed race is a mixed blessing. Growing up, I mainly saw the downsides, which ranged from a mild feeling of not belonging, to a profound understanding of what it is to be an outcast. But as an adult I've mainly experienced the upside: a cultural bilateralism that can be beneficial in much the same way as speaking two languages. And, best of all, it affords an ability to escape the dead weight of preconception. Sometimes it's like being in one of those fairy tales where the hero wears a cloak of invisibility. Depending on my clothing and how I wear my hair, I've had natives of Spain, India and Brazil mistake me for one of them. The most remarkable hour of my life came when I put on a head scarf and went out alone to witness riots on the 'Arab street' in the Gaza Strip in June 2003. If the thousands of young Palestinians had known I was a Jew with an American and British passport, and an MP to boot, at best they would have kidnapped me, at worst killed me on the spot.

And now it seems that mixed race genes are being hailed as the latest Darwinian 'must-have' accessory. If you spent your childhood being called a 'mongrel' in the playground, the recent research by Cardiff University, which seems to show that mixed-race people are more attractive and more successful, may bring a wry smile to your face. Dr Michael Lewis, who conducted the research said: 'Darwin suggested that diversity of genes led to greater genetic fitness and this in turn seems to be linked to attractiveness.' Far from being an abomination of the natural order, mixed-race children are apparently biologically preferable. The logic is that the wider the gene pool (the further apart genetically two parents are) the greater protection from illness or genetic abnormality their children enjoy. I don't know about being healthier and prettier (I've got a lousy immune system and can wake the dead without make-up), but some advantages to being mixed race are undeniable.

It wasn't always like that. I was born in Sheffield in 1967 to an African-American father and a white Jewish Geordie mother whose family was Irish, Scottish and Hungarian. Before 1967 it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry in 16 American states, and there was general horror at the offspring of inter-racial relationships. It can't have been great to be mixed race (or black) in the Sixties, let alone the 1860s when my great-grandfather Allen was born exactly a century before me, in the American South, two years after slavery was abolished. His father Horacce was black, and his mother Eliza is listed in the 1870 census as 'mulatto' (mixed race). Both Horacce and Eliza were slaves until their 40s. I wonder what they would have made of a black man in the White House. It would presumably have stupefied them. At the time it stupefied me. On the morning of Barack Obama's election victory in 2008, when my three-year-old son asked me why I was crying, I had to stop myself from saying: 'Because a black man has become President.' I didn't want to put it into his head that it was extraordinary for a black person to become President.

And yet Obama's ethnicity remains controversial. The fact that he will not describe himself as mixed-race in this year's census has some groups up in arms. Instead he chooses to tick the box 'Black, African American, or Negro'. He rejected the box that described him as mixed. As someone who often ticks this box too, I know it wasn't done as a slight to the white community, nor his white family. In his memoirs he says of his white mother: 'She was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known.' But no one, including his mother, can change the fact that his identity is black. That's the point: black is not a colour, it is an identity.

Growing up, the thing that determined our identity most was that white society viewed us as black. That's why most mixed-race people of my generation, the ones labelled 'mongrel', see themselves as black. Becoming belatedly 'fashionable' doesn't change anything for us. But it changes everything for our kids. They won't have chips on their shoulders. No one could accuse the prescandal Tiger Woods of having low esteem, often a mixed-race trait.

But overall, the new excitement around mixed-race people doesn't make me clap my hands. For if we detach ourselves from the black experience, we destroy our identity. That is why, although I'm happy to describe myself as 'mixed race', my identity is black. And although it's nice to think I could have rebuked the bullies shouting 'mongrel' with the claim: 'In fact, I'm genetically superior,' this would only create reverse racism. I recall being shunned by every white boy in the class as a 13-year-old girl. I never could have imagined the white mainstream would one day crown us 'the beautiful people'.

So what happens if it's finally proved beyond doubt that, on average, mixed-race people are more attractive? Ironically this could be disastrous - both for our relations with the rest of the black community, and perhaps more importantly, with ourselves. Throughout history, those who think they are physically superior to others inevitably become morally inferior. We should heed Martin Luther King's dream that judgment rests on character, not looks or skin colour.

It might make us smile to read recent claims that 'mixed-race is the perfect face'. But it won't make us happy. If anything, this fad for mixed-race supremacy could taint mixed-race people with a very ugly streak. And call me prejudiced, but I don't want to get lumped in with the BNP.

Is the truth about being a mixed race Briton really so simple?
By Eve Ahmed Last updated at 11:26 PM on 23rd April 2010

As a child growing up in the late Seventies and early Eighties, I had no idea what mixed-race meant. I knew what halfcaste meant, though, and it made me cringe. I got called it by other children at school, by skinheads on the streets of South London where I lived, and even by extended family, who should have known better. The phrase was used all the time, back then - by racists who set out to wound and also as a casual, throwaway description by people who probably didn't realise how hurtful those two words were. London, now claimed by some to be the most ethnically mixed city on the planet was, in my childhood, overwhelmingly white.

At my school, dotted among the vast majority of pale, English faces were just two children with black parents and two with Asian parents. They stuck together in their own little groups, instinctively seeking comfort in the familiar. Or maybe it was about safety in numbers because, at the time, the National Front was winning seats on local councils on a previously unheard of scale.

Safety in numbers wasn't an option for me. At Fircroft primary school in Tooting, there was only one child who had a brown dad and a white mum - and I was it. At an age when all children desperately want to fit in, I stood out. I remember asking my mum: 'Why did you have to marry a Pakistani? I don't want to be different to everyone else.' She laughed and told me that I was making a fuss about nothing. 'Be proud to stand out from the crowd,' she said. 'Don't be a sheep. Why do you want to be the same as everyone else? That's so boring.' 'I'd rather be full Pakistani or, preferably, full English - not this in-between beige person,' I replied. 'I don't really belong anywhere.' 'Colour is irrelevant, you're a citizen of the world,' she said. But to a lost 11-year-old, the Left-wing beliefs that compelled her to marry an Asian man as a political statement didn't matter to me.

I didn't care that she'd been a Young Communist, a founder member of the Movement for Colonial Freedom, a Quaker and a Fabian. All I knew was that I - the result of her passion for some melting pot, rainbow nation ideal - felt like a total misfit and that, at school, I got picked on for it. 'You can't come indoors any more. My dad says he won't have a half-caste in the house,' said Andrea, my white best friend one day. She took the glass of water from my hand.

To a lost 11-year-old, the Left-wing beliefs that compelled her to marry an Asian man as a political statement didn't matter to me 'He says you can't use our things to drink or eat from either, because people like you are dirty.' From then on, we played out on the pavement. 'Our faith doesn't allow us to mix with your sort. Our priest says that, in the eyes of God, what your parents did was wrong,' another so-called friend told me. I accepted this racism quietly, never telling anyone I was being bullied. Back then, there wasn't anywhere for children to confide their troubles. Teachers were unapproachable and there were no organisations such as Childline to provide a sympathetic ear.

Even my mother - with her bohemian, hippy ideals said I should be grateful and not unhappy, that she'd tried, in her own small way, to change the world. 'Mixed children are beautiful, healthy, and intelligent. Just look at you three,' she smiled at me, my sister and little brother. 'You're gorgeous. Be thankful.' Be thankful for being mixed? She had to be mad.

Today, as a woman in her 40s who's comfortable in her identity, I'm belatedly filled with admiration for my pioneering mum, because it turns out that this far-sighted woman was actually on to something. According to a new study, British people now regard mixed-race people as being more attractive and higher achieving than any other race - just as she predicted all those years ago. Dr Michael Lewis, of Cardiff University, asked 40 students to rate 1,205 black, white and mixed-race faces for perceived attractiveness. He found a 55 per cent chance that mixed-race people were perceived as more attractive. And the 'extremely attractive' ratings were dominated by mixed-race faces, which made up one in ten of them. That, he says, is a much greater proportion than would be expected, based on their representation in British society of around three per cent.

Shows such as the X Factor are partly responsible for this cultural shift. 'I noticed that many X Factor contestants were mixed-race said Dr Lewis. 'What we think has happened is that the more we see mixed people on TV and around us in society, the more readily we identify with them.' When I was growing up, there were no dual heritage role models like them to look up to

But there could also be something called hybrid vigour at work, which was first put forward by Darwin in 1876. This predicts that genetically fitter offspring result from mixed parentage, both in the plant and animal worlds, including human beings. Dr Lewis admits: 'It is possible that mixed race people are more successful, too, as well as being more attractive, though that would be hard - and controversial - to prove. 'But, based on anecdotal evidence, although mixed-race people make up a small proportion of the population, they are overrepresented at the top level in a number of professions.' He mentioned Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry as examples.

Sadly, when I was growing up, there were no dual heritage role models like them to look up to. Along with Leona Lewis and Myleene Klass, they've all spoken movingly about the difficulties they encountered as children who looked different to the 'norm'. Yet, they overcame the challenges and are now at the top of their game, inspiring the mixed-race children who are growing up today. Influential figures such as U.S. President Barack Obama have made it cool to be dual heritage, but that's the last thing it was when I was a teenager - which is why, at the age of 15, I started bleaching my skin. I used the cream peroxide Mum bought for lightening facial hair. Of course, it didn't turn my skin white at all. When Mum caught me at it, I thought she'd be angry but, actually, she was just upset. 'I believed that if all the races intermarried and had babies, we'd end up with a world free from racism,' she said. 'But that's not how it feels for you, is it?'

She told me the story of how she came to marry my dad, perhaps hoping I'd be able to love myself a little more if I knew what high hopes she'd started out with. I found out that her father was a miner, living in a West Yorkshire pit village; that she was the first in the family to go to university, where she was one of the very few to study German, just a couple of years after the end of World War II; and that she joined the Communists and met my dad, newly arrived from Pakistan, while handing out Party leaflets in Chapeltown, which used to be one of the most deprived areas of Leeds.

Recently, trying to find out more about our family's history, I asked an aunt what she'd thought when Mum first brought her boyfriend back to their little house at the foot of the moors. I pictured aghast faces and outraged neighbours gossiping. This was the Fifties, after all. 'Yes, the neighbours were nasty,' she said, 'and it did cause a scandal. But we thought he was the most handsome man we'd ever seen.'

My dad's brothers all had traditional, arranged marriages and he was expected to follow suit. I can't imagine marrying a liberated white girl like my mother went down well with his family. Nonetheless, they married and settled in East London, where I was born. But, my dad was homesick and they moved again, when I was three, to Karachi in Pakistan. I loved living there and my memories are blissfully happy ones. I played on the beach with my numerous cousins, I went for camel rides, and I helped my lovely 'daadi' (grandmother) cook roti bread. I was showered with affection and treated like an absolute princess by my Pakistani family, but mum was seeing another side to their character. She felt dominated and belittled by her mother and father-in-law and couldn't understand why her husband didn't stand up for her. Now it was Mum's turn to be homesick. Dad refused to budge so, when I was seven years old, she returned to the UK without him, but with another man, who she'd since fallen in love with. My new stepfather didn't appear to accept the concept of either mixed-race or half caste. To him, we were first and foremost Pakistani Muslims. But I resented the way he forced his faith on me, because Islam seemed to be too strict towards women. 'This isn't fair,' I told myself. 'Not only am I mixed, but I'm expected to follow a religion that I don't believe in.' As far as I was concerned, it was a double helping of misfortune.

Back in Britain and living in South London, at secondary school I avoided the Asian children because I didn't speak Urdu or Punjabi and didn't particularly look like them, either. I hung around with the white children who seemed to have everything going for them - status, an easygoing Western lifestyle, and the best appearance. Rachel, with her blonde hair and blue eyes, had the ideal looks. Despite being best friends, I wasn't allowed to go to her 16th, 17th or 18th birthday parties, because there would have been boys there - and girls don't usually mix with boys within Muslim families. In fact, I hardly went anywhere after school, unless it was with my family. When I complained to Mum, she no longer had the answers. Here was mixed-race in action, no longer just a theory that she'd set such store by, and it was throwing up issues she couldn't solve. My stepdad was immovable - and it was his culture that we lived by.

Perhaps, inevitably, we had another family breakdown and mum divorced for the second time. I went off to university and lost all contact with my Asian side for many years. I was no longer prepared to be torn between two different-ways of life. I drank and socialised like a white person and dropped my ethnic sounding first name of Zenab (which nobody could pronounce anyway) and used my middle name of Eve instead. Finally, I married a white man and lived in an exclusive, white part of town. But, something didn't feel right. I hated the lies I told about where I came from. I missed my big, boisterous Pakistani family.

I wanted to reunite the two sides of my ethnicity and went searching for my roots. Though I'd left it too late to reconcile with my father and stepfather, I discovered warm friendships with three half-brothers in Karachi that will last for ever. That's my story - one of culture clash and the loneliness of being a misfit.

Thankfully, we've come a long way in the past 40 years. Mixed-race people are now the fastest growing ethnic minority group in the UK, and are predicted to be the largest minority group by 2020. When I pick my youngest daughter up from school in Oxford, where I now live, children of all colours spill from the gates. My 16-year-old daughter hangs out with friends who are black, white, brown, a mixture, whatever.

'Mum, it's irrelevant where they come from,' she insists. 'They're my mates. It's cool. We don't care about things like that any more; it's not like it was in your day.'

And, for that, I'll be forever grateful.


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Mark Wu said…
Interesting post Erin. As a British Chinese from just Chinese parents, I grew up like others with both the British and Chinese cultures, sometimes gravitating more to one.

I thought that was confusing enough, and though I look Chinese, I never fully integrated as I don't speak it well. But I never considered how mix-raced would have it *harder*.

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