WORDS: Punk Food Bandita
Last week saw the arrival of a new royal baby, Archie, who is the first born child of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. His birth has caused much talk of heritage which differs slightly than most royal babies on account of his mother being from a mixed race background, born to a white father and African American mother. Some are fascinated by it, some overjoyed, seeing it as a sign of progress and others are openly disgusted, regarding it as the fall of the empire.
Danny Baker has lost his job over it, after posting an ill-advised tweet of a monkey being led out of a building in human clothes by a posh looking couple- something he insists was a remark about class, and not about race. The Baker incident was one that caused pages of discussion across social media platforms, with a wide range of opinions about the matter. A few that caught my eye were on a similar theme, stating that they hadn’t seen it as a racist remark because “she’s not that black” and “I forgot she was black. You can’t really tell”.
This has always been a strange line of comment for me, as the grandchild of a Somali immigrant who came to England as a young man in the 1940’s. I have both a white and a black parent, yet to look at, to say I am a whiter shade of pale would be an understatement.
Not only that, my eyes are blue, which further throws people’s idea of what someone like me should look like. Of course I don’t mind people being surprised when they learn of it, but it has taught me some interesting things about the way that biracial children are perceived, starting from primary school where I was the only child with a non-white parent for most of my time there. When our school held a production of The Jungle Book, they cast me as ‘The Little Indian Girl’ at the end. Not being nearly brown enough for them though and it being the eighties, they proceeded to paint me, making my skin not only several shades darker to match my mother’s skin tone, but also managing to do my eye makeup exactly like hers so I looked like a tiny clone of her.
I’m never going to be racially profiled by the police or subject to racist abuse in the street by strangers the way some of my family members have been in the past. Actually this isn’t quite true, but not for the reasons you may think. I am subject to occasional anti-Semitic abuse, despite not having any Jewish heritage whatsoever. The reason for this would be hilarious if it wasn’t for the fact the people doing it will also be abusing actual Jewish people. For it seems that some of our local racists are confusing Jewish women and goths. They see a woman with black hair, and, being entirely unable to differentiate between a Star Of David and the pentacle I wear around my neck, draw their own ridiculous conclusions based on a vague stereotype they have in their head. I don’t actually tell them I’m not Jewish, for that would insinuate that it would be okay for them to speak to me like that if I were. Instead I try to give them an experience that might make them think twice about targeting Jewish people in the future, before skipping on my merry way with Nazi Punks, Fuck Off blasting in my headphones.
It can be both enraging and amusing when us white appearing mixies accidentally honey trap bigots who feel safe to express their racist views with what they think is a fellow Caucasian- one who will sympathise with their hateful mind-set no less. The actor Stephen Graham who played Combo, the violent National Front member in ‘This Is England’, has a Jamaican Grandfather and has talked about times he has challenged people making racist remarks to him, not realising his background. Many years ago in the pub, I had a complete stranger ranting about Somali people to me. What he had against them in particular I never really found out, but when I pointed out that was where my own Grandfather was from there he blinked at me several times trying to work out if I was taking the piss or not. When he finally realised I was being serious he stuttered “ I didn’t mean the Somalis. I meant the Samoans” and didn’t really have an answer for me when I asked how many Samoan people he had met in the North East of England.
This week Prophets Of Rage musician Tom Morello shared an experience whereby someone wrote online that Morello was “the whitest looking black man I’ve seen” before accusing him of race baiting. His reply relayed his story of being the only black kid in town growing up. How though his skin colour has never changed, his experiences both prior to him being in Rage Against The Machine and following their success, ranged from the KKK hanging a noose in his garage when he was young to people outright refusing to acknowledge he is black because he challenges what they think that is supposed to look like culturally.
Equal opportunities forms are also fun for us. Most just don’t have a box that quite matches what we are. I could tick White British, and did for many years, as I am pale and I am from England. It sort of fits, but it also just outright ignores part of my heritage which has been especially important for me to remember since my grandfather died. Similarly ticking ‘Mixed: White and Black African, which is more accurate, makes me feel a bit Ali G and elicits suspicion from others like I’m some sort of northern Rachel Dolezal: like what happened when I had to give a statement to the police once after I was witness to a racist incident on a train against two muslim women. When the officer had given me the options and I indicated ‘Mixed: White and Black African’, his pen hovered and he looked………confused. I gave my rehearsed explanation of my family tree, how my mum was mixed race and that my grandfather was African, originating from Somalia. He nodded slowly, then marked me as a White South African.
How biracial people are discussed in the political arena is also problematic, often on both the left and the right. Nationalists often talk of their perceived purity and phrases like ‘white genocide’ are creeping into their conversation as it always inevitably will. When a fake National Geographic magazine cover appeared on the internet depicting a nude interracial couple on the cover entitled Evolution Europe, supposedly promoting the merits of biracial children , the social media of accounts of the far right who thought it to be genuine was in uproar. Because some of the far right hate mixed race people even more than they hate people of colour whose parents are the same ethnicity as each other. We are a tainted bloodline, a threat, or a ‘half breed’ as someone once called me, two seconds before I shoved him into a flower bed.
Don’t get me wrong though, nothing will make my eyes roll harder than the idealistic hippies who contrastingly see us as some sort of racial harmony unicorns, whose existence will erase prejudice from the world if we all produce mixed race kids. Or those who claim they don’t see colour and don’t notice the colour of someone’s skin. Bullshit. Everyone does. To say you don’t think about race means you probably haven’t had to, and in my experience, those who claim race and heritage doesn’t matter are the same people who will be slouched over a bar dressed as a shamrock on St Patrick’s Day because their great, great, great, great grand-nana’s favourite cat was Irish. Racism isn’t just about skin colour. It is ironically diverse and comes in many, many forms. It’s about class, about poverty, about who we perceive as “the other” or as an invader.
Here’s the thing no one really tells you. Biracial people can be extremely racist because of all of the above. It’s a myth that the world will transcend race because of us. Technically, if you look at the DNA of most of the world, we could all say we are mixed, yet racism is thriving in our world. We see them in the EDL. On Tommy Robinson marches, such as the one in Manchester in 2017 where another demonstrator was carrying a placard picturing a white baby with the slogan ‘mongrels will not destroy our way of life’. That isn’t concerns about Islam, ISIS or grooming gangs, as they claim. The message sent there is perfectly clear, and one that a lot of far right groups are increasingly less afraid to say. People of mixed or ethnic minority heritage in such groups are often paraded as token of proof that they couldn’t possibly be racist. That Islam isn’t a race, so they can’t be. That immigration concerns aren’t racist. Yet some of their actions very much are, with some ol their members assaulting people they perceived to be Muslim, regardless of whether this is correct, and always based on the colour of their victims’ skin.
Biracial people are here whether you are comfortable with that or not. Like Jaqen H’ghar, we come in many faces that you may not always recognise and that’s okay as long as you aren’t an arsehole about it. We aren’t here to be an “I can’t be racist because I am/my family member/my friend is mixed race” get out of jail free card. We can do without being told we are too black to fit into a white world if we happen to be dark, or too white to be able to fit into the communities where our own family resides because we haven’t had the same experiences of oppression. We don’t care if you approve or not of our parents or grandparents interracial relationship and in fact would rather avoid any discussion that reminds us that they once had sex. We also can’t cure this world of racism. We’re all going to have to work harder smashing capitalism and colonialism if we are ever going to achieve that. But we are here to continuously troll whatever your perceptions of us or race is, for better or worse. Just don’t call us half breeds if you don’t want to end up face first in a rose bush.