#BlackHistoryMonth

Being Mixed Race: Am I A Human Rorschach Test?

by Glen Chisholm

Just last week I was standing at a bus stop when a gentleman; a complete stranger came and joined me. Nothing unusual about that, we then politely nodded at each other and a conversation started up.

Me: “Evening”
Stranger: “Evening”
Me: “it’s still quite warm isn’t it”
Stranger: “yes it is”; pause; “excuse me mate, but were do you come from?”
Me: “Ipswich”
Stranger: “no, you know, were do you originate from”
Me: “I originate from Ipswich, my mum is English and my dad is Jamaican”
Stranger, sounding surprised: “Really I wouldn’t have thought you were Black, I’d have thought you were Italian or Spanish or something”
Me, politely smiles: “yeah, I sometimes get that”

Now I wasn’t offended by this and this wasn’t the first time or probably won’t be the last time that I’ll have this conversation. I am a light skinned mixed race person with loose curly hair. I have spent most of my life with people questioning my racial identity and for a while I was left questioning it myself.

A Young Glen

A Young Glen

My random conversation had me asking myself why is it that people feel the need to question a complete stranger as to where they are from. I would never dream of walking up to a stranger and asking, “excuse me, where are your parents from”. My thought is there is this assumption that brown means foreign. I have a friend whose background is one English parent and one foreign born parent; the same as me but their foreign born parent is Russian, they have never had their status as being British questioned; they have not faced that assumption. A Rorschach test is a psychological test used to test peoples’ perceptions and interpretations and at times I feel that being mixed race, we face that.

So, a little about my background: when I was born my birth father’s family initially rejected me with my light skin and light loose curly hair. They questioned how could I be part of their family since I wasn’t “dark enough”. My mum raised me at first as a single parent living with my Grandparents. Some local people obviously thought I was “dark enough” as they decided to write graffiti on my Grandparents wall calling my mum a ‘n*gger lover’ and a padlock on the gate writing ‘to keep the n*gger boy in’.

Family

Family

My mum met and married my stepdad who adopted me. This caused tension with his own family who despite being
Anglo-Indian disliked the fact that not only was my mum a single mother but that her child was black. While at school it was hard for others to find who or what my identity was, I had received comments from black children as to not being black enough even being called “Casper” at one point because I was deemed so pale; and yet I was getting racial abuse from white kids by being spat on and called a n**ger at school disco and at one time having a group go past my house singing “there’s only one wog in whitehouse, one wog in whitehouse, Glen Chisholm”.

My mum tried to comfort me by telling me, “I had the best of both worlds”.  But this didn’t help me when a girl I really liked, told me she could not go out with me because her parents didn’t like blacks.

Glen Chisholm

This feeling of ‘not belonging’ carried on for many years. Always being told, ‘you look like you’re this race or that’, being asked, ‘do you come from this place’, being called a ‘greasy wop’, or asked if ‘I’m a Maori’; going to America and having people just assume I’m Hispanic, going to Belgium and being hassled by police who thought I was North African.

A mixed-race friend and I were assaulted in town and called p*ki. I have scars from where I was attacked by skinheads, and knifed. One of my more disturbing instances was when I was a Special Constable on a training course and I was told to be careful because some officers from another force thought I was an “uppity Ni*ger” who needed to be taught a lesson. Now I’ve grown up, matured and am more comfortable in my own skin.

I accept who I am and were I’ve come from. Do I understand why people question or have trouble accepting me? No.

But, unlike in the past, I won’t let it burden me.

_________________________________________________

Glen Chisholm is a UK based town Councilor of mixed Jamaican and English descent. He is deputy portfolio holder for communities on his local council also sitting on the Police and Crime Panel and also as Equality and Diversity advisor for a local charity. Glen has previously blogged for a mental health charity trying to raise awareness of the stigma around mental health. Twitter @glenchisholm

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15 replies »

  1. Wow, I searched “want mixed race” on the internet because I expected to be immersed in forums and blogs detailing how desired mixed race people are, not this!

    Let me tell you a little about myself, I was born in 1993 (soon to be 21) to a 2nd generation St. Lucian father and White-English mother. I also have a 20 year old sister and 23 year old brother and 30 year old half greek sister on my dad’s side. Neither of my parents have any qualifications, but coincidentally are both very smart.

    Through our childhoods we were brought up in a predominantly white neighbourhood with both parents and never experienced racism (I once got called a golly wog at 15, but I was more shocked at his ignorance than anything). My older brother and younger sister were very “popular” at school and seen as cool. I, on the other hand still got on well with my classmates and was generally friendly with most in my year.

    So, I am now studying engineering at university after getting the best A-Level results in my year (studied the day before exams) and was the best at maths in my year of 300 students without much effort. Now at uni, I get a lot of positive attention from women and am generally well liked by people. My older brother is doing his phD, my older sister is quite wealthy and my younger sister is also attending university.

    Also, it appears that we have inherited good emptional physical attributes from our parents – strength, speed, athleticism, kindness.

    I was quite shocked to hear stories that were so different, but wanted to share my positive experiences as the negative connotations currently associated with being “mixed” seem off-putting to prospective mixed parents. Do my experiences represent the opposite to what should be expected, or people more likely to openly express negative experiences than vice versa?

  2. As a Brazilian, I had a very different background and it’s always sad to see this type of life stories. By no means Brazil is a racism-free country, and on a daily basis black people will still be perceived as criminals and suffer from unjustified hate. Even still things are different here in that the single concept of POC or mixed race is alien (because we literally don’t use similar words), specially because 99% of the Brazilian population is a mix of European, Native Brazilians and African descendants (yeah, almost no Asians aside from Chinese immigrants who don’t marry people outside their community :/). So it’s kinda irrelevant to say we’re partly this or that, unless the person is a natural blond with blue eyes (features that due to the recessive genes are rare here), which will really stick out. We do have designations for skin shades, but they don’t have a bad connotation. To women, they’re usually used as pet names, like saying “darling”, “babe”, etc, and are a good thing. Of course, the higher the class, the less you’ll see black people and the more it’s “different”, the easier it gets to discriminate.

    I myself have a (black) African and European great-grandparents, but am considered too pale for Brazilian standards. I was mocked at school when little, called “Casper”, “lab rat”, “ghost” and so on, but I can’t really say I was bullied or anything. Most of the times, people just tell me to get some tan and that’s about it (being tanned is big here). My mom to this day spends hours under the sun to see if she becomes a “morena” at least (slightly brown woman), but she’s like me, unfortunately.

    Again, I’m absolutely not saying discrimination doesn’t exist here, because it does, but just being in a way more blended environment, where EVERYBODY is “mixed-race”, it makes me see things so differently, it breaks my heart even more whenever I see unnecessary animosity like that. It’s hard to wrap my head around it, it’s so stupid

  3. Interesting read. The discrimination experienced by the writer rings true. Finding Identity as the “other” in any society is rarely easy. I especially found the constant theme of violence accurate – from school kids repeating behaviour they’ve seen, to police threatening to teach their black colleagues “a lesson”.

    All of us who know what it is to be the “other” experience this in some form, but sharing these experiences, and putting the voice of the “other” out there in the media and press, is an essential tool that we mustn’t allow a bias media to deny us.

  4. When I lived in London I got asked this question all the time, probably once a week: where are you from? (just round the corner) No, I mean, where are you from originally? (Yorkshire). But I was always asked the question by people of colour – never white people – who for whatever reason could tell that I was not ‘standard’ white but couldn’t place my ethnicity.I am a quarter Chinese and evidently look ‘fully’ white to white people. I was always really flattered by the question, but I never had to experience racism or the implication that I was a foreigner because of my ethnicity (my mother did; I wanted to look like her because she is beautiful).

  5. This post was eye opening. I am mixedrace myself, half Nigerian and half Scottish and I must say we share very different experiences as I am 19 and I am aware that times were very different for you. I really like it when people ask me where I am from and I don’t find it offensive, im proud of my ethnicity and leap at the opportunity to reveal it as I often get positive responses. I find the most frustrating thing about about being mixedrace is people constantly asking you “why don’t you talk black?” or “why are so so black?” or “you’re ghetto” or “you’re white” like who the fuck do you think you are to decide how a certain group of people should talk? Futhermore, why do you assume that all black people must speak in an uneducated way and white people speak the Queens English? I also hate it when people try to box me into one race which is usually black when in fact I AM BOTH. I AM NOT BLACK, NOR WHITE!

    I must say that growing up now being mixedrace and growing up for you Glen was very different and I admire your take on it, the qualms I have with being mixedrace growing up are minor in comparison to yours. The stigma that is attached to our race now is “piff lighty” which basically means a good looking, stuck up mixedrace person (usually a female). Strangely, I find this extremely insulting when I am refered to as a lighty or piff lighty because I feel its dehumanising, as if my colour and my stereotypical beauty is all there is to me.

  6. I must say this was a very interesting read. I too have suffered racism and received various comments over the years. I was brought up by my white mum who I must say did an amazing job all on her own. I didnt have anything to do with my dads side of the family. But my mum was determined that I would learn all about my mixed heritage and we spent hours reading through books, looking at my dads family photos and watching Roots!!! She had many friends from different backgrounds who taught me about my heritage too.
    My mums dad had a best friend (chalky) who had come to the UK from Jamaica in the 50s. Yet when my mum fell pregnant with me they both stopped talking to my mum for bringing a ‘half chat’ into the world. Now here were two men who didnt have a racist bone in their bodies but were coming out with comments like that. Apparently it was just the done thing at the time!!! After I was born (and even up until today) I receive comments like ‘your not very dark are you’ and ‘the only way we can tell that you have colour in you is because of your frizzy hair’ (its curls not frizz grrrrrr) and the best to date ‘you dont act black’ How do you act black??
    I have spent my whole life being abused and receiving comments like above. When I was a child it affected me a lot. But now I ignore the stupidity of certain individuals. I am proud of who I am…black white who cares I am ME!!!!

  7. I want to thank you all for reading and your comments.

    My little sister (I say little se is 34) said this after reading my blog

    “For every child born into the harsh world that has to face any kind of racism whether it be big or small, the repercussions last a life time”

    And she is right, our childhood is the building block for our life and how we are treated as a child effects our feelings of self worth how we perceive ourselves and how we perceive others

    • So true = ( Wise little sister.
      I’m glad Ben feels the situation has improved
      Much work needed to make society safe for all

      “The world is evolving…
      it needs all love and sympathy;
      great tenderness & watchfulness
      is required from each one of us”

      -Hazrat Inayat Khan

  8. Nice blog Glen.

    As a slightly *cough* younger person of mixed-race heritage I would definitely attribute my relatively pain-free upbringing to your generation, who, as you’ve illustrated, had to live with the stigma of being “different” during a turbulent time for this country in general, not to mention taking a ton of abuse from narrow-minded individuals. Essentially you cleared a path for us to aspire to be more and I don’t think you should ever forget that.

    We undoubtedly owe your generation (and obviously the Caribbean immigrants who came over in search of a better life in the 50s) a thank you of some kind, and I hope that seeing better living conditions for latter generations goes someway towards that.

    Also, your mum was probably right with the “best of both worlds” bit.

  9. Thanks for telling your moving & illuminating story!

    Just to kind of ramble my thoughts… I remember an Asian girl I know saying that ‘race is defined by racists’ and I keep returning to this idea: White supremacy has constructed race and made Blackness like cordial… still cordial if diluted: still Black if mixed. Obviously I believe the whole evil thing persists because powerful people have the power & will to hold onto their power and all the plunder that goes with it etc, but that mixed-race people are treated with hostility by both White and Black people maybe hints at some of the reasons why individuals are so susceptible to racist attitudes. The need to define the other and distance them seems to be a strong, maybe fearful impulse, a need to protect the ego from unknown dangers…

    Your experience is extreme; the man who asked you where you were from at the bus stop is an extreme example of this need-to-other (not a typo – I mean other as a verb) impulse, but like Richard I’ve experienced this too – almost everyone I meet asks me where I’m from, often before asking my name, and when I say I’m English, English-English, from the North of England, I am asked about my parents. I’m White, pale, with blue-grey-green eyes and unnaturally red hair. I have two White British parents who claim a mixture of Irish, indefinably-White-English, German Jewish and even a dash of Italian heritage. When the person remains incredulous, I ask them what they expected me to say, and the response is always that ‘you look foreign’.

    Obviously the advantage I have over you is that I don’t suffer from racism and there is no threat of hostility. When I declare to strangers or on equal opp forms or whatever that I’m White British, I’m implicitly claiming an inalienable (ha!) right to be here and to maintain the centrality of my identity. I can experience these encounters as ego-protecting and subconsciously I probably still do, (this is gross isn’t it?) while those marginalised by White supremacy might experience them as questioning their right to be here or to exist – they can be assaults on the ego or worse, however they are intended.

    What do you think?

  10. Thank you for reading and your comments, It’s always interesting to hear you are not alone in your experiences because for a long while I felt that was the case. As I’ve said in my post thankfully I’m much more comfortable in my own skin and also I now have a much better relationship with my natural fathers family and my late adopted Dads family.

  11. Really interesting and also reminds me of my childhood, when although born of two English Caucasian parents, I looked ‘a bit different’. Maybe in the fifties and sixties people were even more aware of racial difference but whatever the reason, I remember being asked where I came from. I found it bizarre, although I was secretly proud and have welcomed genetic diversity ever since. :)

  12. Excellent and heartfelt blog. Thanks Glen.
    Your story reminds me of the part in the Marley documentary where he talks about being rejected by both black and white people.
    When the idea of race is finally put to bed, this sort of nonsense will die.
    Thanks so much for sharing your story.

    I wrote a bit about this issue and how it relates to my daughter in my blog.

    http://marmosetmowords.com/2013/07/25/dark-girls-and-slaverys-lingering-fingerprints/

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