On January 20th 2009, the most powerful democratic state in the world elected its first ethnic minority president, Barack Hussein Obama. Born in the US state of Hawaii to a black Kenyan father and a white American mother, Obama is now the leader of a country which in his lifetime made interracial marriages a criminal offence and in which even today, any American of a mixed racial background is not allowed to officially describe their ethnic identity as ‘mixed’, ‘multiracial’ or any other single noun which acknowledges the fact they are a mixture of two or more racial backgrounds.
In another of the world’s great democracies, the United Kingdom, the situation could not be more different for a person of a mixed racial background. Ever since the 2001 National Census, mixed has being officially recognised as an ethnic minority in its own right by the British government. In addition, people who identify themselves as mixed represent a group that is likely to be the largest ethnic minority in this country by 2020. The majority of mixed Britons are half black and half white, just like President Obama. However, many come from other backgrounds, such as Mixed Asian and White, Mixed Chinese and White, and a kaleidoscope of other backgrounds that represent practically every part of multicultural Britain.
Naturally, not all but many mixed Britons prefer to identify themselves not as Asian, black, Chinese, or white alone, but as mixed race. This is because rather than feeling a need to pick one part of their ethnicity over another, our different parts of our background form part of a composite identity. Indeed, some mixed Britons consider it just as insane to describe themselves as solely ‘black’ as it would be to describe themselves as solely ‘white’. To do either would be tantamount to disowning one of our parents or implying that to be mixed is somehow shameful or embarrassing.
However, the stunning electoral success of Barack Obama on the other side of the Atlantic has led to an overwhelming amount of both direct and indirect pressure on mixed Britons to follow the American way and do precisely what they consider to be an act of insanity- to publicly identify themselves with only one part of their background; a process known as the one drop rule. In total disregard of the current status of the British mixed race identity, many UK journalists have decided to follow the lead of their American counterparts and publish dozens of reports describing not just Barack Obama, but also other mixed race personalities such as Lewis Hamilton, Tiger Woods, Halle Berry, and others not as ‘mixed’, but as solely ‘black’. This practice has now led to a highly dangerous double standard within the majority of media reporting, where people of mixed race are correctly acknowledged as ‘mixed’ (the British way) when being discussed as an ethnic group in British society, but treated as the property of the closest monoracial ethnic minority (the American ‘one drop rule’) the instant one of us achieves something worthy of public recognition.
The unilateral application of the one drop rule within the UK by some parts of the media and society is very dangerous for several reasons. Firstly, it implies that all mixed Britons identify themselves or should be classified according to the one drop rule – this is simply not true. While it is the case that some people from multiracial backgrounds (such as Lewis Hamilton) have publicly given the nod to the one drop rule, the overwhelming burden of evidence clearly shows that when given the free choice, the majority of people from a mixed race background will identify themselves with all of their backgrounds rather than just one alone. The widespread and inconsiderate use of the one drop rule has forced Britons who identify themselves as mixed to justify their decision to family and friends who through media reports, now believe that it is perfectly normal and acceptable to classify all mixed race persons as belonging to their most closely related monoracial ethnic minority.
In addition, the use of the one drop rule helps to support the ideologies of the far right, who do not support interracial relationships and are therefore supportive of a mechanism that effectively treats people of mixed race as a non-existent entity and maintains the racial divisions of the past. The ‘far right’ does not only include white supremacists, but also black nationalists, who view increasing demands of independence from active elements of the mixed race community as a threat to the black identity, some Asians who find interracial relationships and their offspring a mark of shame on their family, and others who hold racist motivations for denying mixed race people the right to a mixed identity. Indeed, at the beginning of the 21st century, the one drop rule represents the greatest form of racism and discrimination towards people who hold a mixed race identity: it encourages verbal and even physical abuse against those who stand up against it and denies a large proportion of the British population the respect and recognition of their own identity. This abuse often stems from far right members of related ethnic minority groups who falsely charge mixed Britons (who identify themselves as mixed) as somehow attempting to disown or distance themselves from the monoracial group in question, whether it be ‘Asian’, ‘black’, ‘Chinese’, etc. However, it is often precisely because the person in question does not want to disown a part of their background that the decision to identify as mixed is taken.
The recent increase in the use of the one drop rule within British society due in large part to ‘Obamamania’ has made it clear there is a need for an organisation that will defend and raise awareness of the mixed race identity within the United Kingdom. For almost a year, Mixed Race UK has been working towards this precise goal, producing and encouraging literature that discusses and promotes the mixed British identity, negotiating with and confronting individuals who use the one drop rule, and reclaiming important figures in British history who have been credited to other ethnic minority groups. Open to any Briton who believes that mixed race people have the right to identify themselves as such, Mixed Race UK is an online based organisation that is working tirelessly for a Britain that recognises a racist paradigm such as the one drop rule has no place in any society where people from all races are considered equal. We believe that there is no rational reason in the 21st century for the application of an idea taken from the era of slavery which believes that a single part of a person’s background should be somehow classified as more important than another. However, if a person of mixed race explicitly states that they reject a mixed identity and wish to be identified according to the one drop rule, then Mixed Race UK will respect that person’s decision.
Mixed Race UK does not in principle wish for the mixed minority to follow the lead of other ethnicities and set up for example, radio stations and private newspapers based on ethnic lines when no need exists for what are effectively institutions of segregation. Neither do we believe that ethnic identity should come before national identity; a society of such a nature only risks becoming another Iraq or Yugoslavia over time. However, we do believe that a person’s ethnic identity is an individual human right and we support all means (with the exception of the threat or use of violence) which will enable any person of a mixed racial background to freely identify themselves as mixed with the full knowledge their decision will be fully respected and tolerated by mainstream society. It is our hope that once this aim has been achieved, Mixed Race UK can withdraw from political activities to merely become a means through which mixed Britons from around the country can meet each other to discuss their common experiences.
With only about a decade left before mixed race people become the largest ethnic minority group in the county, British society has a long way to go before it can truly say it understands its newest ethnic minority. At present, there exists a mixed race identity in the UK which is developing and consolidating itself supported by official recognition in ethnic monitoring forms. However, this identity is neither secure nor widely recognised by a large segment of British society – the disturbing use of the one drop rule by a large number of journalists and prominent figures in society such as Conservative leader, David Cameron, confirm this. In addition, we note that some mixed Britons fail to assert their own identity when the one drop rule is applied in their presence, even if they personally oppose it. For this report, we therefore offer two recommendations:
1. Individuals with the ability to shape the opinions and perspectives of large segments of the public should exercise care when labelling a mixed race person’s ethnic identity, noting especially the consequences for people from a similar background and those related to them. Too often, there is a cavalier-like tendency to publish an article, unveil a statue, etc and then justify the decision afterwards rather than go to the person in question and ask them what they prefer personally or take a neutral stance on the issue when the answer is not known for certain. A move to more responsible attitudes is urgently required before any more damage to done, particularly to mixed children who shape their identities early on in life.
2. People who identify themselves as mixed should not hesitate to assert their own identity to others or at least question the rationality of the one drop rule when it is being used. For various personal reasons, many mixed Britons prefer to stay silent when confronted with the one drop rule, failing to recognise that their silence is often interpreted as acceptance. It is therefore important, especially with the recent increase in the use of the one drop rule, for people who value their right to identify themselves as mixed to actively challenge the rule when it is used, or at least openly question whether it is considered rational to refer to someone who is half-Sri Lankan and half-Jamaican as solely Jamaican or ask how the relatives of the ignored side of a person’s background must feel about being effectively disowned. Openly discussing what it means to identify yourself as mixed with family and friends can also help to widen understanding on what is presently a very little understood topic in the public sphere which requires far more continuous and non-political research.
It is our hope that the coming years will see a society that is more understanding and tolerant to people who give their personal ethnic identity as mixed. This progress will be analysed by future Mixed Race UK reports- which will be published every year on the anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration on January 20th and Brazil’s Mixed Race Day on June 27th. We do not question whether Britain has the capacity to embrace its mixed race sons and daughters for who they are; we only wonder how long it will take for it to do so.
De Mixed Race UK.