Irish | Mauritian
I would identity myself as British of mixed Irish and Mauritian heritage. My mother was born in Blackpool but grew up in Bolton to Irish parents. My father was born in Saint Croix on the outskirts of Port Louis in Mauritius to a Chinese father and Mauritian mother. They met at nursing college in Bristol. My mother broke the heel off her shoe on campus and my father went and got it repaired for her.
I was born in Cambridge and at the age of four my family moved to Norwich. I attended public school in Norwich before going to Edinburgh University and finally ending up in London. Currently, I work for Shelter as a Programme Manager and just got back from living in Central and South America for two years.
I’m not sure exactly where I realised I was mixed-race. Norwich is one of the least culturally and ethnically diverse places in the country and as there was no Mauritian community to be part of, I saw all of the cultural practices and behaviours of my father as idiosyncratic to him and not part of a wider culture that was distinct from the majority White British culture I was part of. It was probably not until I was 11 and we went to Mauritius for the first time that I began to understand my cultural heritage but again my father seemed distinct from his family and friends there in so many ways that it did not seem as simple as having two cultural backgrounds.
I also identify as White because this is how the majority of people perceive me. I think nationality, ethnicity and race are often confused. In a rather blunt summarisation, they are respectively your passport, your linguistic and cultural heritage and your skin colour. I have for a lot of my life wanted to identify as mixed-race but the privilege I am afforded when I walk into an ‘old man’s’ pub or a job interview makes it impossible to do so honestly.
My friendship group is a reflection of my class status more than my cultural background.
I have dated people of mixed heritage, but it is not a factor in my choice of partners. With dating the most interesting thing I find is that people often comment on me having had multiple relationships with people of colour as if that was unusual or a sign that I did not like White women or I wanted to be a person of colour rather than seeing only dating people with the same skin colour as archaic and discriminatory.
I do think there are bias attitudes but only ones that present as people of colour. As I present as White my additional cultural heritage is seen as positive and interesting but for mixed race people of colour they suffer the same negative stereotyping and racism that all people of colour face.
I remember as a child walking to a friend’s house after school. The Lee family were from Hong Kong and my grandfather was from Guangdong, so you would think the Lees and the Wongs would have similar experiences. But on this short walk a woman turned around and shouted racist abuse at him and totally ignored me. The woman was telling him to go back to where he came from, but we had the same heritage. The woman’s hatred was for the colour of his skin and that he looked different. This taught me that racists have no care for culture, heritage or behaviour as much as they say that is what it is about. It is only about colour and difference.
If I was to be born again it wouldn’t matter what cultural background I was born into. I would, however be very interested to see how different my life would be if I looked more like my father than my mother.
As mixed race is the fastest growing ethnic minority in the UK, I think there is going to have to be a fundamental shift in how the majority of people see race. The 19th century racial divisions that were created to support colonialism and nationalism no longer have any use in multicultural and globalised Britain. Mixed-race people are an expression of global community and internationalism and we must undermine the structures of racism and xenophobia wherever we see them.