British | African American

Josh rivers.jpg

I identify as a queer Black man. My dad is African-American, and my mum is White British. They met here in the UK when my dad was stationed here (he was in the US Air Force). I’ve spent most of my life in the UK. I was born and raised in Bedford, moved to the Azores when I was seven, California when I was 11, Texas when I was 14, Georgia when I was 16 and then to London when I was 18 and have been here since.

I suppose I’ve always known I’m mixed-race, as I didn’t identify as Black until my late 20s. It was around 12 that I became acutely aware of what my skin colour means within the Black community. I don’t remember there being a combining of cultures or identities. Race wasn’t something any of us discussed in any great detail, and I never felt I had to choose between Black or white, as it were.

I don’t think the challenges were linked to any mixed-race identity, rather it was linked to what my skin colour meant within Black spaces. I didn’t have that existential crisis around where I belonged because of my Whiteness or Blackness, though I did feel I wasn’t Black enough to live comfortably among other Black people.

I imagine my social environment does play a part in how I choose friends/partners, though I think the indoctrination we undergo about European beauty standards has been a deciding factor in what I find beautiful about myself and others (from a purely aesthetic point of view). I don’t think being mixed-race has had an effect on my work/personal life.

I consider my native language to be English. I feel very strongly connected to my African-American roots and I understand my identity now as part of the African-American tradition, which is to say, that I now identify as Black, regardless of whether people read me as Black or not.

When people ask where I’m from I respond, ‘do you mean why do I have an American accent or why am I Brown?’.

It’s hard to give a positive of being mixed-race. On one hand, I’ve resented being mixed-race before: I’ve previously felt that being mixed-race put me just outside what true belonging might feel like. To be mixed-race is to perhaps be in this in-between space. But on reflection, it has less to do with being mixed-race and more to do with not understanding that who I am, my mixed-race-ness as it were, is contained within Blackness.

I think there are beautiful ruminations on what it means to be mixed-race, but I don’t think it’s a magical salve for race relations. I don’t think it means anything more or less than what it means to be any other race. I think it’s complicated. I think there are expectations and racially-motivated ideas about what it means to be mixed-race, about the hope we embody by virtue of a mixing of cultures. That doesn’t make me feel empowered. I think the beauty of mixed-race might only be that two people came together in love and in nothing else, and that feels good: that my parents saw in each other what they wanted to create in the world.

If I had the opportunity to be reborn I would want to return exactly as I am.