Welcome to Mixed Up, a series looking at the highs, lows and unique experiences of being mixed-race. Mixed Up aims to elevate the under-heard narratives of mixed-race people and take a closer look at the nuanced realities of being part of this rapidly growing ethnic group.
There are thousands of variations within the mixed diaspora – and, as a relatively new societal group, we are finally old enough to start telling our own stories. Alongside the numerous unique pleasures and benefits of being exposed to multiple cultures, being mixed can also come with complexities, conflicts and innate contradictions.
Elliott Reid is an osteopath with English and Jamaican heritage. He doesn’t believe in the concept of race – he sees it as nothing more than a social construct.
‘Specifically, I descend from the Maroons, the freedom fighters of Jamaica who resided in the eastern mountains of the island,’ explains Elliott. ‘My family names are chiselled into the Emancipation War Monument in Sam Sharpe Square in Montego bay; a monument to all those who fought in the greatest fight for freedom in the British Caribbean, as 60,000 Africans fought the English on Christmas Day, 1831.
‘I speak less of my British heritage as it has never really been socially acceptable or advantageous for me to claim it.
‘In my experience, white is exclusive, whereas black is inclusive.
‘I am treated as black by the police, teachers and general members of the public. I have been accepted by black people and distanced by white people.
‘I therefore identify as black, rather than mixed-race, as I am treated as black. And I am “taken in” by blacks.’
Despite not believing in the science of race, the daily effects of being perceived as ‘other’ in the UK have been inescapable for Elliott. But he doesn’t view the racist incidences he has experienced as symptomatic of being mixed, he sees them entirely through the prism of blackness. ‘I have only ever struggled or faced difficulties as a black person, not as a mixed-race person,’ Elliott tells us. ‘I have had men ask their wives not to sit next to me on a flight for “their protection”, I have been dragged out of parties whilst being called “n*****” and “c***” for no reason.
‘I have been jumped. Stop-and-searched. ‘When I got my first phone, my number circulated around my class at school. I was sent pictures of monkeys for weeks. ‘I have been asked to sell drugs; what basketball team I am part of; what gang I am affiliated to – all by white people.
‘As an adult, I have been told I don’t belong here, directly or in a round-about way.’ With experiences like these, it’s not surprising Elliott has a pessimistic view of this country and its attitudes. But, with the achievements of his ancestors clear in his mind, he believes the key to emancipation and progression lies in our hands – just as it did theirs.
‘I would like to believe that racism is improving,’ says Elliott. ‘But with black people still significantly more likely to be killed in police custody, stop-and-searched, have their academic ability underestimated, be held back professionally; I feel the only way for us to progress is to write our own script and our own future. ‘We must focus on deepening our relationships with each other to push new heights of success and help each other to protect the ladders we wish to climb.
‘The alternative is to push further into a world that on a subconscious level doesn’t want us. Their power relies on our inferiority.’
The very premise of this weekly series doesn’t sit well with Elliott. He is passionately averse to modern concepts of ‘race’ and doesn’t even think it’s possible to be mixed-race as most of us understand it.
‘Being mixed-race is a fallacy because race is a fallacy,’ he explains. ‘When we mention “race” we are assuming that physical differences – like dark skin, wide nose, straight hair – are due to significant genetic differences. This is actually related to a Victorian hierarchical system, which is also known as eugenics. ‘In fact, I think this common concept of “race” is merely our own subjective opinion on how ancient migrational patterns have affected our appearance.
Curly hair is to let heat out, straight hair is to keep warmth in, dark skin is to block dangerous radiation, light skin allows the metabolism of vitamin D. ‘The reality is that race creates only a superficial change in genetic code. ‘And if race does not equal a significant genetic difference, the question is, what does it offer? A social identity and nothing more.’
The concept of race as a man-made construct is interesting. So how does this theory inform Elliott’s personal understanding of his own identity? For Elliott, it all relates back to his ancestry. Elliott with his mum ‘If race is a fallacy, how do I use it to my best ability to navigate my existence on this planet?’ He asks himself. ‘One thing is historically very clear; it has never been to the long-term advantage of mixed-race (black and white), or black individuals to distance themselves from their black ancestry.
‘The Haitian revolution was aided by mixed-heritage individuals. Any mixed-race people who didn’t comply were defeated. This revolution created a domino effect, leading to mass emancipation of slavery in the western world. ‘Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley, Barrack Obama (and, arguably, Huey Newton and Angela Davis) are all mixed, but have all been figureheads of the civil rights movement championing their African heritage. ‘Skin tone, as seen in Haiti and other islands in the Caribbean and the Americas, has been used for centuries to divide power amongst black people.’
What is clear is that Elliott’s heritage and familial history have had an enormous impact on how he understands and moves through the world. Even without traditional constructions of race, it is Elliott’s lineage that has given him the tools to face prejudice with strength.
He doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his interpretation of history. ‘I am descendant of a people who said “no” for 400 years to tyranny, murder, lies and abuse and still had the heart to forgive their slaver and teach them for a further 200 years how to treat people as equals. ‘In my opinion, there has been no black progression in 600 years, because we weren’t the ones who needed it. It is the Europeans who have progressed from slavers and tyrants to a lesser version on the same spectrum.
‘My heritage teaches me to fight, to learn, to stand proud and stand right against what is wrong. ‘My personal idol is Toussaint Louverture who led the Haitian revolution. I think my unique perspective comes from an equal fascination of history and human nature
Written and collated by Natalie Morris