Mixed-race people have fascinating, diverse and unifying stories to tell.
Their unique perspective of straddling two or more cultures can give them a edge when it comes to communication and forming bonds, but it can also cause conflict and innate contradictions.
Mixed Up is a weekly series telling first-hand stories from the UK’s fastest-growing ethnic group.
The aim is to elevate these under-heard narratives, challenge preconceptions and undermine boring, old stereotypes.
Luke Alexander-Grose is a poet. His poem Half-Stereotype delves into his personal experience of feeling caught between two states.
He performs it for us below:
‘I am white English and black Caribbean,’ Luke tells Metro.co.uk.
‘My mother’s English history is filled with tales of rosy-cheeked sailors, civil servants and dancers. My father’s Caribbean history features former slaves, business women, immigrants and a grandmother with red hair.
‘My family history represents the two perspectives of one empire. My black grandparents came on the Empire Windrush and my white grandparents served the empire’s hospitals and navy.’
Poetry means a lot to Luke. The medium of spoken word dredges up internal conflicts and allows him to make sense of who he is.
‘I’ve tried to be a lot of different things in my life; I tried acting, being sporty, I tried being playing the guitar and writing songs, but poetry and spoken word were the only things that helped me understand my identity, and help forge an identity in an alien city.
‘I have always read a lot, and I have always listened to a lot of hip hop and grime, but the only way I’ve managed to merge these two passions was through poetry.
‘Spoken word has been so important to me because of the way people react to certain ideas and concepts.
‘Coming from a small, predominantly white, seaside town in East Sussex, I was surprised by how many people in London related to the ideas I expressed in my poetry. I’ve found that spoken word allows me to be open and honest about the insecurities I face with my identity, and I find that other people strongly relate to these ideas.’
The reaction to his poetry has confirmed to Luke that he is not alone. There are thousands of mixed-race people up and down the country with similar perspectives, often despite wildly different circumstances.
It makes it clear to Luke that the mixed population in this country does have a collective identity. And that unity is important when coming up against ignorance and systemic discrimination.
‘I think that the perception of mixed-race people has changed significantly throughout the last 30 years or so,’ explains Luke.
‘For white English people, having brown babies used to represent a moral taboo. However, in recent years, being racially ambiguous has become dynamite in popular culture. As our experience in this increasingly politically correct society transgresses, it’s sometimes better to identify people with no racial identity at all.
‘2019, the year that racial ambiguity became commodified.
‘The Western beauty standard used to be blonde, skinny and white. Now the posters of our generation feature brown, freckled models with hair that cannot be tamed by any traditional conditioner.’
Luke is suspicious of this mainstream shift towards featuring mixed-race faces. It’s as though brands are cherry-picking the aspects of ethnicity that will help them sell products, without acknowledging any of the burden that comes with being a minority in modern Britain.
It’s a difficult feeling to articulate, one that’s only compounded by a sense of isolation. When there’s no one else in your family who looks like you do – it can be hard to know where to turn.
‘I think every mixed-race person struggles with their identity a bit,’ says Luke.
‘If you’re black and white especially, it’s hard for people to see your true colour in a world which still sees black and white. Too black for the white kids and too white for the black kids.
‘Every mixed-race child looks up at their parents at some age and thinks, “you’re not actually the same race as me – so do you even relate to my struggle?”‘
It is a difficult realisation to come to. But despite struggling to find a place to fit, there is so much about Luke’s mixed identity that he loves. Once you figure out the isolation – it can actually make navigating the world much easier.
‘I love being able to maneuver through this world like a weird, racially fluid chameleon,’ explains Luke.
‘I love the fact that, in a way, I represent the future. Everyone on the planet is already mixed in some way or another, but being continentally mixed is beautiful!
‘You can see amazing histories polka-dotted in the freckles of mixed-race girls, and in the frizzy afros of mixed-race boys.
‘I don’t need to be like anyone else, or any other race, I can be whatever I want.’
‘Although I grew up in a white town with my white mum and family, with white friends and white teachers, I have never been white.
‘Not that I wanted to be necessarily, but I have always been seen as an “other”. I have always been regarded as black. I’ve embraced that, and I love that.
‘I relate to my black side more because this is the side of myself I have always strived to understand more.
‘As my dad and the black side of the family lived in London for a lot of my life, I always gazed up the A21 towards a culture which I longed to be a part of. So I read books about being black and listened to black music.
‘I have always understood my own identity more through a black lens, than I have through a white one.
‘There are so many awesome, and daunting historical ideas that I wish people understood. For example, the fact that race is just a concept.
‘One of my poems goes:
‘Race is a theory with no foundation in science.
It was invented in the eighteenth century with a means of appliance
But unlike most history, which we seem to leave behind us
Three-hundred years later, we still use race to define us.
‘I wish that other people understood their own mixed-race identities, then they’d probably be less inclined to ask me, “where are you actually from?”‘
Luke’s experience of racism is, thankfully, relatively sparse. Like so many people who exist in a space defined by a precarious proximity to whiteness, hostility is often more insidious and harder to define.
‘Racism wears a camouflage sometimes,’ explains Luke.
‘I don’t think racism in this country is improving or getting worse, it’s just evolving.
‘As societies begin to understand their own histories more, there are two reactions. From the people who want the world to get bigger and more diverse, and the ones who want the world to go back to how it used to be, small and simple.
‘A world where black meant black and white was supreme.
‘As the idea of race becomes increasingly problematic, I think people are discriminating against other people’s cultures. They will say that it’s not about skin colour, but that it’s about a person’s culture.
‘You can see that with drill music and how the negative connotations are attributed to the black community as a whole, or within the Muslim experience in the West.’
Luke thinks that opening up conversations and giving marginalised people platforms to share their experiences is a way to cut through the negativity.
He says it’s important that mixed-race people are not just reduced to being faces in lucrative advertising campaigns because they happen to have the right ‘look’ that’s currently popular – he wants to hear their stories.
‘People with mixed heritage are simply amazing,’ says Luke.
‘We are history books that can talk. Innately, mixed-race people understand more about other people’s identities than their own.
‘We seek out our histories, because we have to, and write songs and poems about it.
‘We’re the modern day griots [traditional African oral historians], translating a complicated history of migration and oppression through a beautiful mix of all the people that make this world so vibrant.’
MORE: Mixed Up: ‘Being a gay person of colour took its toll on my mental health’
MORE: Mixed Up: ‘Being mixed without a white parent is even more challenging’
MORE: Mixed Up: ‘Being white-passing has definitely entitled me to privileges’
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