Its great to see this article and that People in Harmony (val Hoskins) are after decades of dedicated work ,still keeping the profile of mixed race couples, families and young people high.
It’s been a long journey for the organisation and those that give their time freely and I know much has evolved, sadly little of our policy and practice reflect the needs of those identifying as mixed race. Families have to navigate a path that can often be fraught with negative attitudes and assumptions. It does depend on where you live, who you live with, how mixed the area is and how you choose to evolve.
I’m still surprised that after 27 years of getting married and being in a “mixed race marriage” and a bit puzzled as to how were still struggling with the concept of race and mixedness! A term I prefer to use. My heritage is mixed (my father was Irish Italian, my mother was Scottish, and her first marriage was to a Dutchman, so my brothers are all half Dutch and Scottish – but I never grew up thinking about race, “difference.”, even though our neighbourhood had families from many different places (Ireland, Syria, Pakistan, India, West Indies) My experience was based on class, on culture, on poverty. I was probably a lot more aware of how it was to be a woman back then. Anyway, one travels and meets lots of different people, and I knew when I had my children some of what It might be like. This was the late 80’s, not long after people started to see how sexism permeated many facets of society. My children are further mixed as their dad’s side of the family are from India. We’ve been aware of mixed race and race issues ever since the meeting, dating and getting married. Having children and what happens after brings a whole new set of experiences and surprises.
Back then, when you married someone who “seemed different” people seemed to think they could ask all sorts of weird questions. You become what theorists call the gaze of society. However, things can change and evolve, but cultural and racial and gender nuances still exist at every layer in society. for some its in their face and for others its much more subtle. These days ,I’m more focused on just accepting myself as I am. I look white and will be treated that way (of course this is also context dependent). For those who are more focused on class then my accent will play a more pivotal part. Im was aware of the myriads of socialising. If only it were as lovely as that add, I think it was for coke? “we are the world,” then yes that would be great. I love diversity for how it brings such seemingly different things and people together; the music scene is an example, of what happens when different ideas mix ,merge and evolve .Music tells a story and brings many different people together. Are humans like this, well some research states that the mix race gene has some impact on having stronger resilience and good health. Kids can be more open-minded, but they too have to navigate their own identity and teenage life is full of considerations, choices and new experiences. What bothers me is when our children go to school or meet friends who might not have been so open minded, and many young people are faced with questions daily on their heritage “where are you from” is a common question.
The experience has been the same for many of my family, friends and young people I worked with over the years. I remember some of the stupid things people said to me, That and also a range of deeper insights emerged is what propelled to do race culture and different for my MA. I had so many questions after my training, brought on by my lived experience and the things I read. If you read those early cross cultural psychiatry texts and the many pieces of research focusing on “The Other”, you might struggle to wrap your head around some of it – that’s where the focus was – but I was also starting to look at what about Whiteness? yes there is a whole range of studies on Whiteness (frankenburg) But some of what was written was alive and coming my way in those days. Sometimes you re think your whole friendship group. Dating is where those deeper held beliefs seem to be revealed. This is when we start to see what people can really think. Sometimes I used to test out my thinking. Once I asked a friend, if I have lived longer in the south then can I say I’m a southerner? I mean what criteria is used to define whether I belong to a group or not? I told a teacher once I was Scottish; she said you cant be, I said why? Because you don’t sound it, she said! So I answered, so my husband cant call himself an Indian man then? It’s not to disown my northern roots and some of those cultural facets will probably always be a part of me but isn’t location also linked with identity? Ask a group of white people where they are from and see what the answer is. Language changes and develops and what we might have been used to using was only because that was what was made available to us. Where do we learn to express all these facets ? at home and yes at school. Limited thinking, limited teaching – and there’s a social cost to this .
People In Harmony was an organization that I was involved with for some years. Originally I joined as a member, then like others played a more active role. As much as it was for mixed race couples; the race wasn’t the key topic of the day. People could just be, relax and just get to know each other. Kids could learn that there are others like me and sometimes helped them feel less isolated in the world. Those of us newly exposed to the racism, judgmental attitudes could find a way to manage things together. They’d share and learn to handle the outrage and the anger and the what were subtle clues as to how people are treated differently. I’ve heard some horror stories, well chronicled in Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s book, The Color of Love and her later book, Mixed Feelings, a book Val and I the founder was initially involved with. We’ve witnessed many professionals getting hung up on labels, but we also knew the power of words. We saw how others wanted to affix their idea of the right identity to you or were troubled that we didn’t mind too much when our kids identified only as black or white. We knew that if we give a space for our kids to evolve, they too will invent themselves according to their own uniqueness and decide on a label that works for them. Where it got tricky for many couples was when religion came into it. Someone has to decide if it’s a church you marry in and what to do when the baby’s born. Everything you take for granted in a mono family comes under the spotlight.
So were not different, troubled weird or in need of help. But many mixed couples have to navigate a whole lot more, and many of the kids still have to exist in a system that is flawed and stuck in its own old assumptions. For me these days I love to see what raise human spirits, brings hope and creates more love. Thankfully more people are more free to love who they want . the mixed race experience parallels some of the experiences that other minority groups experience however there is always going to be a constant navigation of one’s beliefs ideas attitudes etc. as you carve out the path. Keeping the original spirit alive means, we can remind people that just because it wasn’t tough for us it won’t be for others, but just like I’ve seen in my professional world. Things change and grow, and sometimes it takes those confident enough to start something or have a voice that enables others also to find their way. People in Harmony enabled many of those who became involved to grow and evolve…
with thanks to Val Hoskins who runs People In Harmony for all her hard work and continued effort to support children and families and keep the needs and profile high on the agenda