“I can’t be racist, I’ve got mixed race kids!” has become something of a white proverb, along with those other firm favourites “I don’t care if you’re red, pink or green”, “Stop playing the race card” and “All lives matter”.
And what a week it’s been for the colour-blind crew. We had Sharron Davies MBE wheeling out her Black partner and mixed-race children as evidence of why there couldn’t be any deep-seated misogynoir behind her policing of Caster Semanya’s womanhood. Our first mixed-race Royal entered the world in messianic fashion, with a plethora of tone deaf think pieces lauding him as the face of modern Britain, living proof of our progressiveness or placing the weight of the nation’s race relations on his tiny shoulders. Former Sun editor Stig Abell tweeted that he’d put his cynicism aside to bask in the beauty and importance of the moment on account of his own mixed-race family. A surprising revelation, considering he presided over one of the most racist rags out there and provided a platform for Katie Hopkins to liken refugees to cockroaches.
As someone of mixed heritage, every time I hear reductive arguments like these I die a little inside. It gets boring being trotted out as evidence of the absence of racism to placate the consciences of people who can’t be arsed to put the work in. On a societal level, it’s exasperating having your existence politicised to suit a narrative that betrays the reality and leaves structural racism unchallenged. To borrow the words of Daniella Barreto, we cannot screw ourselves out of racism: “It is a gross misunderstanding and a cruel oversimplification of the magnitude and insidiousness of white supremacy to think that if we all just fuck each other more or have mixed babies that we will get along better, turn the same shade of beige, and lo, racism will vanish.”
In an ideal world, this would be a no-shit-Sherlock kind of statement. While our general attitudes towards loving across culture and colour lines may have changed for the better in recent decades, there is nothing new or innately progressive about it. Mixed-race or cross-cultural relationships have the potential to be as beautiful or unhealthy as any other. No matter what our background is, it’s healthy to check our privileges, internalised biases and stereotypes (fetishizing and humanising are two very different things), power dynamics and maybe even scrutinise our preferences. We are shaped by our social conditions, so why would our attitude to relationships or choice of partners be any different?
The particular challenge that can arise in relationships between white and non-white partners is that their race is not necessarily something they’ve had to hold a critical lens up to before. In the words of Reni Eddo Lodge: “To be white is to be human; to be white is universal. I only know this because I am not.” Unpacking and understanding that privilege when you haven’t necessarily had to navigate the world as a racialised being can be a very new experience. Particularly when raising mixed heritage children, idealistic statements like “love sees no colour” are about as useful as dissolvable toilet paper when those children are being brought into a world that is far from colour blind.
I speak from my own upbringing being raised by my black Jamaican father and white mixed-European mother. My mum could shower me with love, teach me how to tie my shoelaces or tell me what to do when I got my first period, but I don’t think it crossed her mind to consider the emotional needs of raising children who would be received by the world in a very different way to herself. Despite spending three decades with my dad, she never expressed much of an interest in understanding the cultural and historical context that shapes a significant part of who he is, and thus forms an important part of who we are as their offspring. Neither her choice of romantic partners nor the fact that she is a parent of mixed-race children has prevented her from occasionally making toe-curlingly ignorant comments. I adore my mum and in virtually every other way she has shaped the person I am today, but there was a complete absence of thought when it came to considering the complexities of being a white parent to non-white children.
And dear God, you should’ve seen the state of my hair before I learnt how to take care of it myself.
“The racial dynamic in the relationship is so spoken about, yet so unexamined,” writes Maiya Michelle in a brilliant piece about her complex but loving relationship with her white parent. “It seems that some parents spend more time bolstering their own pride in the colour of their child’s skin, than actually thinking about how to give that child a secure understanding of what it means to be mixed-race and how this will actually play out in the world. There is more time spent feeling certain that they are now entirely excluded from being a perpetrator of racism than thinking about how they might be just that.”
Being in a mixed-race relationship or raising a mixed heritage family does not absolve anyone from the ability to hold problematic attitudes or remain completely ignorant of the realities faced by those living at the sharp end of a society riddled with structural racism. It’s lazy and crass to use partners or offspring as human shields against putting the work in; if anything, it makes it all the more critical. People of mixed heritage are the fastest growing minority group in the UK, which is, of course, a positive sign that social stigma towards these unions are becoming less and less of a barrier. Whether on a personal or societal level, that doesn’t give anyone a right to use us as an excuse for complacency.