I am Not a Percentage or a FractionWritten by Nicola Codner
Nicola Codner aka NikkiLou is a British intersectional feminist, a therapist and a writer sharing her experiences of being someone of mixed-race origins. Though many of the experiences of mixed-race persons in other countries like the US & UK differ vastly from being born into the 'mixed-race' South African population group classified as Coloured, many of her experiences do overlap those of ours. Especially now that after decades of procreating in isolation we have an increase in first generation 'mixed-race' young adults coming of age and many new ones being born and growing up, her views will resonate with many young South Africans who straddle the old Verwoerdian barrier lines between identities.
On Being Mixed Race: I am Not a Percentage or a Fraction
by Nicola Codner
I’ve noticed frequently when I’m having a conversation with someone about my racial identity, I start to feel frustrated by some of the language that comes up. To clarify my father is black Jamaican, Nigerian and white British, and my mother is white British.
My earliest memories are of being described racially as ‘half-caste’. This was an acceptable term back in the 80’s, in the UK, to describe someone whose parents are of different races. People don’t tend to use this word anymore unless they are from older generations and unaware that it is not politically correct. The word ‘caste’ originates from the Spanish/Portuguese word ‘casta’ which means ‘pure’. Describing someone as half-caste is to imply they are only half pure which has obvious racist implications. This term was my first introduction to the idea that I had an identity that could be broken down into numerical fractions.
In 2001 the category of ‘mixed race’ was added to the National Census of Population in the UK. It was from around this time that I and others started to describe myself and those in the country of multiracial heritage as mixed race. It is the most popular term for those of us who have parents of different races here. The fact this term now exists however, does not prevent people from continuing to describe multiracial people in terms of fractions. All of my life I have been referred to as either half black or half white, depending on who was talking and which side of my identity they chose to focus on. This still happens to me regularly today. There are also some people who will use percentages instead of fractions to talk about my racial identity (describing me as 50% black or 50% white). It’s usually monoracial people who do this but sometimes multiracial people do this to me too. It’s not just people I don’t know very well who do this to me either. Members of my own family have been known to lapse into this kind of vocabulary. This terminology is common and it’s accepted.
I personally really hate this kind of language when it comes to discussing my racial identity. You may be wondering what all the fuss is about so I’ll explain why I find it so irritating. There are a number of reasons why I feel using language which measures racial heritage in this way is problematic.
First of all, I think we should always accept the language a person uses to describe their own identity. When we start describing people’s identities in terms we’ve actually never heard them use, I think this is just impolite. Some multiracial people might not care if you break their identity down into numbers, some will however. Ultimately we don’t get to decide for others how their identity is talked about. It’s disrespectful.
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