We need a new language for talking about mixed-race identities | Letters

Jenanne Fletcher, George Harrison, David Douglas James Chan and Richard Milner on the lack of appropriate terms to describe people’s varied backgrounds and cultures

As someone raised in England by parents of Iraqi and Scottish heritage, I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Laila Woozeer (As a ‘mixed’ person, the language to describe me isn’t fit for purpose, 30 August). I get the “Wow, what a mix!” comments too, as if I’m some kind of exotic experiment. I have often been confronted with reductive choices in diversity sections on official forms, to the extent where I’ll just choose “mixed other”. But rarely is there an opportunity to specify what the “other” is, and the chance to redefine this space is lost.

While the mainstream portrayal of ethnically diverse families is thankfully broadening, the unique experience resulting from the meshing of cultures is still underrepresented, and we lack adequate language to label ourselves. We are of course more than the sum of our identities, but language is a vital piece of the jigsaw as it affords greater visibility and hopefully an enhanced understanding. Oversimplification benefits no one.
Jenanne Fletcher

• I am a person who may be described as of “mixed” heritage or ethnicity. Since childhood (I am now 48), I have been very interested in the language associated with identity. An issue that has continually troubled me has been the normative assumptions implicit in language about race and ethnicity. Terms such as “mixed race” or “biracial” imply the existence of “pure” races. Terms such as “non-white” or “people of colour” suggest that the norm is white and everything else is exceptional or other.

Over the past three decades, there has been exponential growth in the words available to describe race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity and even generation. I could choose to describe myself as a biracial, cis male, heterosexual member of generation X. But I find each of these terms reductive and not particularly useful in conveying anything about myself. Knowing that I am a Guardian reader provides a more useful indicator of the kind of person I am.
George Harrison
King’s Lynn, Norfolk

• As a half-Chinese, half-white English teenager, Laila Woozeer’s piece resonated with me strongly. A question I have often been asked is where my grandparents live. The answer is Sheffield, but most white people seem surprised by this answer.

There’s a lot of frustration with feeling stuck between two cultures and feeling as if official forms never accurately describe your race (most forms imply that “Asian” is south Asian, never east Asian, so “white and Asian” suggests I am half-south Asian). You’re an ethnic minority, but you’re also the “default” (white), so you feel alienated from both sides. You end up trying to fit into one culture, especially if you grow up in a largely white town and believe that the only “acceptable” identity is to be white.
David Douglas James Chan
Belper, Derbyshire

• My daughter is half-white British, half-Japanese. She cheerfully labels herself with the Japanese term hāfu, which is used in Japan to describe mixed-race people (a rapidly growing demographic there). I myself am part-British, part-French, if it matters. Perhaps we should try to see our children for their potential born of diversity, rather than the prisoners of the heritage of their ancestors.
Richard Milner
Burford, Oxfordshire

Have an opinion on anything you’ve read in the Guardian today? Please email us your letter and it will be considered for publication.


The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
We Spurs fans must watch our language | Letter
Letter: While some Tottenham Hotspur supporters use the Y-word as an act of reclamation, Ya’ir Klein urges fellow fans to drop it in favour of less loaded terms


19, Feb, 2020 @6:01 PM

Article image
Our language is richer for its idioms | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to Adrian Chiles’s article mourning the decline of our most poetic sayings


28, Jan, 2022 @5:49 PM

Article image
Language changes, but God is constant | Brief letters
Brief letters: Chagos Islands | Perfect English | British Museum | Tenterhooks | Knickers


28, Jun, 2021 @4:22 PM

Article image
On tenterhooks about accuracy | Brief letters
Brief letters: Cashing in | Correct pronunciation | Kissing in Covid times | Another use for knickers | Curing hiccups


27, Jun, 2021 @3:01 PM

Article image
Irish language still resonates powerfully | Letters
Letters: Colonisers used Ireland as a testing ground, says Brendan Kelleher, as Jane Foxworthy detects English admiration for foreign language ability


24, Mar, 2019 @6:16 PM

Article image
We must wake up to the danger of rightwing woke wars | Letters
Letters: Ric Carey, Richard Barnes, Prof Andrew Moran and Rosemary Gill respond to attempts by the Tory party to weaponise the term ‘woke’


21, Feb, 2022 @6:11 PM

Article image
Folly of allowing Welsh language to decline | Brief letters
Brief letters: Speaking Welsh | Bread sauce sandwiches | Sprouts naysayer | Venereal finding

11, Dec, 2022 @5:05 PM

Article image
The importance of using the right language | Letters
Letters: Kevin Harper on the need to use plain English, and Peter Branston on new language and Thomas Hardy


06, Oct, 2021 @4:59 PM

Article image
English language usage and politicians’ prowess | Letters
Letters: Terence McSweeney explains why English is often used internationally, Steve Callaghan says politicians need to invest in modern language teaching across all sectors, Philip Stewart recalls a teacher exchange scheme shunned by Thatcher, Anke Neibig explains why fewer students are taking up languages, and Paul Tattam on how the media can help


14, Apr, 2019 @5:12 PM

Article image
Veggie discs and an unpalatable truth | Brief letters
Brief letters: Careers advice for toddlers | EU crackdown on food labels | Gypsy tart origins | Geordie slang | First signs of spring


05, Apr, 2019 @3:42 PM