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.
• 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.
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
• 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.
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