My case against the term “mixed race”

Growing up everyone (including me) called myself and others like me “the mixed kids.” I mean you need an umbrella term for what you are, without having to go into every gene and lineage that you possess. But every time I would claim to be “mixed” I would always feel this wave of unease come over me.

So I’m mixed…. like eggs and butter in a cake? Like a Cadbury packet of brown hot chocolate you mix well into white milk? A cocktail with a dash of caramel, a hint of chocolate, and a splash of vanilla? It just seems a bit hard to swallow.

Its like we aren’t a regular a person, made out of the same “ingredients” as everyone else. Using this term makes me feel like the sodding gingerbread (wo)man prancing around in the human world.

Or even worse, is it like a mixed breed horse, or a cross-fertilisation of plants? Are we like a fun Darwinian experiment? Go home kids and try to see what happens when you mix a Chinese and a Russian! This exact sentiment is present in so much of the media we consume. Recently, I discovered this horrifying video of a fellow multi-racial woman, Tyra Banks, having models of various racial backgrounds “try on” different “mixed looks” like Tibetan and Egyptian, as well as Mexican and Greek.

If we are speaking technically, aren’t we all created through a certain mixing? We are all jumbled up cells and genes. None of our creation was neat. But then why are only some are called mixed? And what is the opposite of mixed anyway? According to the Miriam Webster Dictionary, mixed’s antonyms include: homogenous and pure.

Well, would using the concept of pure vs. mixed so bad? After all, us mixed kids aren’t purely one thing. But pure carries with it negative connotations. Pure isn’t just about being homogenous, its about being “unadulterated”, “uncontaminated” and “untainted.” Its homogenous, and fiercely so. Following that logic, anything that isn’t pure is then adulterated, contaminated, and tainted.

This language of “mixed”, whether intentional or not, has the power to perpetuate these weird dichotomies of regular or normal, vs. odd, and of pure vs. unpure. If we want to normalise people of multiple racial backgrounds, I don’t know if using the term “mixed” may be the best way to do it.

But then what is?

Obviously, race isn’t just black and white. And so, there is probably no one right answer. Certainly, there is nothing that we can use that won’t be at least a little controversial. All we can do is use labels that fit each of us best as individuals.

Regardless of whether people debate the rightness or wrongness of the concept of race, ignoring the idea of race does not seem like the right solution to me. In a society which does think in terms of race, one in which everything is racialized, it doesn’t really matter whether race as we think of it is a “true fact” or not. The experiences we have because of this concept are real.

So, we, those who do not neatly fit into the existing racialized order, have no choice but to acknowledge it and find a way to carve a space for ourselves. For me part of doing that is through using the term “multi-racial.”

Being a member of multiple existing categories, it makes sense to be broadly categorised as multi-racial. It isn’t situated outside the existing categorisations, but rather within and amongst. Instead of conjuring up images of mixed drinks or puppies, it actually manages to sound … like a have, not a have not. I am the product of multiple races.

With these multiple races, I have multiple modes of thought, multiple viewpoints, and multiple life experiences. This term sounds abundant. It connotes a connector and a bridge builder. It fills the out of place and messy hole that I feel “mixed” creates.

Regardless of all this, I know that some people have no issue with the term “mixed”, and identify as such. I will continue to respect other people’s choices and never would I impose my preferences on another person. For myself, I’m going to stick with multi-racial. For now anyway.


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