The 2011 census revealed that the UK’s white and British population was decreasing compared to the BME population. England’s ethnic-minority population grew from 9% to 14%. However, the highest single increase was the doubling number of people that considered themselves mixed-race, around 1.2 million. Mixed-race children in Britain are now as common as in the United States — a country with a larger non-white population as well as a lengthy history of immigration.
Research clearly shows that mixed-race people are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the UK. But it was only in 2001 that the national census included categories specifically for mixed race people. Fast forward 13 years, the Office for National Statistics revealed that one in 50 Brits considers themselves mixed and nearly one in 16 children under five is mixed-race.
They estimate that by 2020, mixed-race people could become the largest ethnic minority in the UK.
A popular definition of mixed-race individuals defines them as people whose parents are of different racial backgrounds. As a mixed-race person myself, this all sounds well and good, but there’s more to being mixed than saying “my mum is from X and my dad is from Z”.
There are different kinds of mixed; mixed-nationality, mixed-race, mixed-culturally…you name it. You can be more than one or even, all in one, and it’s both a wonderful and confusing experience. In this project, we’re going to explore a bit of everything. You’re going to meet three people with very diverse backgrounds, and hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll understand a little more of what’s like living in this ethnic and cultural tightrope.
Brogan, 21, is an Environmental Science student. He was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
My parents met in 1992 in Kuala Lumpur. My mum, who is from Kuching, East Malaysia, was working there as a chemical engineer when she met my dad who was teaching in an international school.
They married in 1995 and the plan was to stay in Malaysia after my brother and I were born, but my dad’s visa expired and he couldn’t get a new one, so we moved to Surrey, UK.
Growing up I didn't feel different from other Brits. I appreciate that I have had different life experiences with grounding in two cultures, but I know I'm British. I just feel more culturally aware.
Once every two or three years I go back to Malaysia to visit my mum's side of the family. My cousins who live there all speak English since it's a very wide-spread language amongst Malaysian youth.
However, communicating with my mum’s older relatives isn’t as easy. My great-aunts and grandmother just speak Fuzhou and I can only say stuff like ‘the food is very good’ or 'the weather is nice today' but, thankfully, my mum or aunt are always there with me and they translate everything.
“Thinking back, it's a real shame that I don't speak Fuzhou. My mum used to speak it at home but I just never picked up.”
My dad’s parents are of Irish ancestry but my dad was born in Yorkshire. I’ve been to Ireland and visited family there a number of times. My father embraces their heritage very much. He always whips out some Irish folk songs and Morris dancing during family gatherings.
Culturally, I do embrace more my Malaysian-Chinese heritage but I’m naturally aligned with British culture since I was brought up here.
In the end, I’m proud of being mixed, it means I have different cultural views and experiences and, overall, a richer life.
Will, 23, is an Economics student. He was born in Cambridge, UK.
Home for me is Cambridge, which is where my family currently lives. I’ve lived there for the past 10 years; I’ve got a lot of links there, but in a way, going to Malawi - where my dad is from - feels like coming home as well.
I would love to live there for a few years. I was there this summer and I’ve been a couple of times before that. It’s a really beautiful part of the world and it’s really important to me. It's like a home away from home.
My experience of growing up in the UK has been really fortunate. I know there are parts of Britain where people in a similar position to me would experience different things, but I've never suffered racism.
In the UK people immediately recognise me as British, probably due to the accent. They have never guessed where I’m actually from in terms of ethnic background. People seem to pick up more that I’m mixed when I'm abroad.
I don’t think they mean any harm, it's just curiosity. If you see something that’s unusual for you, you’d want to know about it. But, to be honest, I don’t think that my mix is something unusual, especially these days.
I don’t speak any languages but I wish I did though. On my dad’s side the main language they speak is Chichewa. It’s such a small language, it was never really spoken in my house, my dad always spoke English. So, I would’ve never picked it up naturally.
I guess I’m a nomad in a way. I’m a British citizen but my heritage is not totally British. My African background is really important to me and it has definitely become even more important while growing up.
“I wouldn’t say being mixed is an advantage or a disadvantage, it’s just who I am.”
I’m not particularly proud about being mixed but I’m really proud of the families I come from. It’s not about the differences in culture. I have such strong people in both sides of my family and it doesn’t matter where they come from. They could just be from two different parts of England and it wouldn’t really matter, they’re just really decent people.
Gloria, 32, is a Chemical and Biological Engineering student. She was born in Rome, Italy.
I’m culturally mixed. My parents are both from Sri Lanka, my mum is from Katuneriya and my dad from Batuwatta, but I was born and raised in Italy.
Italian and English are my two first languages. Italian because I was brought up in Italy and English because my dad worked as an English teacher and would speak to me in the house. Sinhalese, the language spoken in Sri Lanka, is my second language but I’m definitely fluent in it.
My parents made sure that I wouldn’t lose my Sri Lankan heritage, so, from a very young age, every year they would take me there during vacation time; I’d be there for about three to four months and that’s why I probably learned Sinhalese so quickly.
When people call me exotic I don’t mind very much, but I think I’m actually quite normal and there’s way more interesting people out there than me. I don’t particularly feel exotic, I know a lot of other people like me, but I can see why, being in England, that is exotic.
I didn’t feel much of a cultural clash growing up because I had a lot of friends that were also culturally mixed. As a teenager that changed, I felt a bit more exposed to society and I started noticing that certain traits I had weren’t 100% Italian or 100% Sri Lankan, so this conflict started developing inside me. I felt a bit like an alien. I stood out in both crowds and people noticed. Those kind of feelings were hitting me pretty hard in my 20s but now that I’m in my 30s I’m more confident in who I am and I realise that the alienation I felt was actually a good thing.
I’ve had people in Italy telling me to go back to my own country and when that’s the country you were actually born in, you feel very angry. Those people have no right in telling me where I belong or not. I usually just say ‘I’m from Rome, end of story’. On the plus side, there’s a lot of people that don’t question it and it’s nice to feel that there are other people that believe you should feel the way you feel and belong where you want to belong.
“I am very attached to my Italian and Sri Lankan side. I try to absorb and practice the good qualities from both cultures and bring them together in the person I am today.”
I’m very happy that I am the way I am. It has opened a lot of doors for me. I feel like the way I was brought up has made me into a person that wants to absorb other cultures rather than go ‘you’re not like me I don’t want to have anything to do with you’.
I think being mixed is really cool and should be embraced. Who knows, it might become the norm in the future. So, whoever feels a little alienated, hang in there.