Features

The Mixed Experience: A Journey of Lifelong Microaggression

By Laila Hodd

As a mixed-race girl growing up in one of the least diverse areas of the UK – Cornwall, where only 1.8 per cent of the population are from the BAME community – I have been aware of the realities of racism since primary school. This is where my brother and I were first exposed, and we have become used to ignorant comments and questions like, ‘where are you really from?’.  

Microaggressions can take many forms and can be defined as indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination. Despite their subtle nature, these microaggressions can have a huge impact and are often traumatic for those that experience them. They can attack your gender identity, sexuality or ethnicity. For me, racist microaggressions have followed me around my whole life. I have learnt that a lot of the time people feel far more comfortable when they can put a label on who and what you are. 

People are constantly wanting to define me and my identity. Ignorant comments I have received, such as ‘I don’t see you as mixed-race’, evidence that people, and specifically white people in my experience, feel that they have a right to define my identity for their own comfort. But my identity is not up for debate. It is mine and mine alone to define. 

Where are you really from?

In my experience, society has a desire to put a label on people’s identity. While me and my brother were still being pushed around in our pram, our mum, who is white British, received ignorant and intrusive comments such as ‘Oh you have foreign kids, where is their dad from?’  

One of the first memories I personally have of microaggression is from a school trip. My mum, who was a teaching assistant at the primary school we attended at the time, was with me when the man giving us a tour around Cornwall’s Eden Project approached me to ask me where I was from. I was in year 4. In what world is it okay for a grown man to ask a 9-year-old where they are from and make assumptions based on the colour of their skin? 

Mixed-race children are beautiful. 

While we were young, our mum often received comments like ‘aren’t mixed race children beautiful’ or ‘you are so lucky to have kids with hair like that’.

While comments like these are often meant as compliments, the fact that they come from a place of racism and ignorance is undeniable. What these comments reflect is the fetishization of people from mixed ethnic backgrounds. Yes, our skin and hair is beautiful, but it is more than that, it is what makes us who we are.

Fetishised microaggressions have also followed me around my whole life, but as I have grown up, these microaggressions have become more and more explicit. ‘I don’t usually go for black girls’. ‘You are the perfect mix’. Even, ‘you are lucky you aren’t any darker’. 

Your type are sexy.

My brother too has grown used to receiving comments that are clear fetishization. Once, a white girl approached him and told him, ‘your type are sexy’. The reference to ‘your type’ reflects the fact that people from mixed ethnic backgrounds are often grouped together despite our great diversity, and assumes that all mixed-race people look similar, which is also a very problematic notion in itself.

Comments like this also ignore the reality of the struggles we face in terms of racism, and disregards and undermines the internal struggles that people of mixed ethnicities inevitably have. Importantly, it also ignores the historic struggle of mixed-race people.

The fetishization of those of us who are mixed-race is made all too clear in the world of social media, especially on Instagram, where there are pages dedicated to sharing pictures of mixed-race babies and children. 

Additionally, Blackfishing, the term used to describe when white influencers manipulate their features to appear Black or mixed-race, also reflects this. Through Blackfishing, white influencers are able to monopolise on the desirable or ‘trendy’ aspects of being Black or mixed-race without the lived experience of racism or doing anything to support minority groups. 

I don’t see colour.

Another microaggression that I have experienced on many occasions and is all too common in the UK is the statement: ‘I don’t see colour’. What this statement does is erase any experience, negative or overwise, that I may have had as a result of the colour of my skin. Through this attempt to not appear racist, the realities of racism are ignored. If society continues to pretend not to see colour then racism will never be addressed. 

The perfect mix.

Because of the microaggression I experienced growing up in Cornwall, I was more than ready to start University. I was excited to move from my small town to a city, albeit not the UK’s biggest or most diverse, and meet people from all different walks of life. I was therefore saddened to find that my experience of microaggressions at University is much the same as my experience in Cornwall. 

During fresher’s I had fellow students try and guess my ethnicity, compliment my skin tone as ‘the perfect mix’ and on several occasions ask me ‘where are you really from?’. Also during my time at University, I’ve had multiple instances where girls have compared their naturally olive skin tone or fake tan to me. 

These microaggressions are racism in its subtlest form and are therefore hard to address. However, if society is going to change for the better, then people, specifically white people, need to be made aware of the negative impact that they have. By asking ‘where are you really from?’ or telling me you ‘don’t see colour’ you are defining my identity on your terms and disregarding me and my lived experience. 

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