What It’s Like Being Mixed In Britain Today

"Talking about mixedness can feel contentious in some circles," says journalist and author Natalie Morris over the phone. "I have received pushback – people don't like the idea of talking about mixedness."
Mixed/Other is Morris' debut book and is published on 15th April. In the book, Morris – who is of British-Jamaican descent — interviews more than 50 mixed Britons of all ages, with different ethnic makeups, from around the country and explores what it is like being of mixed heritage in Britain today.
The number of Britons who identify as having a mixed ethnic background almost doubled between the censuses of 2001 and 2011 to about 1.2 million, or slightly more than 2% of the overall population. It is now the fastest growing ethnic population in the UK.
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In her book, Morris explores everything from blackfishing to the fetishisation of mixed babies, as well as the complexities of passing and code-switching, and navigating the worlds of work and dating. She draws on a wealth of research and interviews as well as her own experiences, which are hugely relatable.
Ahead we catch up with Morris about Mixed/Other, what she learned about herself when writing the book and what she's working on next.
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Hi Natalie. I'm such a huge fan of your work and I'm so excited for your debut, Mixed/Other, to be published this week. How has it been so far?
It feels surreal. Everything has changed since I started writing the book. My dad passed away last summer and we've been in a pandemic. The world turned upside down while writing this book and I'm now getting to the best point where the book is on the shelves. There have been points where I have lost confidence and didn't know I'd finish it since losing my dad. Doing the launch online feels surreal but I'm incredibly proud of myself for getting it over the line despite everything. I had to do it for my dad; he read everything in the book before he got too unwell and every time I've been doubting myself, I hear his voice in my head, that's been my driving force.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process? How long did it take you to write?
I spent two years writing the book plus six months of research and interviews. I spoke to more than 50 mixed people to get a sense of what needed saying. I very much didn't want this to be a book about my story. It's not a memoir, it's something wider. I wanted it to be the case that it's other people's stories. There's not a singular story of mixedness and you need to include perspectives and take in the time to talk to people from different locations, ages and at different points in their lives. It can be so easy to get blinkered. I was talking to my friends and realised we were all living the same life, so it's important to hear from mixed people who are from the older generation to talk about their experiences from 20 years ago, when there weren't that many mixed people around.
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Did you learn anything about your own mixedness when writing the book?
I think I have definitely gone on a journey of discovering and accepting my privilege as a mixed woman who kind of fits a blueprint of what is expected of mixedness. To be the kind of mixed person with a Black parent and a white parent, to be part of the most common mixed group in the UK and to have that proximity to whiteness. When I was younger, I didn't recognise, acknowledge or notice that. I think through speaking to other mixed people who don't have any white heritage, the most important thing for me is reconciling being two things at once and holding that privilege as [well as] holding my experiences of oppression, racism and discrimination and realising that the two can coexist. Whereas in some spaces, I have buckets of privilege because of my skin and my white family, in other spaces, I am treated as other; one doesn't negate the other. I have privilege and I also experience racism. That's one of the hardest things to come to terms with as a mixed person and often you have no power. You don't get to decide when you have privilege.

I have privilege and I also experience racism. That's one of the hardest things to come to terms with as a mixed person and often you have no power. You don't get to decide when you have privilege.

That's really interesting. You also spoke to numerous older generation mixed people. Would you say their experiences were very different from yours growing up?
Most definitely. It's a different experience for older generation mixed people, who are in their 40s and 50s. The way they spoke about it and growing up mixed was very different to my experiences from what I've seen and heard from people 30 and under. The concept of mixedness didn't seem to be a thing, it wasn't in mainstream consciousness in the '60s and '70s in the UK. They were not white, they were other. I interviewed Joseph, who said, "No one ever called me a half n****r," and he was treated exactly the same. He identifies as a Black man because of his life experiences. There were no preferences, it wasn't easier for him growing up and being subject to verbal abuse and swastikas, overt racism and violence that I have never and probably would never experience. He looks mixed, he looks like I do, but we have very different experiences. It's worlds apart. Context is really important when it comes to race and mixedness. It doesn't exist in a vacuum. The experience of being mixed back then is different from now and won't be the same in a decade from now. Look at age, place, location, class. It's an intersectional way of looking at race, it has to be.
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You talk about the privilege of mixedness and passing but go into the detail about the racism you have faced — being called a "mongrel" and acknowledging those who did not see you as Black. Can you tell me why you felt it was important to include these details in the book?
When you're mixed, you experience normal kinds of racism that non-white people experience — from the N-word to being treated less than. But then you also experience a specific racism that's related to your mixedness by people who see you as mixed, and that's the problem because it can be hard to articulate that feeling and how it differs from other kinds of racism. Often they come in microaggression form, it's slippery and hard to define and is disempowering in itself.

The specific language like being called a 'mongrel' and being attacked for not being one thing or another is really painful because it's an isolating experience.

The specific language like being called a "mongrel" and being attacked for not being one thing or another is really painful because it's an isolating experience. And often when these things happen, you don't have a community to go to. Almost with your minority communities, if you experience racism because of that, there's a collective element of solidarity. We all experience this and it's shit and this is how we cope. But when you're being called a mongrel, where do you go with that? Your Black or Asian family will not experience that in-between. I wanted to include the isolation because it's hard to articulate, it's really painful and is often sidelined. I wanted to take away this competition element. It's not bad or worse but this is also something else that is happening and we need to acknowledge that.
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How important are conversations about race in mixed families? Did you ever have the conversations with your family?
There wasn't much discussion but I think that's a generational thing. A lot of people around my age who I spoke to about it grew up in the '90s, where being colour-blind was considered a good thing. It was never a conscious thing. I grew up in white areas and white schools. I had a diverse set of immediate friends but beyond that we were in white spaces and privileged enough to not have to think about it for a long time. Again, it wasn't consciously on our radar and [we were] lucky that we didn't have to speak about it. If I did there were instances at school, such as being called "chocolate face" in primary school. I didn't understand why they were using that as an insult at the time. My mother was great and spoke to the headteacher and explained it all to me. But that must have been hard for her. How do you figure out the words to explain that to your child when you don't have direct experience?
Can you experience racism from both sides? Was there anyone who expressed that in the interviews?
In my experience in everyone I spoke to, it was very much like an overwhelming acceptance from the minority heritage side and it really was across the board. Of course there were some isolated experiences. But overwhelmingly it's whiteness that is the exclusive club. I identify as mixed and Black. I'm allowed to be the same as my dad but I can never be my mum. When they are equal in what makes me up, it's very telling. Whiteness is an exclusive club and they protect it fiercely. That's where the hostility comes and the racism that most mixed people experience. It's solidarity over not being white.
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Whiteness is an exclusive club and they protect it fiercely. That's where the hostility comes and the racism that most mixed people experience.

Why do you think that is?
White supremacy. It's a power hierarchy and it's protective. It doesn't protect or serve whiteness to allow other people into it. I think that's why it's such a protected space to maintain that power. They have that otherness, the 'us versus everyone else'. That's how we talk about non-white people, by calling them BAME and POC and using acronyms. Even the way society speaks about people of minority heritage — it's the assumption that whiteness is the default and everyone else is other. I think that it serves white people to protect that fiercely, even when you have white heritage.
In the book, you speak very passionately about the use of language and why you chose to use the term mixed rather than mixed heritage, dual heritage, mixed race and biracial. Why was that so important for you?
I think it's really important to be open and changeable with the nature of language. It's a good thing and we shouldn't punish ourselves for changing our minds and altering our language because it can feel like a superficial thing but words have meaning and they do impact people on how they are seen. It's important to consider the language and not use throwaway language, [words] can be really important.
You also brought up the issue of being the right type of mixed, in relation to Meghan Markle. Do you think it is wrong to say that a mixed duchess was progressive?
100%. I said this at the time. I wrote a piece in gal-dem — this isn't the progressive movement of diversity and progress, and she was presented as this emblem of a progressive future. I said at the time it's definitely not. As a mixed, Black woman, you can see that these institutions are built on white supremacy. Meghan, who has Black heritage, is never going to be accepted and I think what happened to her was an inevitable consequence of these hierarchies and systems. I also think when you're talking about Meghan, you can't ignore her mixedness. Often they talk about her being the first Black royal as a selling argument of inclusivity but you have got to remember that she has that palatability, that proximity to whiteness and Eurocentric features that allowed her to be in those spaces. It would've been a very different story had she been closer to Blackness. It shows up the limitations of representation politics. Just having a face that looks like yours is never going to be enough and never going to change anything.
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After the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter protests and Meghan's bombshell Oprah interview, some may argue that your book is needed now more than ever. Would you agree?
I don't think it's a case of being needed now. It's a long time coming. This is a conversation that has been crying out for ages. The way mixedness is discussed in the mainstream is oversimplified to the point that important elements of the conversations are flattened and reduced. It actively damages the cause and damages people's understanding when you approach it with a blinkered view on what it means to be mixed. That was something I wanted to counter and bring nuance to the conversation by allowing different voices, ages and people who, crucially, aren't mixed with white. The conversation orbits around whiteness as though whiteness is the lynchpin. People are asked how does it feel to have white privilege. Those questions are important but I wanted to challenge that and highlight that not everyone is mixed with white.
What are you reading and listening to at the moment?
I have just finished Emma Dabiri's What White People Can Do Next and it is an absolute powerhouse and necessary reading. I have also read 26a by Diana Evans, which is so beautifully written and has the most vivid language, and is a stunning depiction of grief and sisterhood.
I've also been listening to Mixed Up podcast by Nicole Ocran and Emma Slade Edmondson, who are having fun and nuanced conversations about mixedness, with really brilliant guests. Another podcast I've enjoyed is Griefcast. It has been a massive saviour throughout this horrible time.
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And what's next for you? Any exciting things hidden in the pipeline?
I'm still working at Metro and my partner and I are trying to buy our first flat. It's a very manic time for me and I think I'm going to take some time off, go travel (pandemic permitting) and go off for a month and read. The next secret plan is to write a novel, that's my dream and it's closer than ever. I'm telling you for accountability [laughs]. I can see my novel being a cross between Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams and Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I love beautiful sentences, Sally Rooney-esque, young women-focused, based in the modern world, navigating relationships and friendships, with an edge. Watch this space.
Natalie Morris is a senior lifestyle writer at Metro.co.uk. Her debut book, Mixed/Other, is published by Orion Books and will be available to buy in hardback from 15th April.

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