50 Shades of Beige…


Been a good while since I put pen to paper. Wait this is awkward, fingers to keyboard rather, 2015 and all that. In any case, I’ve been thinking for a while about something of paramount importance. Me. (Vote Bilal..) or rather, people like me. By this I mean mixed-race people. But this is where I may lose my fellow beige skinned people who got excited that I have some enlightening news from Mixed-Daily. Actually, maybe I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about the people who are mixed ‘unconventionally’ you know – those of us who, God forbid, are mixed with two or more ethnic minorities. Madness. Those people exist?

You probably wouldn’t think so would you.. I mean as much as things have progressed and we now have our beloved beige beacons, Jess Ennis, Lewis Hamilton, etc. – where are the people like me? The 50 shades of beige people? Actually now let me ‘throw some of those shades’. Don’t be alarmed, I’m not trying to scare you into giving me a voice, some would say, it’s probably time we take a break in the ‘march (at the speed of a granny on a Zimmer-frame) of progress’ and start paying homage to those I can only think of as the resemblance of every FOX news Anchorwoman… *insert Virtual DJ siren noise, wheel it back up again*. However I AM saying that there is an unmistakeable gap in the representation of the experience of another type of mixed-race voice. So often the voices of those who are mixed ethnic minorities are left out of a discussion of what it means to be mixed-race. So how do we identify? Where do we fit in?

My dear mum herself is one of them. With her ‘darkskinned’ (loaded terms deh) or for a much better use of language, black, let’s use that for all skin-tones people, mum and her Oriental looking, but of shady/ambiguous origin dad, she grew up in Jamaica unaware that she would not be categorised as mixed race when she moved to the UK. Instead, she found herself coming here and for the sake of avoiding writing an extended thesis on any Monitoring Information forms just decided to self-identify as black. That was all good for her, until she found my Pakistani dad, Mr. Khan (you may have seen his name on various butchers throughout London – please – no photos). Sorry dad, as much as you claim to be Kenyan, we both know that I will never be English, works both ways bruh. Fast forward a few years and the happy couple give birth to this hybrid creation, Bilal Harry Khan, a mixture of all colours non-white, born into a society where to be mixed-race was a progression from being ‘half-caste’ but the term is still loaded with connotations of being ‘half’ white and ‘half’ other. Other. Horrible word. To grow up wondering what your Dadami just said to you in Urdu and just assuming it was ‘more food?’ and then going back to your Nana’s yard and being loaded with curry goat and rice and peas is a great thing. (You half white people are slyly jealous now aren’t you? Pub food is good and that but…) Sorry. That was a joke, if you know me that was ‘Bilal-funny’, not actually funny, but if you’re smirking/rolling your eyes you lot are empathising. But to grow up like that in a society where the ‘so where are you from?’ question is almost fundamental to any social introduction can cause a lot of problems for your own interpretation of identity. Particularly when you never see or hear of much representation of anyone like you. In fact, outside of the Caribbean and Brazil, perhaps the holy grails for being mixed beige pon beige, you could almost be lulled into a false sense of security that ones genetics MUST contain at least some white in order to pass as mixed in our society. Maybe I’m TOO different. A question that all too often passed through my mind, even growing up in a place like Brent, apparently the most multicultural borough in the whole of London I’ll have you know. Great Ikea there as well.

But, It’s obviously a very personal experience, depends entirely on the interaction with both sides of your parentage, the area you’re from, the school you went to, the food you ate, and *insert the rest of the infinite variables that created you here* but regardless, speaking from my own life, the experience of being mixed with a number of ethnic minorities in a still capitalist white patriarchal society with no recognisable space for yourself , not even on a form – and don’t give me that ‘other’ nonsense, cannot fail to put you at a disadvantage.

Now please don’t all jump at once and vote me as champion for all colours of the Dulux beige colour chart. I prefer being a keyboard warrior. But don’t we all think that it’s about time we change our perceptions of what it means to be ‘mixed-race’ in Britain today? It’s 2015, in the urban sprawl where society is increasingly multicultural, perhaps it is time we open up further representations of what it means to be mixed, that being mixed is not just about being half-white, that indeed #ITooAmMixed @Tweetsbybilal


16 thoughts on “50 Shades of Beige…

  1. This is cool. I watched a video recently where someone talked about not being able to identify as mixed race because both parents were “shades of beige” , despite being from different continents. Thanks for sharing Bilal, hope you write more.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I LOVE you this post and have been thinking a lot about this question too. I am mixed (white and black) American and growing up in California (LA to be exact), I never felt the need to racially identify. I was “just me”. All my friends were Asian and white. Then I went to college on the East Coast and find I am most decidedly not what everyone else is as people keep calling me “ethnic” … one guy even called me “organic” (?) This experience and all the racist language I encountered about blacks made me realize my experience was most definitely black even if others at first perceived me as Latina, or “ethnic” or whatever…

    So flash forward and I’m a mom of twin girls who are mixed, one looks like me and one looks like her dad who is white. Now I am very clear with folks that I identify as black and am mixed but my girls are going through the process of defining themselves as their own unique beings. And this is in a mostly Chinese American school. My light-skinned daughter has expressed several times how she is uncomfortable with both identifying white OR black because the messages she’s hearing from well meaning teachers in school are that whites were mean to black in the old days (overly simplistic). Or, she worries that by identifying as black she is being inauthentic (my words, but I know how she feels) because most people just assume she’s all white and she knows this gives her some degree of white privilege…

    Whew! I guess I had a lot to say on this and agree, we need to get beyond just black and white and talk about all the other color variations in between.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for this comment , it’s so interesting hearing people’s personal stories . The perceptions other people have about our race can play such a huge part in how we internalise and then identify (or not) with our own race

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Mixed Race Studies » Scholarly Perspectives on Mixed-Race » 50 Shades of Beige…

  4. Such a great and needed article!

    I’m half Jamaican and half English – although I more closely identify with black (more present Jamaican family, experiences of racism/anti-blackness etc).

    We need to have more discussions about what it means to be mixed race in Modern Britain – discussions that don’t centre on people like me, who have light-skinned privilege/some inherited white privilege. What you said about the term implying some whiteness is so true. When people talk about my mixed heritage, it sometimes feels like a slight on my blackness – that it’s somehow been improved by my mum’s genes. At the same time, I benefit in society from that racism. It’s a weird one to navigate.

    But from what I’m reading here, you’re in a way erased from conversations about mixed-heritage. And that’s… well it’s super shitty. I’m sure my words and actions have fed into that way of thinking in the past, and what you’ve written here has really opened my eyes to that.

    The length of the comments here, and the insight in your article proves one thing – mixed race people have A LOT to say on identity!

    Thank you for sharing your story – it’s one that lots of people need to hear. Us half-white folk need to examine our privilege more critically.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I really appreciated this comment . This is why I was trying to open a dialogue about it ! Please do continue to share & have these conversations in your circles to she’s light on our understanding .


  5. What you’re saying is absolutely true. Every time when Somebody asks me where I come from I don’t really know what to answer. Because most people who are not from the same “city” won’t understand that. Even me, I used to not understand it for a while.
    I am Arab, but Arabs who live in turkey near to the Syrian border, my “dad” is something called “Zaza” but also from turkey. But I didn’t grow up with his culture at all because my parents are divorced. And I don’t identify with that. My stepfather is Lebanese. So I feel like an Arab from turkey. However, I only speak Turkish and that’s why i don’t feel “complete”, it’s like something is missing..
    In addition: I was born and raised in Germany and German is the language I speak the best and I would call me and my family “integrated” but I dont feel like a German at all. Just yesterday a friend of mine said “you’re german” and when I said that it’s not true (and btw it’s like forgetting your roots, your identity) she answered “but that’s what you want to be called, when we say your an emigrant you’re not “satisfied” and when we (she’s german) say you’re german you’re not satisfied too. You was born and raised here ..”(blah blah) and when you’re in turkey you are the one from Germany.
    It’s really hard for me to explainwhat I mean and please excuse me for my English, I hope you don’t mind.
    But I had to try it at least. So yeah, what ever, I will finish this text by wishing you a blessed evening

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think people trying to tell you personally what you should identify as is something that will never make sense. Only you know and understand what you want to be interpreted as but I think the way people perceive us plays a role in how we internalise what “culture” we are and how we then re enact that

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Loved it and I can relate for sure, as I am a bunch ethnicities in one tiny woman (African American: Cameroon/Congo, Beini/Togo, Nigerian, and Ivory Coast. Three ethnicities of Native American: Choctaw, Cherokee, and Blackfoot. With French and Irish that goes back to slavery…) Both of my parents are mixed raced Black Native Americans. In the States (I am from Los Angeles, but lived all over the country before I moved to France) they try to deny you the right to claim that as your identity (I self identify as Black Native American), because one of your parents is not white or non-Black for that matter. Even though you could be much “lighter” than a person who was actually half white…my kids will be mixed with about 15 ethnicities between me and my husband, however Black in America is more than a skin color it is a cultural identity. I have family members who could have passed for white in a time when it was preferable and did not (; so I feel even if I had a light bright child. I would not promote that…I definitely want my children to be proud of all that they are, but to be honest I would not want my child to identify as white even if it was quite fair; with all the features to match (look at Quincy Jones’s 2 daughters…. one publicly passes for white while the other does not because she could not, it is a no no…plus personally that in and of itself gives its own complex/mental neurosis). But again I did not grow up with a white parent, both my parents are super pro-POC, and my grandmother was a Black Panther.You want to see 50 shades of beige here is my Maternal side of the family 😉 http://incognegrablog.com/2014/06/26/my-maternal-family/

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so interesting how people are increasingly mixed with other races but in the West all mixes for the sake of forms are seen as one and the same .

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think people do forget that you don’t have to be “beige” or have white heritage to be classified as mixed-race. I have a cousin who is mixed (half Sri Lankan and half Ethiopian) but not with the expected “beige” skintone of a mixed race individual. She has dark skin and she never waves the mixed race banner. I’m not sure why, but it could be simply because she identies herself more with her Ethiopian roots. Just thinking of her, and other mixed race people I know, there is no standard skintone for being mixed race; there are mixed race people who can pass as white and there are also mixed race people who can pass as black. This was a real eye-opener Bilal. Hope to see more!!

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Pingback: That’s Shady; A Black Woman’s Response to 50 Shades Of Beige… | That Rush!

  8. Great to see someone actually talking about this issue, I’m mixed African and Indian. Although I’m mixed with English as well, both my parents are brown and I didn’t really grow up with a lot of white people. Also from North London lol and spent a lot of time in Brent. Growing up when you’re a different mix, your only role models in the media are the ‘typical’ half black, half white people and you end up feeling like an outcast among your peers as well. Things are changing, I’m meeting more and more people with unique ethnic backgrounds and it’s becoming more normal, so hopefully we’ll be seeing more diversity among the mixed race people in the public eye. That ‘so where are you from?’ question, although I understand the curiosity, is something I’m so tired of answering.

    Liked by 1 person

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