‘Men are Trash’ & how we clean up the litter

Men are trash, men are dogs & well, masculinity is ‘Toxic’ *cue Britney Spears*. If you’d told me any of this 10 years ago, matter of fact maybe even 5 years ago, there’s no way I would agree with you. In fact, younger me with less of a beard & more of an attitude would probably argue with you as to why it’s ‘you feminists’  who’ve got the wrong end of the stick. See, I’d have probably said something about how women are fighting for rights they already have. Or, perhaps something even more ill-informed about why we actually need to start fighting for Men’s Rights because it’s political correctness gone mad…

Yeah – I wasn’t just stupid, I was Vote-Brexit-To-Get-Rid-Of-The-Immergruntz-Stupid.  The sort of stupidity that unfortunately, is less about actually making an informed choice in order to believe what you’re saying, and more down to a complete lack of information, and in fact, being given mis-information in echo-chambers. Echo chambers like being at the back of the bus as a teenager, with a bunch of guys your own age who are all sweating pints of pubescent testosterone to mask the thick stench of Lynx Africa & 4 for a pound chicken-wings (I can smell it already, & I’m wincing). Guys your own age who will slander and defame girls and women simply because they believe it’s the right language to use, because they heard it somewhere else, or an older boy had said something, or maybe because they’re literally stealing words or references right out of popular culture like music or film. The mis-information that girls or women are a certain way or their behaviour makes them a b*tch or a slut or a hoe that I hold my hands up and say I was a part of perpetuating, & why? Because quite frankly I knew no better. See if you’d told me then, sitting at the back of a bus with a matching tracksuit (God forbid) whilst banging out T2 ft Jodie – Heartbroken from a Samsung held together with Sellotape, that men were trash, I’d have probably told you that you had no idea what you were talking about. And neither did I.

Skip the clock forward a few years & through reading, being around the right people & simply unlearning a lot of the language that I used to navigate my way through certain social situations, I recognise now the need for a new and better understanding of Gender. I was recently given the opportunity to be part of a panel of men on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour on a special show talking about Masculinity in the world today. I suppose me being me, I meet a number of intersections & tick several boxes (Anyone from any Diversity Boards reading, get yer chequebooks out). I’m young, sort of, I’m not-white and I’m still clinging on to my working-class roots so I suppose I can speak about life from a fairly nuanced perspective. But, for me, the real honour in this was I was speaking specifically about young people, and what young people have to say about masculinity today. See, the career path I’ve had, facilitating workshops in schools across the UK about social issues has really opened my eyes to the whole spectrum on which young people sit in regards to how clued up they are on issues pertaining to Gender.

You’d think in a  changing world where people are constantly walking into the office saying ‘blimey, hasn’t time flown‘ that perhaps our understanding of social issues would also be accelerating on fast-forward. And, to an extent, you’d be right. Except, that whilst in general, younger generations are more accepting, left-leaning and progressive than generations before them, the amount of understanding they have about exactly what the issues are, remains largely the same comparatively as it was 10 years ago. Take myself for example, now I’m not saying I was your ‘top lad’ degrading women for ‘banter’, spouting out lines I’d learnt from my favourite pick-up artist whilst walking around Westfield in my Ecko tracksuit from JD Sports (*shivers with embarrassment, yes I did have one of those*). BUT, the lack of understanding I had around what the issues for women were & why an intersectional & ever growing Feminist movement was needed remains largely similar with young people today. The fact is, that whilst young people grow up in a time where it’s brilliant that people are becoming comfortable enough that movements like #MeToo can exist, it’s sickening still that the world still largely protects & endorses the toxic, trashy behaviours of men whose ill-doings have given way to said movements. As young people today largely condemn such actions, it would be great to move forwards and have the spaces for conversations about what the issues, terminologies and language that we use around Gender are so as to mitigate & eventually end this toxicity.

When on Radio (this one time, on Radio 4 Camp…) I tried to get across that there is a gap between the expectation of young people to be more understanding & progressive & the education of young people about the issues they are supposed to know. I remember going over and over what I knew I wanted to say in my mind (flashback to GCSEs), and it’s this: today, to “be a man” comes with the weight of a history of men being & inflicting the problem & that needs to be both understood & accepted in order to move forward. When boys see Feminism as a movement ‘not for them’ and in fact a movement against them, simply because they don’t understand what it’s about, there is a problem. When boys feel that there is only one archetypal ideal of masculinity, your traditional Alpha-Male, super-buff (large up Anthony Joshua though), dominant character, there is a problem. When boys don’t understand that they can cry, that they can talk about mental-health or that there is such a thing as emotional intelligence, there is a problem. The idea that ‘men are trash’ is born out of centuries of oppression and recent decades of continued problematic men in all sections of society but for a generation of young people growing up today it is important not to mis-inform, misguide and misdirect before we end up with the cycle continuing once more. *drops mic*….

*picks mic back up* It takes men from an older generation to hold their hands up and admit to the wrong use of language, to apologise and admit that unlearning is key to truly bring about change. To advocate for & support movements in favour of Women, to acknowledge male privilege and speak out. Toxic (you can’t deny Britney is in your head) Masculinity is damaging to everyone, men, women & future generations but to truly clear up the mess of the insurmountable trash, we must begin to more openly and accessibly have conversations about gender, masculinity & femininity with the generations to come or just like T2 & Jodie, we’re going to end up ‘heartbroken’ once more when the cycle continues.

(For a link to the Radio 4 conversation, to chat about this or just reminisce about the tunes you played at the back of the bus, hit me up on Twitter @Tweetsbybilal)

P.S. My matching Ecko tracksuit was cool at the time.

‘Lightskin Guys Be Like…’

“Lightskin boys be so moist”

“Those guys are bare in their feelings”

“Drake behaviour”

I was standing in this Jamaican takeaway place the other day in Willesden (Curry Goat, Rice & Peas and one niiiice dumpling if you were wondering, and let’s be real, you’re now salivating) when the woman who was serving me, I say serving but she had gone off into the kitchen, quite casually turned to her co-worker and said ‘The Lightskin bwoy did order di dumpling deh, pass him it nuh’.(If you’re slightly lost with the translation, then phone a friend.) ‘Lightskin Boy.’ I thought to myself. As I stood there looking at the back of my own beige hands having a moment that I can only liken to that bit in Lion King where Simba stares into the pond in the jungle with Rafiki telling him to ‘Look deeper’ the woman was back, shoving my food into my hand and so I walked off. Wandering along the street, now even more hungry because the food was within a minute away from being eaten (why does that always happen!?) I found myself quite lost thinking about the many times in the last 23 and whatnot years I’ve been referred to by my complexion, and it got me thinking, why? Why is it that I’m called a Lightskin Boy? What is even tied up in the meaning of this delineation, and indeed – what does society in Britain today think about males of a lighter complexion?

Often I hear it or, rather, see it thrown around on the TimeLine in memes, ‘banter’ etc. that Black or Mixed-Race men of a lighter complexion are in some way ‘less masculine’ than those society has termed ‘darkskinned’ – indeed something which begs me to ask what being ‘masculine’ even means today! So it got me thinking, what do other people think about this? I mean surely there’s a point where things stop being banter and start having real-world effects, so I thought I’d ask a few people what they thought, and it’s their words that shape this next bit of writing and hopefully, our understanding moving forwards…

“Before I talk about my personal experiences, I’ll say that I do believe some of the stereotypes surrounding “lightskin” are weakness, femininity, vulnerability and narcissism, in which lighter skinned women are viewed as the more “feminine” and “prettier” variant of the black peoples and lighter skinned men are deemed inferior and “soft’“

 

“Lightskin guys are effeminate” – obviously there is misogyny and homophobia in this absolutely ludicrous statement. But it makes you think about how the notion of black hyper-masculinity is centred around darkskin men. See the marketing of hip-hop for a largely white audience – I don’t know much about hip-hop but there seems to be few lightskin male artists. Drake seems to be characterised as “emotional”.

Right, so supposedly I’m ‘soft’, ‘emotional’ or ‘inferior’ because of my complexion and therefore one can only assume that the opposite is true of ‘darker’ males. Indeed the pigeonholing and fetishizing of black masculinity turns a new leaf when we think about how this plays out when complexion is lighter and ideas of being ‘prettier’ or ‘narcissistic’ are ones that can again, be damaging within the community.  I find it difficult to make sense of such a binary dichotomy where the shade of a person’s skin can reflect upon their masculinity…

“I personally wouldn’t even call myself “lightskin”, however, it has been a label assigned to me from school and is kinda a British thing amongst European black folk (in my experience – living in Belgium and Holland”

 

“I find that being called anything but black is more or less an insult, like Carlton in that one Fresh Prince episode where he’s called “not black” because of the way he acts. It’s degrading and worse when it comes from other black people. Then there are those who glorify the negative aspects of this situation. Its nonsensical.”

 

I found a similar thing when I asked the question of what people think of the word ‘lighty’ when attributed to females, that the words are often perpetuated by black communities themselves in a way that can be damaging to ones own perceptions of their identity by alienating people of a light complexion in a way that can separate them from the ‘Black British community’. Whilst there are those who embrace the terms and choose to take on such labels and self-attribute, there are those for whom experience of these labels mean something much more divisive.

“I attended a pan-African event here in London with my cousin in 2013 (it was my very first one) and I noticed that we stood out, well, they made it very clear that we stood out – I could feel nothing but daggers and evils. Shortly after the event finished and everyone was socialising —- but ignoring our presence, we approached this black American woman just for chit chat & she started telling me I should focus on mulatto issues because she doesn’t think I’m “black-black” and basically said her fight isn’t my fight, my cousin was denied an Afro-hair goodie bag because she wasn’t “black enough”

 

“…the idea of light skin privilege/colourism that people sometime perceive us to have Light-skin may be a “privilege”, but getting to grips with your identity as a mixed-race man is incredibly complicated in many cases our black community doesn’t have the language to welcome mixed-race people yet…”

“I think a lot of people also assume that if you’re light skinned and “black” you must therefore be mixed race with one half most likely white British. I do think in my experience people sometimes view you differently because of that, for better or worse. I’ve literally had people at secondary school tell me I’m not properly “black” because I don’t fit their narrow stereotype of what “black” is…”

The idea that there is a proto-typical ‘blackness’ that having lighter, or mixed complexion skin does not fit into appears not to be one too alien to black people within our community, indeed if there’s anything I learnt from my Jamaican takeaway experience (still hungry?) it’s that skin tone can be used as a label for ones identity.

In all, (already? More of a conversation starter I know…) I’d like to leave you with more questions than answers (only child problems). So here’s a couple: What can we learn from some of the experiences written above? Where do we go in terms of our understanding of black-masculinity from here? I’d like to think that at the very least there’s those couple cogs turning in the back of your mind; that you too can be staring into that pond just like Simba… But if not, actually, even if there are – I’ll leave you with the reflections of the people I heard from:

 

“Lightskin guys are not really black” – I grew up in a close extended family with lots of cousins where the only white person was my dad (he’s an only child). Yet when I tell people I identify as a “black, mixed race” person the “black” identity has been questioned. A few shades darker and I doubt it would.”

“I do think that light-skinned black men are seen as less of a “threat” to Eurocentric cultures/institutions and that they benefit from this (although this evidently is a result of racism). Looking at figures like Obama, Lewis Hamilton, Drake, Chukka Umunna etc it seems that society embraces light skinned black men much faster than their darker brothers due to the idea that they are less “other” and because their existence promotes the popular idea that we are now in a post-racial society and that in the end all our children will be “mixed” like them”

“I’ll end with this: problematic stereotypes of lighter skinned people or black folk with (perceived) “non-black” features only causes nothing but confusion, it’s very damaging”

Now go grab your Jamaican takeaway in peace *sips tea*

@TweetsbyBilal

Is the word “Lighty” Problematic?

“Who’s that lighty?”

“You’re such a bait lighty”

“She’s one of those lighties

Lighty. The girl Grime artists had you believing you needed. The girl the UK urban scene both idolises and has its reservations about. Lighty. The girl who’s shade of skin MUST mean there are certain characteristics about her that separate her from all others. But what does this word mean in the UK? Why do some people think this word is a compliment? What is this “Lightskinned behaviour” Twitstagram will have you believing exists? Does it? (Bare questions)

Growing up the word lighty was, and at times still is a word I find myself casually using – a word often thrown out there by guys in desperate (We’ve all seen Kidulthood/ seen teenage and sadly sometimes my aged men) attempt to draw girls. That there are stereotypical things that lighties do. That I’m supposed to never get replies. That they’re somewhat better. That they don’t know how to cook?! All of which, like any stereotype, are simply just not true in all cases. But recently I’ve found myself questioning my own use of the word. That perhaps this word is not as complimentary as people think. I’ve found myself questioning so much so that I thought I’d get the opinion from a few girls who’ve grown up with the word attributed to them on what it even means and it’s their thoughts that I hope will guide our own understanding. Here’s what I heard:

“I’ve never ever referred to myself as a lighty. I find it really cringe to be honest and whenever I’ve been called a lighty it’s just made me squirm a little bit”

“It has always irritated me, but I have always wanted to be darker skinned so I have just never seen it is a compliment. It was only when I started speaking to my grandma about it I realized how weird it was, to just shout ‘oi lighty’ at someone on the road, because you would NEVER say to a darker skinned girl ‘hey darky’”

 

Interesting. So being a Lighty is seen as this compliment – to refer to someone’s shade of skin as lighter is seen as complementary so the inverse must also be true? That to be dark is a negative. Yet however, I am struck by the fact that perhaps this word, is in no way complimentary at all. That to be a lighty, is by definition, a word that comes with all sorts of negative connotations:

“It’s not offensive to me but I don’t like the ‘type of girl’ it suggests. I don’t refer to myself as a lighty… an egotistic, self centered, ostentatious stereotype I think that type of woman definitely exists, but to refer to that type of person by a complexion is unfair. We don’t choose our shade.”

 

“Its paired with colonized ideas of race and I think most people use it as a means of Claiming or giving superiority to lighter skinned “black” people. I just think it should be rid of entirely”

On the one hand we have the idea that to be a lighty is to be full of oneself and perhaps in the UK we have appropriated much of this from colonial ideas of race and the lighter complexions as being ‘better’. (Nonsense by the way, if for some uneducated reason you really do believe that). Yet we throw this word around, we continue to allow stereotypical notions of shadeism to cloud our judgement and therefore we assume that because of a girl’s complexion, she must act a certain way. Now I don’t claim any moral high ground here, I’m just making a statement. I’ll be the first person to put my hand-up and admit to using the word and I’m sure you might be sitting there thinking about the times you’ve heard it out of your own mouth or those around you and maybe, just maybe you’re questioning it that little bit more. (If you weren’t you should be now.)

Yet on the flip-side, we have these ideas of lighter skinned girls exhibiting certain negative behavioural characteristics but still in Britain will persist with the idea that these same lighties are also somewhat more favourable:

“In regards to me not reacting how people want me to (not finding someone funny or attractive when they’re trying to flirt etc.) or in a really reductionist way ” yeah well you’re a lighty you don’t have to worry/ she’s a lighty so all the boys will want her”. 

“He’s only drawing you because you’re mixed race”

 

That having this complexion means you are more favourable to a certain type of man and that in a way it means one doesn’t have to worry. Now arguably these are questions the communities we find ourselves in need to address, arguably it could take years to re-address the imbalance in our understandings of race given how deeply embedded in society these shadiest ideals are since the Transatlantic Slave Trade. But I argue – why? Why must it take that long to simply question what we mean when we use this word?

The idea that a girl acts a certain way as a result of her complexion is to me, simply a bit of a stretch of the imagination. Maybe there’s more of a symbiotic relationship you may argue? Well then, if this is the case in the smallest of circumstances, who is the onus on to change that? The person who perpetuates a label or the one who begins to embody that as a self-fulfilling prophecy? (A Level Sociology deh) To label someone’s behaviour because of their shade, or whatever else is simply to ignore that apart from their skin tone they have a personality, they have feelings, they have thoughts and they too, like you, may have other reasons for their behaviour:

“I’m aware this sounds like I’m being touchy or petty but it’s like, no. don’t just assume things about my character or my experience because of what, the shade of my skin? Come on man!”

 

“I’ve often been told I think I’m too nice because I’m a ‘lighty’ because I’m an introvert, and people misconstrue this aspect of my personality as regarding myself way too highly.”

 

That perhaps there are other reasons for a girl’s behaviour other than her skin complexion doesn’t seem like much of a huge claim from where I’m sitting. Which right now is in a pub drinking Rum and Coke *insert your jealousy here*. Wait I should have said sitting at the time of writing, although there’s probably still a good chance that whenever you are reading this that I’m still somewhere drinking Rum and Coke…(#LifeGoals). Yet, I think that much of the use of this word centres around drawing a connotation between a physical characteristic and a behavioural pattern (as do most stereotypes). But here, perhaps the difference is that we often think of a ‘lighty’ as an acceptable word, as one that is a compliment (at least from those who perpetuate it) and haven’t often enough paused to evaluate what can be meant by its continued usage in urban society. That perhaps our ‘compliments’ are more problematic than we stop to think.

So, I’m supposed to take you on some journey right? That’s how good writing works, that I start with a beginning, have some vague middle and I offer you suggestions as to where we go from here? OK. Well sorry to disappoint you. Plot-twist. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to allow you to come to your own conclusions, or, at the bare minimum encourage you to have a conversation with someone about this. But what I will be nice enough to leave you with are some reflections. Here’s what some of the people I’ve spoken to have said:

“I think it’s one of those phrases that in a few generations time, it will be crazy to think people used to say that to each other – like how colored or something is now. I suppose it’s because generally, in black cultures we’re supposed to aspire to having the lightest possible skin and that’s what makes you attractive. So it’s offensive to me to be called that… Basically, we should have evolved past this by now!”

“Due to my experience, being a ‘lighty’ is a derogatory term, and I do not understand anyone who refers to themselves as one. As I’ve often said in reply to this term, I am not a lightbulb.”

 

“I dislike the word Strongly now, but this only came since I started university and tried hard to change these thinking habits And I think to put it bluntly lightie just means “I’m not the same black as you” which in itself isn’t totally bad”@TweetsbyBilal

Congratulations! YOU have been “randomly selected” for a security search – the modern brown paper bag test h

#PredestinedForRandomSelection

I was 8 years old, pretty happy kid back then, quite unaware of what was going on around me. To be honest if it wasn’t how you fill the Pokedex I wasn’t particularly bothered. But I remember this day, all tanned and filled with post-holiday depression on my way back to London from time spent in Jamaica where I was Miss Anna’s ‘lightskin’ grandson. Proudly wearing my “A Bugs Life” rucksack (shout out Flick for teaching me them Marxist theories) and in it, chilling amongst the plethora of Game Boy Colour games, was none other than a mango. Now may be a good time to divert. I’m a big fan of mangos, pineapples not so much, a bit too “Taste sticks to the sides of your mouth” for my liking. But mangos? Bring it. And this mango was one hand given to me by Miss Anna herself. Proud. So, back to the point. On my way through security at New Yorks JFK airport, A man of colour holds his hand up in front of me , because apparently that’s how Americans do manners, and says “excuse me Sir I’m going to have to ask you to stop”. Sir? I swear that’s my dad’s name! So 8 year old me stops, beyond confuse, and near terrified begin to follow the procedures that would become standard for all future visits to America. I do as I’m told and hand over my bag (voluntarily and momentarily robbed) and watch humiliated as this man siphons past Pokemon red, blue AND yellow (I was a boss back then, definitely caught them all) and then, THEN this man has the cheek and he removes my mango! Whilst simultaneously asking me to remove my shoes I might add! Looking around for parental support, I notice the gaze of the 99.9% white people who are strolling through security the same way I would stroll through the playground in the park near my house, smiles on their faces, problems? None. No smiles here though, tears begin to form as I hand him my shoes, wondering why Miss Anna’s mango got taken away.

That was the first random selection. Conveniently I’ve been searched every time I’ve tried to enter or exit America since. Entry and exit (What are the odds?!…) . Now I’m all up for keeping us safe , sure, I plan to survive this (writing on route) and all current flights I take . But, maybe, just maybe there’s something slightly wrong in telling me this search is entirely at random? Nowadays I come prepared, nothing in my pockets save my iPhone and my headphones, nothing in my hand luggage except a spare shirt (to this day I have never needed a spare shirt , but who knows one day I might spill some rum down this one) and shoes that I can take off without even bending down – skills. However, I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t have to walk through anywhere being prepared to have myself searched on the basis of what? A name? Sorry lets go back to 13.10.91 , the day I was predestined for this, and rename me Jack Jones. A complexion? Sorry lets pretend the universe (or high school romance…) didn’t bring Mr. and Mrs. Khan together. Or a random process by which I just happen to find the hot seat on all these planes by which I am selected. If only the lottery worked like this.

Way back when, when racism was an integral part of society (so yesterday? .) Such an intra-discriminatory practice existed as the brown paper bag test. The one where if your skin wasn’t light enough you were immediately denied entry or access to certain privileges offered to those of lighter complexions and whiter skin. Now there’s something about just looking around at the people being searched and those doing the searching that makes you wonder if this test ever stopped existing or if it just got incorporated into society’s rhetoric and re-branded “passport control” “security checks” etc., take your pick.

Now is it nameism? Is it colourism ? Racism ? Well as of yet I have no facts but I have stories. All I’m saying is, give me back my mango. My tears. My dignity. The right to fly like everyone else. In any case, I’ve randomly selected you to share this post and get some open discussion about race in 2015.

@Tweetsbybilal

“Where are you REALLY from?”

#ImREALLYfromLondon

“Where are you from?”

“Neasden, it’s like North West London – near Wembley?”

“No, where are you REALLY from?”

Annoyance ? Anger? Frustration? Pride? In this split second that I am asked this question for the millionth time since I was first born without white skin, I really don’t know which one of these words best describes how I feel. Was my top class geographical referencing and casual name dropping of a place no-one other than avid football fans really care about not good enough as an answer? Can I not be REALLY from London given that it’s the only place I’ve ever truly known and called home? Does it mean that every time I’ve been asked this question that I’ve had to give thought to my heritage, to the cultures outside of London, those far away from home that supposedly define where I’m quintessentially from? Yes. It does. And I settle on the last of the four feelings, I am proud.

“Oh well my parents are from a lot of places, my mums Jamaican but she’s mixed Oriental and Black and my Dad’s from Kenya but his family originally came from Kashmir, now in Pakistan – you?” (Try writing that on a form instead of London).

This is the answer I’ve come to perfect over the years, from being a kid in primary school where almost everyone claimed to have multiple origins, it became a necessary answer to memorise. And learning fractions definitely helped too, you know, them ones where you’re describing yourself in 8ths, 16ths and will even stretch it to 32ths so you can win the “who’s more mixed than who” competition. There was always the Nigerian kid who would try and convince you that being half Yoruba and half Igbo made them also racially mixed – interesting idea when you think about 15 years later, I mean, what even is at the essence of that big social-construct we call RACE? At the time though, just a great way for fractions to mean anything in the real world, and trust me, I got good at that quick-fire mathematics.

But genuinely, what do people mean when they ask the question? If it’s not the geographical location (I’m convinced it’s so they can stalk your house on Google Earth) people are after, then how can we rephrase to get to the core of what it is we want to know? I’m quite happy to call myself a Londoner, but that’s not quite interesting or adequate enough as an answer. When I am cornered by the follow up question of where I’m really from and I decide to either give my well-rehearsed answer or be a bitch and make them guess (c’mon we’ve all tried it, the game can go on for ages), I’m more often than not greeted with a “WOW that’s so cool”. Cool isit? So now being mixed is cool? Make of that what you will. There are some of you, I hope, getting angry that mixed-raceness is somewhat fetishised. That currently we are ‘trending’, we only have to take a couple of uneducated turns on a wander through social media to see how many misguided young people want cool designer mixed-race babies. There are others of you, I also hope, who share in my pride that yes, IT IS cool. That retaliating with a barrage of ethnicities that make up your heritage is definitely a thing to be proud of and also a great way to introduce yourself, the conversation starter, “meet Bilal, he’s from basically everywhere” (most definitely NOT what I said, but anyway “Hi”).

So clearly it isn’t a question of where I geographically call home, or where I’m ‘actually’ from. Rather it’s something much deeper, more a question about my heritage, of the cultures that make me, well, ‘me’. Then why do we all via some default setting phrase the question as such? Why do we unintentionally alienate people almost right away from their own feeling of being a, or even of being British? I’ll let you figure out your own answer to that one, but perhaps it’s time we think about the intentions behind our questions, about the language we use when framing such questions and the effect that our language can have on individuals own perceptions of their identity. Maybe it’s time to find a new way to phrase the question, because where am I really from? Well, I’m from London mate.

#ImREALLYfromLondon

@TweetsbyBilal

50 Shades of Beige…

#ITooAmMixed.

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