As many of you may be aware, October is Black History Month, which acts as a platform for education, reflection and a celebration of the trials and triumphs of African and Caribbean communities throughout history. It provides a vital means to raise the voices of minorities whose history is often sorely overlooked. Every year a different thought-provoking theme is selected for the month, with this year’s being “tackling conscious and unconscious bias”. As a person of dual heritage, this got me thinking about my own intentional and unintentional bias towards my own ethnic background.
After spending 19 years of my life with a very vague understanding of my own family history – merely using the provided census classification of “white black Caribbean” – I suddenly had a bit of an identity crisis, and decided I needed to know more about my heritage in order to solve this. This, in tandem with my impulsive spending habits, led to me undertaking a 23andMe DNA test. The process involved sending away a saliva sample, and then an agonising two month wait until my results were sent back and revealed. I found the whole thing strangely more emotive than I was expecting when I first saw the detailed breakdown of my ancestry, as so much of my history was presented before me in just a few words and numbers.
According to the test, I am 48.5% Sub-Saharan African and 51% European, with the rest being a little Eastern Asian & Native American or unassigned. Although I don’t take these figures as gospel to define myself by, I was fascinated by the fact that I was even a little surprised and upon reflection, and realised this was because I tend to think of myself more as being a person of colour than I identify as being white; I concluded that I’d always subconsciously felt more connected to my African/Caribbean roots. Come to think of it, I have always been more engaged with media about black communities, identified more with minority figures and characters, and felt more comfortable in diverse areas. This may be because seeing myself as mixed race naturally creates a divide between myself and the norm, which here is “white British”, and causes me to empathise more with being part of a minority community. Does this mean I am unintentionally biased? Am I guilty of pigeon-holing myself? The answers to these I am not certain of, but one thing I do know is that I will always form a boundary between my two halves.
ONS census data from 2001 revealed that around 1.2% of the population categorised themselves as “mixed-race”, this being just over 650,000 people. However, by 2011 this had soared to over 1 million people and the category is still the fastest growing minority, predicted to become the largest by the end of the decade. Contrary to the last century, where for much of it multi-racial families were something of an anomaly, it appears as though trends are changing and we are witnessing the rise of diverse families. This, in turn, paves the way for people to see themselves as individuals rather than simply a subject in a category. As Britain continues to grow as a melting pot of diversity, I can definitely appreciate this and will work on embracing rather than separating my backgrounds. As I continue to educate myself, I find I can celebrate my ethnicity whilst also recognising that there is more to life than living by a label. When it comes down to it, my history is that of all of my family, both black and white, and who I am will be defined not just by my DNA, but by my actions and beliefs.