Tag Archives: race

Mixed Heritage and ‘me’, by Rose Miyonga

by Rose Miyonga

With my father and sister

With my father and sister

Last week, TK was fortunate to have the sparkled voice of Tahmina Beghum of XXY magazine as she shared her experience of dual identity and frustrations with rigid concepts of personhood. This week, we are so excited for Rose Miyonga, one of our contributing editors to share with us her experiences the same subject.

-Oyin Akande

My mother is White British and my father is Black Kenyan.

My sisters, Poppy and Jasmine and I have had to explain what this means to people our whole life, so I have been aware of my racial identities for as long as I can remember.

During my early years, my family lived in Brixton. I don’t remember my brown skin or my hair (usually in dreadlocks or cut short) being an issue. Of course, in my immediate family, it didn’t matter.

I knew that my parents had different skin colours, just as I knew as they had different eye colours and that they loved my sister and me. It was just one thing that blended in with a whole host of other things that happened to be true about my family.

I had black friends, white friends, brown friends, and diversity was the norm, and I don’t remember feeling much need to question it.

Carefree living in the foothills of Mount Kenya

Carefree living in the foothills of Mount Kenya

When I was six years old, our family moved to Kenya, and my sister and I were enrolled in a local school on the outskirts of Nairobi. The cracks in our ‘deeply flawed’ system of categorisation and classification of ‘race’ were clearly exposed when our race changed somewhere between Heathrow and Jomo Kenyatta Airport. Suddenly, without warning or consultation, we were white. To my Kenyan classmates, my skin was pale, my hair was soft, and I could see that relatively, I was more white than most of my friends on the school playground… It was a lesson in ‘context’.

Race is a social construct, and to the six-year-old me, it seemed abundantly clear that the labels that were being used to define me were inaccurate and pointless.

This is not to say that race and racism do not exist, as the realities that we have to battle with every day make them evidently tangible, but that race and racism were created and constructed as tools to justify slavery and subjugation; to divide and dehumanise.

I didn’t fully understand how other people’s perception of my skin tone would come to deeply affect me when I was six, but I had learned something important, and something that would repeat itself in various iterations over and over again:

In a predominantly White country, I’m Black. In a predominantly Black country, I’m White. In both contexts it is my otherness that is noteworthy.

rosefamilythandiekay

With my mother and sisters last year

slide1As a teenager in rural England, my Blackness was constantly highlighted by my peers, and I was forced to grapple with it, accept it, and eventually fall in love with it, and when I spent two years at school in the U.S., I remember trying in vain to explain to some (not all) of the people I encountered that I was actually not just black.

To certain people, my lack of whiteness was greater than anything else, it was all that mattered.

roseandparentsthandiekay

My Mother, my father and I

I’ve given up explaining now (well, for the most part). Although my heritage does matter,  I don’t want my skin colour to define how I live my life. I can’t control how I am perceived and treated by others, but I can control how I look at myself, and I choose to look at myself without judgment, to see my beauty without boundaries, and to love myself without limitations


Follow Rose on Instagram and Twitter

Check out Poppy’s website and Instagram – she took most of the photos in this post.

Q&A with James Baldwin and Margaret Mead – A Rap on Race Part 1

Post by Thandie (Excerpts taken from A Rap on Race – transcript of the conversation between James Baldwin and Margaret Mead)

A Rap on Race Margaret Mead James BaldwinOkay – it’s not technically an interview with the long passed maestro of words. But I wanted to share some of the hypnotising conversation between Baldwin, and American anthropologist Margaret Mead, taken from their recorded conversation in 1970.

To anthropologists, Mead is one of our undisputed rock stars; I studied her work as an undergrad at Cambridge Uni.  So, when my husband gave me this book last year – it was like being given, well, an intellectual cronut! Two great minds with a wealth of information, understanding and awareness; talking about ‘Race’.

This small excerpt felt ripe for ThandieKay. In it Mead describes her introduction to ‘racial’ prejudice, and why Polynesian people are considered the most beautiful in the world.

I’ll select other extracts in the weeks to come – because even though they’re speaking decades ago (before Obama, Beyonce or Empire !)  the truth that comes from their conversations is as fresh and riveting as it would be today.

 

 

Mead: I learned about race when I was a child.

Margaret Mead thandiekay.com

Margaret Mead on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea circa. 1930s

Baldwin: How did you learn about that?

Mead: I lived on a farm that had been a station for the underground railroad.

Baldwin: In the North, then.

Mead: In Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I have completely Northern ancestry, and my grandfather fought in the civil war on the Northern side. My father bought a farm that had been a station on the underground railroad.

This history was regarded as very good, romantic, good Northern behaviour. And we had two old Negro men in the neighbourhood – we called them colored then, in 1912 – who had been slaves but who dropped off and hid and stayed behind.

One of them had a younger wife – he must have been seventy, I suppose, when I was a child, but he had a younger wife – a very fat, very black wife. She had a half-white son, and what I was told by my mother – who believed in telling children the truth and telling it correctly so they wouldn’t get it wrong – was that she’d been raped by a white man. You see, I had the reverse picture that most Americans have; because most white women picture a rapist as a black man. This is one of the important things one has to remember all the time.

Baldwin: This is very funny. Go on.tumblr_James Baldwin thandiekay.comdfgcpaboa1qb8akyo1_500

Mead: But I had reversed it, and my picture of rape was of a black woman raped by a white man. He was a butcher, too, and that’s one of the things I thought of: he was a brutal character. So whenever I dreamt of rape, I dreamt of this black woman being raped by a white man. This is a straight reversal of ordinary American experience.

Baldwin: That’s right. The ordinary American mythology is entirely different. I suppose that explains a lot about you.

Mead: Probably, although I’m not completely free. You see, I don’t think any American – any white American – is free of a special attitude toward American Negroes. Just as you’re saying there aren’t any Negroes outside of America.

Margaret Mead with 2 Samoan women thandiekay.com

Mead with Samoan girls. 1926

We are often nicer to other dark skinned people.

We treat African princes or Indians with turbans very well.

My first field trip was to Samoa.

We are often nicer to other dark skinned people.

We treat African princes or Indians with turbans very well.

My first field trip was to Samoa. Well, of course, the Polynesians are people everybody thinks are beautiful. If you look at them closely, they are not really the most beautiful people in the world by any absolute standard. Yet everybody thinks they’re beautiful. Chinese people think so, black people think so, everybody thinks so.

Margaret Mead sitting between two Samoan woman thandiekay.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve now figured out why: that for maybe two or three thousand years they never saw anybody but themselves, and they think that they’re beautiful and they are so impressed with themselves that everybody else thinks they’re beautiful.

If you think you’re beautiful, you move like a beautiful person.

The next extract from their conversation deals with ‘Race’ from an anthropological viewpoint, and it’s fascinating. I’ll post it next week.

Watch this space. Love Thandie x

 

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