Friday, 9 January 2015

Another angry mixed race voice

According to recent studies, "mixed race" is the fastest growing ethnic minority group in Britain, with 15% of the ethnic minority population being mixed race. It has become gradually more normal to see interracial couples and mixed race children in Britain in the past twenty years. But how do young mixed race people feel growing up belonging to more than one culture? And what does the commonality of seeing our image in advertising really say?

One of the most common identity problem among mixed race individuals is, for example, feeling too "white" to be "non-white", and too "non-white" to be "white". Although this may not account for all mixed race people, I have often felt out of place at Indian events and at English events. Indian friends have told me my behaviour is too western for me to be considered Indian, and my English family and friends have told me that my dark skin and thick hair is "exotic" or "cool". This sense of not having one singular, solid identity can be confusing and provoking. Additionally, to be frequently told I am not Indian or not English, while struggling to find an identity within each is hugely frustrating. As a child, I often felt like I belonged to a middle ground somewhere in between English and Indian, which I had to create for myself, since I wasn't automatically categorised as one or the other.

While there are clear identity problems for mixed race young people and children, there is also the issue of our sudden appearance in advertising. Our olive skin and thick hair is projected on advertising posters, fashion campaigns, on  televisions, and on social media. We are the more 'palatable' alternative to using specifically Black or Asian models, sufficiently exotic for consumers to recognise us as ethnically "different". We tick the equal opportunity box without offending or discomforting the consumer. Mixed race people are exoticised and valued for their desirable features by advertisers and promoters.

While considering the problem that lies with this, there is also the issue of the "acceptability" of our appearance. Images of darker African individuals have a history of infrequently being used on television or poster advertisements, because the stereotypical robustness of their bodies and darkness of their skin was deemed to be "unacceptable" by European social standards. So, it would seem that using mixed race models and actors to market products to consumers, instead of specifically African or Asian models, reinforces the racial politics that still exist now. Mixed race people are used as a commodity in our consumer culture, without being given a voice or an identity.

Nevertheless, it is significant that mixed race people are being included in advertising. It shows that we are living in a truly multicultural society. Additionally, perhaps providing images of mixed race individuals can create a sense of belonging for mixed race viewers and consumers. However, there is a problem with consumer and marketing attitudes towards race that needs to be addressed. Mixed race people are not a tool for creating profit, and neither are we a "safe" way of avoiding the consumer's discomfort of seeing images of specifically African or Asian individuals.

Want to know more?

Warning: this one will make you angry