12 Books About the Mixed Race Experience
by Susan Dale of HaluHalo. HaluHalo is a platform for sharing stories that reflect the realities of the mixed race experience with all its nuances as well as celebrating and exploring the diversity of the mixed identity.
In 2020, the mixed-race population will become the largest ethnic minority group in the UK, but you wouldn't know it to look at books and TV shows. The mixed experience has been largely ignored by the mainstream unless seen through the lens of 'the tragic mulatto' trope or the obsession with novels about 'passing' - neither of which are accurate depictions of being mixed race in this day and age. So below are a selection of books that I feel cover a swathe of perspectives that I feel may resonate and are more representative of our realities - from fiction to memoirs - these books delve into the richness and struggles of having mixed heritage and disrupting spaces.
Shame on Me, Tessa McWatt
This is a fierce, remarkable and poetic take on racial identity - in which the Guayanese writer McWatt uses her body to dissect and unravel the many strands of her mixed heritage - whilst also with a surgeon's knife precision slices away and delves underneath to expose the inadequacies of racial parameters and the urgent need to rethink how we view ourselves.
Born a Crime, Trever Noah
The comedian and host of The Daily Show recounts his childhood growing up in South Africa, during Apartheid - a time when being a child of his Swiss father and Xhosa mother was literally a crime. Deftly using his skill with humour he helps navigate readers through his life which is in equal parts deeply shocking, absurd, hilarious and heartening. The book is also being adapted for film which will be produced by and star Lupita Nyong'o as his formidable mother, Patricia.
Long Time No See, Hannah Lowe
The British poet Hannah Lowe's poignant and tender memoir in which the themes of post-colonialism, displacement, racism and the struggles of mixed identity are explored through the recounting of her coming of age in Essex as a white presenting mixed race girl of English, Jamaican and Chinese heritage, her strained relationship with her mysterious and unconventional father, a legendary gambler and card sharp called Chick and the story of his neglectful upbringing in Jamaica, estranged from his Jamaican mother and raised by his abusive Chinese father. Part of her father's story is fictionalised or pieced together through the notebooks she discovered after his death and from interviewing his relatives. An evocative and searingly honest depiction of two generations of a mixed race family.
Brit-ish, Afua Hirsch
This was the first book I ever read that resonated with me about the mixed experience - so much so that when I finished devouring it within days of my trip around India I sent it back home (postage was not cheap!) and demanded my parents read it - to understand what it's like. The British-Ghanaian writer, broadcaster and former barrister explores what being British means today through the lens of her multi-racial identity and by a combination of the personal and social commentary holds up a mirror to a nation that refuses to confront its history and acknowledge the legacies that have led to a very divided United Kingdom.
Half and Half, ed. Claudine Chiawei O'Hearn
Although the title is cringey (this was written in the late 90's) - this book featuring eighteen essays by prominent bi-racial and bi-cultural authors such as Malcom Gladwell, Danny Senza and James McBride highlights the complexities of the mixed identity - ranging from a satirical look at the media's obsession with mixed race people to reflections on raising mixed race children in homogeneous environments. Still as relevant today as ever.
The Black Flamingo, Dean Atta
An uplifting and powerful young adult novel from the British poet Dean Atta, of Jamaican and Greek Cypriot heritage - this is a coming of age story following Michael a mixed-race gay teenager who through his internal struggles growing up trying to understand who he is learns to embrace his uniqueness and flourish. The book is also playfully illustrated throughout and I love how the pages fluctuate between black and white - as fluid as the main character's identity. An absolute must-read!
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
The American writer's book initially starts out as a crime thriller - Lydia, a local girl is found dead in a lake and her family are left scrambling for answers. However, the narrative evolves more away from unravelling the mystery of Lydia's death and instead focuses on the underlying cracks in the mixed-race Asian-American family dynamics. The heavy expectations placed on the children which pull them in different directions - such as their American mother's urge for her children to stand out and compensate for her own unfulfilled dreams and their first-generation Asian American father's anxiety that they assimilate. An absorbing read on the sometimes tense and fractured nature of existing between two cultures.
Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo
Girl, Woman, Other is a masterpiece of fiction and a deserved winner of the Booker Prize 2019. The English-Nigerian writer has throughout her writing career woven the interconnected stories of several characters across time and continents - such as her semi-autobiographical debut novel Lara. But with Girl, Woman, Other she finesses her style and form so effortlessly - weaving together the lives of 12 Black and mixed-race women in the UK spanning from the turn of the 20th Century to the present day, all connected by family, friendship, lovers and more. The portrayal of these lives and the intersectionality of their identities are filled with such depth and intimacy - it's impossible not to become emotionally attached. A true celebration of Black and mixed race Womanhood.
The Face: Strangers on a Pier, Tash Aw
Although Tash Aw is not mixed race - he is a Malayisan born writer of Chinese descent - this small volume is thought-provoking and articulates so many themes that will resonate. Aw's personal essay delves into how identity shifts through the generations, the impact of migration and how national and family histories often mask very complicated and messy realities. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says "Tash Aw's The Face, so wise and so well done, made me wish it were much longer than it is."
The Scottish-Jamaican rapper and author Akala writes a blistering polemic against the notion that Britain is a post-racial metritocracy. Through the lens of his personal experiences growing up as a Black-mixed race kid in the UK he magnifies the issues of race, class, the education system and politics and skilfully leads us back to the roots born out of the British Empire. This book is an invitation to delve deep and open up difficult but necessary conversations on race.
Breaking the Ocean, Annahid Dashtgard
This memoir by the political activist Annahid Dashtgard is a painfully honest look at racial trauma and how it impacts families as well as how it can manifest in the body. The English-Iranian Dashtgard and her family are forced to flee Iran when she is a child after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. They spend time in the UK before settling in Canada where being shunned and ostracised by her peers she begins to suppress parts of her identity to try and find belonging. This is a moving read on her life long journey to reconcile all the parts of who she is and heal.
Afropean, Johny Pitts
Traipsing across Europe over a 3 month period, the British photographer and writer Johny Pitts (who is of English and Black African American heritage) is in search of an identity that is unhyphenated and reflective of a more positive framing of the Black diaspora and their descendants. Through his travels he interviews a broad spectrum of Black and mixed race creatives, students and workers to explore a sense of belonging within a Black community in Europe that extends beyond national borders. With wit, insightful musings and illuminating delves into histories between Africa and Europe, Afropean is an intriguing read and exploration of identity.