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Race is a state of mind

7 Mar

I’m serious.  I’m not just referencing old slogans for the fun of it, it’s too early in the day for that.  For a long time I’ve wanted to write a post fundamentally stating, without the merest hint of doubt, that race is a social construct with no basis in science.

Turns out Adam Rutherford has already written it!  In this post he straight up states that race, scientifically, does not exist.

Rutherford, who describes himself as “partly of Indian descent”, leaving the reader to assume that his ethnic heritage is otherwise white European, is a science writer and editor.  If I were to be flippant I would point out that he’s also rather handsome, ’cause, ya know, I’m also partly of Indian descent, and I’m damn cute.  Maybe it’s a thing?

HA NO!  It isn’t!  Just because Adam Rutherford and I are excellent eye candy* doesn’t mean that all European/Asian heritage people are because, get this, as Rutherford says in his post “There is no genetic basis that corresponds with any particular group of people”.  Yes, you can predict some things about a person’s genome from their phenotype (outward appearance) but you can’t predict someone’s race from their genome with any confidence.  You can make reasonable assessments of their ancestry, and some of their probable appearance, but the divisions of what makes someone one race or another, according to the phenotypic and cultural criteria most of us use, are not seen in the genes.  Within any single “race” is such variance as to render the racial categorisation unusable in science.

Rutherford gives some great examples of conditions and genetic factors, long thought to be consequences of racial heritage, which are more scientifically explained by geographic area and the populations that live there.  Ah, you might think, Ms Mongrel, surely those geographically defined populations can be called races?  Well sure, socially you can go with that, but there is no scientific definition to back you up.  As Rutherford rather bluntly and brilliantly points out, humans are “too horny and mobile to have stuck to our own kind for very long” meaning that virtually every population has “DNA mixed and remixed through endless sex and continuous migration”.

I think that this message about the arbitrary nature of racial ‘definition’ is really important.  Rutherford also points out the way that the early science of inheritance and then genetics attempted to find a scientific rationalisation for racism (including the genocide of native peoples by European empires, the subjugation of others, the transatlantic slave trade, and various 20th century eugenics schemes).  Somehow the educated, European elite felt that by scientifically showing that the other races were “lesser”, they could justify their murderous expansion and the imposition of their values on alien cultures – all driven by profit except perhaps for a minority of genuine adventurers or earnest missionaries.

If someone can show me that the human race can be scientifically subgrouped into subspecies or races, with a consistent definition that can be shown in the lab to be “nature” rather than based on the environment and cultures in which we are raised, I’ll change my mind, don’t you worry.  I’m all about evidence.  But, as someone whose existence already disproves a number of stereotypes pertaining to my racial heritage, I’ll continue to challenge any racial definitions based loosely on appearance, geography, religion, and old prejudices.

There’s no such thing as race people, unless you choose to believe in it.  If that’s your choice, fine.  Just don’t expect the rest of us to live by your definitions.

*okay well maybe Rutherford more than me.  It’s a matter of perspective!

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Ch-ch-ch-changes

20 Jan

Dear reader,

Sometimes you need to change things up in order to unleash motivation.  It is for this reason that I’m making some changes to my blogging activities.

For a start, there’ll be more activity!

I’ve realised that I need to make time to write, as per my last post, if I want to be a better writer I’d better get writing.  To that end, I’ve formed two other blogs, each with a different goal.  Firstly, I’m beginning to set up a blog that will have links to resources for anyone interested in the “mixed race experience” which will hopefully eventually be a useful resource in itself, this is still in the early stages.  It’ll be more a-political and less imbued with my personal perspectives.

Secondly, I’ve accepted that sometimes I shy away from writing blogs because I like to fact check any statements I make and take the time to reference where I can, so in order to blow that obstruction away I have set up a blog that is purely opinion and anecdote, and is about my love life and/or lack of love life.  You can read more here if this interests you or if you just want to see what my writing style is like when freed from attempting to maintain accuracy.  New posts late on Wednesdays.

Lastly, I’m going to refocus this blog as more of a purely personal blog, a space to write about things that interest me, lay out arguments that I want to make, and generally put the world to rights as though I was in the pub next to you having a pint and decrying the status quo, or similar.

There is so much going on in this world of ours, so much to discuss, I hope to see you here soon to talk about it all.

As always, remember people are people.

Much love,

Ms Mongrel xoxo

Getting better

7 Jan

Practise. Practise hard. Don’t just visualise or plan, or list or fret or anticipate… practise.

There is an energy around you and it can only reach actualisation through your activity. The words are there, but you have to write them, the colours are there, but you have to paint them, the evidence is there, but you have to find it. You can imagine the results every minute of every day but that will not bring them into reality. You have to achieve them.
So practise.

Practise singing in the car. Practise poetry on the back of receipts on buses. Practise drawing in the condensation on windows. Practise drumming on… anything. Practise your lines. Practise your perfect side swept half-updo with curls. Practise your sewing. Practise your serve. Practise being friendly. Practise love, by loving yourself.

In your mind’s eye, the opportunities are there for the taking. So why aren’t you taking them? Often, we don’t put ourselves forward because we don’t think we are good enough. There is only one way to get better.

Practise.

 

Try again

It always seems impossible until it is done

6 Dec

I just heard about Nelson Mandela.  I know I never met him, and he’s just someone I heard about on the news, but I heard about him on the news all my life.  He has been an inspiration ever since I was tiny.  He was an icon in my house growing up, a hero.

Here is something I have always struggled with: apartheid in South Africa only ended when I was twelve.  How do you square such antiquated barbarism with being a child of the modern era? That was 25 years after man walked on the moon!  I have often reminded myself of that fact throughout my adult life, because it brings home to me that we are not as enlightened a world as we often like to believe.  The fact that I saw the end of this anachronistic inequality in my lifetime makes me realise how far humanity has come, and how far we have yet to go.

To me, Mandela forms part of a holy trinity along with Martin Luther King and Gandhi.  Now, none of these men were perfect, but they chose to stand for something so important, so basic, so fundamental as to be missing from nearly every society in the world: equality and respect.  They are the fathers of my motto for life, that people are people.  Mandela’s approach after his release from prison was to seek reconciliation and peace for the future, not retribution and revenge for the past.  It takes a big heart and a wise head to choose forgiveness when bitterness can be such an easy choice.  I look at these men, and the women of the suffragette and feminist movements, and I see people who said no to injustice, no to inequality, and who decided that they would not just let things be and hope for better but that they would risk their own lives to affect the change they believed in.  Those I admire the most did this with argument, demonstration, honesty, courage and integrity.

People like Mandela make me feel that I can be strong enough to stand up against the wrongs I see in this world.

I feel bereft, for a man I never met, and for the people he inspired and who loved him.  I don’t just want to cry because Mandela has died, I want to cry because of the pain he worked so hard to heal in a country riven by hatred.  I want to cry for all the unofficial apartheids that still exist across the world.  I want to cry because of all the small braveries people need to get through the day wherever hatred holds sway.  I want to cry because so many people are still not free.

And when I stop crying, I hope that I have just that bit more strength, and that bit more resolve, to strive harder for the world I want, one where kids born today won’t find out aged 12 that some countries in the world still treat people differently because of their colour, or religion, or gender.  When I stop crying, I hope I have that bit more kindness and forgiveness in my own heart to try to affect that change with love and courage.  Most of all, I hope that now Mandela has finished his long walk, the rest of us continue that journey, to be the kind of people he believed we could be.

Finding yourself

13 Sep

One of the things that makes life more complicated for anyone, mixed race or not, is living up to the expectations of two families: that of your mother and that of your father. Now, both these families are YOUR family – and yet they can be wildly different from one another. For me, as a mixed race person, I find that having families from two vastly different cultures has often led to me feeling like I’m disappointing both of them, but that perhaps tells you more about my personality than about mixed race heritage!

I refer to this mismatch of family culture as living “cross-culturally”, and I don’t think it is an experience limited to mixed race people; firstly because a similar experience seems to be had by friends brought up in a minority religion or with minority traditions in the UK, and secondly because ALL families have their own “culture”. I like to think of a family’s culture as being at its most heightened around Christmas: do you all get together? Do you avoid each other? Are you interested in the religious aspect? Is it all about expensive gifts? Who gets offended if you don’t come for dinner? Who drinks and who doesn’t? Who cooks Christmas dinner? Do you watch the Queen’s speech? Do you watch the Dr Who Christmas Special? From what I’ve observed of friends, and family, no two families have Christmas in exactly the same way, and we all have our own little traditional rituals.

I imagine problems can occur even when things are as simple as having two Christian parents – if they are from different denominations do you go to midnight mass or church in the morning? I know friends who engage fully with fasting and tradition during Ramadan, but will also go carolling and have boozy Christmas nights out with work. For me: Dad’s family had no Christmas tree but when we were kids we were spoilt with gifts, Mum’s family had the tree and the decorations and when we were kids we were spoilt with gifts (fussing over the children was/is common to both families!) Nowadays my parents and siblings have a tradition of spending Christmas day together, having a breakfast Bellini, a massive dinner, eating too much chocolate, watching a film or two, and laughing all day. I know that one day if I end up with nieces and nephews these traditions will morph and adapt, and that those kids will have to connect our family’s culture with that of their other parent.

The challenge of trying to fit in with two family cultures is complicated further because some family members are sticklers for tradition, others couldn’t give a monkey’s earlobe, some you would choose as friends, and others you’re resigned to being related to, and to me this has sometimes felt like a special burden of being mixed race. Thinking about it these days I’ve started to see it as a separate, but linked, issue, because more and more mixed race kids in Britain have parents whose culture/religion/practises are closer in character, whatever colour the parents are. Of course, I’ve been thinking about this from the perspective of having parents who are together, I imagine it can sometimes get much more complicated when you have to consider the feelings and traditions of step families too.

I’ve been thinking about this not because Christmas is on the horizon (my work colleagues are starting to plan our Christmas party already) but because I’ve also been thinking about people from my parents’ lives and in my own who have made comments that amount to ‘having mixed race kids isn’t fair because life will be hard for them because they are mixed race’. Now I have no other experience than my own on which to draw, but I don’t feel that being mixed race is a burden in and of itself. In fact being mixed race has given me insight and perspective that I, someone naturally a bit stubborn, may not have had in another life. Having said that, I’ve faced some challenges that are unique to being mixed race, and others that are connected to living cross-culturally. As an adult, I’ve developed my own life traditions and I don’t feel that I live as a British Asian any more than I live as a British white, I live like me, and that’s that. As a younger person, however, it took me a long time to resolve my feelings about both sides of my extended family. For me the breakthrough came when I realised that living to make other people happy is like building castles out of soup – impossible, painful, and messy.

The trigger for this little thought-spurt of a blog was reading the story of a man brought up across two cultures so disparate as to make me look inbred – a researcher from the US and a tribeswoman from the Amazon. The story of this man’s journey to find his mother and reconnect with a heritage by which he was originally embarrassed and challenged is fascinating. I particularly like how, in the end, he is resolved to be his own person, even if it means disappointing both his parents. If you’re having trouble navigating the path of multiple cultures, being mixed race, or simply in knowing who you are for any reason, I suggest you have a read of this:
Return to the rainforest: A son’s search for his Amazonian mother

Let Freedom Ring

28 Aug

Fifty years ago today was the day of Dr King’s stirring, beautiful, and heartbreaking speech, the one we now call “I have a dream”.

When he gave this speech, he pointed out that 100 years earlier the constitution of the USA was written as a promise that all men would be “guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  He stated that the black and coloured people of America had come to Washington to cash that cheque, to demand the fulfilment of that promise, which had been denied through the subjugation, discrimination, and degrading treatment of African Americans in those 100 years.

Fifty years later, the balance of that cheque has still not been cleared.  The dream is not yet realised.  I am pleased that the speech is being remembered in so many ways today, by people who were there or who saw it on television, and by those of use who were born in the time since that day.  I was particularly moved by this recital of the famous words by a number of different figures – peace campaigners and human rights advocates in particular – recorded by the BBC: I have a dream – revisited

Not just in America, but throughout the world, freedom and equality are still out of reach for so many people of all colours, men and women, children.  I weep when I hear King say “I have a dream… that my four little children will one day be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” and my tears are not only for the past struggles of those subjugated under slavery or segregation, but they are also for those who struggle still, fifty years on, against the myriad injustices that the human race imposes on one another.

Still in this world people kill each other over arbitrary differences manufactured from superstition, fear, and ignorance.  So I wish that people would hear King’s speech, and truly hear his soul shaking final statement:

“Let Freedom ring… and when this happens… we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, jews and gentiles, protestants and catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual: Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Because until we are all free and equal, none of us are.

Warrior woman

13 May

It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to blog and my word, so much has happened out there in the wide world.  I have had many rants in real life instead of in the blogosphere lately, and so I wanted to ease myself back in with a light bite – not so much food for thought as a ponderous amuse-bouche.

I grew up with the glorious action cartoons of the 80s, jerky animation, power ballad theme music, and the same sound effects in every series.  One of my favourites was She-Ra.  The woman rode a flying unicorn with a rainbow coloured mane, she totally rocked.  The first film I ever saw at the cinema was the She-Ra/He-Man cross over story “The Secret of the Sword“.  There is so much I could tell you about that film, but the key aspect is the *SPOILERS* fact that Adora and Adam (the mild-mannered alter egos of the heroine/hero) are twin siblings.  By the end of the film they both have magic swords which they can use to transform themselves into the super strong, super fast, super one-liner dropping, save-the-day, never-kill-a-baddie-just-send-them-away champions of their respective worlds.

That film came out in 1985, I was three.  I don’t remember going to see the film, even if it did get to the UK later than ’85.  What I do remember is that I watched both series, and that even as a small girl-child I was bemused by the relative physiques of the amazingly strong twins.  He-Man, even when “disguised” as Prince Adam, has the physique of a body builder – and a zealous one at that.  He has muscles popping out all over, arms the size of a female character’s waist.  This seems to make sense when He-Man does something requiring lots of muscle – lifting a boulder say, or throwing a futuristic flying car across the orange landscape.  But although Adora has an equally rare physique – hour glass and with lean legs wildly out of proportion – she looks a whole lot more ordinary than her brother.  My infant brain thought thusly: if Adora/She-Ra has a lean body, and He-Man is a bodybuilder… then She-Ra must be stronger than He-Man because she’s as strong as him without the muscle!

Now that is one sure fire way to start a playground argument in the 80s.  Almost as bad as the time I referred to a male schoolmate’s WWF Action Figure as a “doll”.

Anyway, She-Ra wasn’t the only super strong heroine to have a deceptively slight build.  I also grew up with the fabulous, kitschy, wonderful Wonder Woman – a WW comic bought for me when in hospital as a child is still one of my most treasured possessions.  Diana Prince/Wonder Woman has, throughout most of her portrayals, been slender rather than stocky and on occasion has had a figure of Barbie-esque levels of unachievability.  The most appropriate male counterpart to Wonder Woman is, in my opinion, Superman, and he has always looked muscular, although the level of definition of his muscularity has changed over time.

I have often wondered what She-Ra or Wonder Woman would look like if they had a bodybuilder’s physique, as their male comrades do, so I found this picture of a female bodybuilder, and got to sketching.  Female bodybuilders often combine displaying their muscularity with more traditionally feminine postures or mannerisms, so I chose this pose as it is more gender neutral, although you could read the turned head as demure.

So here is the bitesize fodder for pondering I promised you: is this what Wonder Woman should look like?  What should any superheroine look like if one of her powers is physical strength?  Should some male heroes with super strength look leaner?  Or even fat?  I’m sure there must be more representations like this out there – I’ll confess I haven’t really followed comics since I was a kid.  Answers on a postcard.  That is all.

Wonder Woman