A shop assistant smiles as I enter a store with my kids. The three-year-old and I are discussing her favourite colour. So far the shortlist is purple, red, yellow, white, silver, gold and green. The shop assistant comes over to ask if we need any help. I shake my head. “We’re fine, thank you,” I say. “If you need me, just give me a shout,” she says. She pauses. “Gosh, mixed-race children are just so special aren’t they? So special.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, returning her smile. “Just that we’re…” she pauses. “They’re the future of this country.” “Thanks,” I say.
What I want to say is this: mixed-race children aren’t going to end racism. If anything, they’re going to make it more complicated. I’ve seen this rhetoric a lot. A lot more since Meghan Markle, and since the #riversoflove hashtag a few months ago. That the thing that will end racism will be a bunch of people of different races shagging, having kids, and those kids existing in a new post-race utopia where everyone is mixed. This kind of thinking is dangerous, and kind of silly. “Beige Britain” won’t be the utopia we want. It’ll be the same country it always was, but with a significant demographic change. The whole “mixed-race kids ending racism” feeling is a nice thought that doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t look at divisions in the country right now. It doesn’t interrogate problems we have. It doesn’t end inequality.
It’s in the same camp as “I don’t really see colour.” Again, it’s a strange reaction. I know that just by writing this I’m opening myself up to being called a racist, because we’ve been told from a young age that even speaking about race makes you racist. We’re taught that acknowledging someone’s ethnic background is racist. This isn’t true. Talking about race isn’t automatically racist. Judging someone, insulting them or denying them rights because of that race, that’s racist.
Someone might say, “I’m not racist. I don’t see skin colour.” Which seems silly. Because you do see it. What you mean is, “I am choosing to not treat you as a stereotype relating to your stereotype. I am choosing to treat you as normal.” Which is great, until we start to look at what counts as normal. Acknowledging people’s skin colours and the differences between us allows us to see that there perhaps isn’t such a clearcut thing as normal. All this stuff is rarely talked about across races and because it isn’t, with any conversation about race in the UK, when it comes to a person of colour and a white person, there is a level of defensiveness and a level of unwillingness to admit there is a problem.
None of these problems would go away if suddenly mixed-race people made white people the minority in this country. “What about the indigenous English?” I’ve heard people say. “We’re made to feel minorities in our own country.” What I find interesting about the word indigenous is that I’m not sure it even applies. Who here counts as a native? I was born here. I have a British passport. I pay taxes. I vote. I queue in an orderly fashion. Am I not indigenous?
We need a vision of the future that works for everyone, and that vision of the future needs to start now. We need to work on a collective vision of the citizens of the UK. What do we look like and how do we celebrate the things that make us different and how do we celebrate the things that unify us? How do we ensure that the myth of a meritocracy can become a reality where everyone has equal access and opportunity? Maybe we need to think about all these things before assuming that a bunch of people across races shagging and having babies is going to bring about a utopia that is post-race because we’re all the same colour.
I don’t say any of this to the shop assistant. I look at my kid and I say, “I think it’s OK to have seven favourite colours.” My daughter thinks for a second and says, “I like orange too.”
I like orange too, I think. I really like orange.