Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

July 2021 | 2,200 words | Contents

Digest: …it’s in common usage. But ‘race’ is a toxic word – ‘mixed ethnicity’ is better

Meghan Markle, AKA Duchess of Sussex | Photo: Shutterstock

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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The terms used

How the terms are used

There are no human races

The melting pot

‘Race’ as a social construct

If you’re not white, you’re black

‘That’s what I call myself’




Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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Loaded phrase

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No – because there are no human ‘races’. But… the phrase is in widespread use.

Even the Guardian (centre-left, the UK’s only national daily newspaper not owned by billionaire twats) uses ‘mixed race’ to describe, for instance, Meghan Markle. (The usually brilliant Guardian style guide is silent on the subject.)

As a zealous and pedantic antiracist, I objected to the use of the phrase on a local Facebook page and got a hostile response. People said, ‘I’m mixed-race – that’s what I call myself’.

But why would anyone accept that phrase as a description of themselves, loaded as it is with outmoded prejudice?

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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The terms used

‘Ethnicity’ is best

The UK government’s thoughtful and helpful style guide Writing about ethnicity says:

    We refer to ethnicity and not race…We don’t say ‘mixed people’ or ‘mixed race people’. We usually say ‘people with a mixed ethnic background’ or ‘people from the mixed ethnic group’.

‘Mixed ethnic background’ is a bit of a mouthful and ‘mixed ethnicity’ is a syllable longer that ‘mixed heritage’. Also, ‘heritage’ is easier to say, lacking the awkward ‘th’ – but ‘ethnicity’ is arguably more meaningful than ‘heritage’.

The guide doesn’t use the word ‘heritage’. It doesn’t say why, but ‘heritage’ could sound like something to do with the National Trust collection of stately homes – many of which, according to a 2020 NT report have links to the slave trade and colonialism.

I’ll use ‘ethnicity’ in this post.

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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How the terms are used

A need to describe

Some people say they have dual ethnicity. That’s understandable – they want people to know they have two ethnicities, two cultures, and to be aware of the challenges that brings.

However, ‘dual ethnicity’ (or the occasionaly used ‘biracial’) can be seen as pointlessly limiting – like the horrible ‘half-caste’ – which leads to a hell-hole of racist numerical classifications such as ‘quadroon’.

What if one of your parents had African ethnicity and the other parent had dual Indian and white ethnicity? Would you say you have triple ethnicity (or you’re tricracial)?

‘Mixed-ethnicity’ as a label gives enough information – without a number. It says, in effect, ‘Yes, as you may infer from my facial appearance, I have more than one ethnic identity. I’ll give more information if and when it’s appropriate’.

Why do skin colour and ethnic origin need describing? Mostly they don’t, but the concept of ethnicity allows people to identify themselves as, for instance, black British, Asian British, or mixed ethnicity, thereby voicing their own feelings about who they are in positive terms which include family origins, the colour of their skin, and their cultural allegiances.

Skin colour can also be useful to describe an unknown person. In the Facebook incident that prompted this post, a man harassing women in a park was described as ‘mixed-race’.

Similarly, the UK police use identification codes to describe suspects to colleagues, eg IC3 (black) and IC4 (Asian).

IC4’s ‘Asian’ is short for ‘South Asian’ which in this context means someone apparently of Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Indian ethnic origin. (IC5 is ‘Chinese, Japanese or Southeast Asian’.)

There’s no police code for people whose skin colour indicates mixed ethnicity. However, IC7 is ‘Unknown’.

(Such ‘racial profiling’ is abused by the police in the controversial practice of ‘stop and search’, overused against young black men.)

It’s a complex issue, but when there’s a perceived need to describe skin colour and ethnic origin, the words used matter.

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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There are no human races

Just different populations

‘Mixed race’ implies there are human races – but only science-denying racists believe that. They say there are different races, some of which are intrinsically superior to others. They’re wrong.

Pseudo-scientific racists, from ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers (eg Kant and Locke) onwards, tried to justify colonialism and racism by claiming Europeans are inherently more intelligent than other ‘races’. They aren’t.

German philosopher and racist twunt Immanuel Kant | Image: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Taxonomically, it’s generally agreed that all modern humans are Homo sapiens sapiens, the only surviving subspecies of the species Homo sapiens (the only surviving species of the genus Homo).

Race is a slippery word, but in biology it’s an informal rank below the level of subspecies, the members of which are significantly distinct from other members of the subspecies.

Genetic research has confirmed the obvious: the differences that evolved between different human populations are not significantly genetically distinct. The different populations are not races in any scientifically meaningful sense.

Single-gene disorders are the only significant genetic difference between the different populations. For instance, cystic fibrosis is most common among people of north European ethnicity. Otherwise the differences, albeit visually and culturally obvious, are superficial.

There are no different human races, just human populations with differences which, apart from single-gene disorders, are superficial – and which are becoming increasingly mixed!

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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The melting pot

What we need

Before pseudo-scientific racism was rumbled, racists sneered about ‘miscegenation‘; and amongst ethnic minorities there’s pressure to resist assimilation and preserve cultural heritage by not ‘marrying out’.

But – some dodgy lyrics aside – Blue Mink were right: what we need is a great big melting pot. Marrying out doesn’t have to mean loss of cultural heritage – it can be seen as marrying in.

Ethnicity is often related to religion, and there may be concern that marrying out will dilute religion and therefore morality. But here in the western melting pot, we live in a post-religious age. God – as the source of morality – is dead.

Fortunately, as social animals we have innate goodness – and any innate badness can be constrained by the rule of law, preferably under liberal democracy (the worst form of government apart from all the others).

(Non-religious spirituality, on the other hand, is alive and well – and isn’t affected by inter-ethnic mingling.)

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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‘Race’ as a social construct

Linguistic dilemma

Some say ‘race’ is a social construct that doesn’t have to be scientifically meaningful – it’s just a way of describing the different human populations.

This is where it gets tricky. On the one hand, clever racists use the social construct idea to blur the issue and keep talking about ‘race’ despite the scientific evidence that there are no races.

On the other hand, ‘race’ as a social construct is also used by non-racists as shorthand for the different populations. It’s used in that way in speech by people of colour; and by both black and white writers and speakers in non-racist media.

‘Race’ is also implied in the use of the word ‘racism’. Antiracists speaking or writing about racism implicitly accept the notion of ‘race’ – presumably, the social construct version.

For those wanting to identify and eventually eliminate ‘racism’, the solution to this linguistic dilemma is to nevertheless avoid using the word ‘race’.

Despite being an arguably useful social construct and the root of the useful word ‘racism’, the word ‘race’ is fundamentally toxic and redundant.

As for the word ‘racism’, until racism – or the thing arguably misnamed as racism – ends, the word will probably continue to be used, trailing its toxic root. Perhaps a better word or phrase could be used.

(Also – strictly speaking – there’s no such thing as ‘the human race’. It’s an inclusive and relatively harmless phrase – and ‘the human subspecies’ isn’t catchy – but ‘humanity’ is better.)

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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If you’re not white, you’re black


Some radical antiracists say people of mixed ethnicity should identify solely as black. (‘Black’ here is used to mean non-white: ie black or brown.)

One such proponent was prominent black UK broadcaster and antiracist campaigner, the late Darcus Howe. Fellow activist Sunder Katwala recalls being on the receiving end of Howe’s rhetoric*.

Katwala, the mixed-ethnicity director of immigration think-tank British Future, wrote about the encounter in the conclusion to his 2012 BF report The Melting Pot Generation.

Katwala and Howe were chatting after a TV discussion (about a controversial remark made by a black politician). Katwala apparently referred to himself as mixed-race, and Howe objected.

    “Mixed race? What’s all this mixed race nonsense? If you’re not white, you’re black.”
    That old point was jovially roared at me with some emphasis by one of this country’s leading public raconteurs on race and racism.
    “But I’ve never thought I was black. Shouldn’t it be up to me to decide?”
    “What are you then?”
    “British. And English. My parents are from India and Ireland, so I’m half-Asian and mixed race as well.”
    “British? Why don’t you call yourself Indian? Are you ashamed of your father, boy?”

Howe was forcefully expressing the well-known position of radical antiracism: ‘mixed’ is nonsense – if you’re not white, you’re black.

It’s an understandably angry political response to mixed-ethnicity people experiencing racism because they’re not white.

It’s a proud and noble gesture – but it’s a shame to deny half your identity. On this, the late, great, Howe was wrong.

People of colour have no need to deny a significant part of their ancestry. The antiracist cause is best served by people of mixed ethnicity feeling free to express their full identity.

(But beware of identity politics. See my post, Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?)

* I originally found the story about Howe and Katwala in an article by Remi Adekoya, mixed-ethnicity writer, author and academic: Biracial Britain: why mixed-race people must be able to decide their own identity (The Conversation, 2021). See also Adekoya’s book: Biracial Britain (2021).

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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‘That’s what I call myself’

Whitesplaining word-nerd

Some people of mixed ethnicity say:

    ‘I’m mixed-race – that’s what I call myself. Don’t tell me what to say!’

It must be difficult enough being brown-skinned in a white world – facing microracism (‘Where are you from?’) and conscious and unconscious personal and institutional bias – without having a would-be white saviour (I’m white, by the way – Hi!) tell you how you should or shouldn’t describe yourself.

Whitesplaining word-nerd, antiracist virtue signaller – who do I think I am? It’s like a white person telling black Americans not to use the N-word: ‘I say, you rapper chappies – you really shouldn’t use that bad word.’

Except it’s not like that. When a mixed-ethnicity person uses the phrase ‘mixed-race’ to describe themselves, they’re not re-appropriating the word ‘race’ in a playfully political way.

They’re giving white people permission to use that phrase – and they’re inadvertently agreeing with zealous racists, the only people who think there actually are different races.

The question remains: why would anyone choose ‘mixed-race’ as a description of themselves, knowing it to be loaded with outmoded prejudice?

Maybe mixed-ethnicity people call themselves ‘mixed-race’, thinking, ‘So what? Who cares? It’s a social construct. It’s just what people say. And it’s only two syllables.’

Maybe they’re just winding up mitherers like me. If so, damn – you got me!

I just hope it’s not an example of that depressing phenomenon, internalised racism.

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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‘Mixed ethnicity’ is better

The slippery idea of ‘race’ as a social construct doesn’t justify saying ‘mixed-race’. Neither does its use by mixed-ethnicity people.

The phrase ‘mixed-race’ is loaded with colonial notions of white superiority – it should be left in the shameful past where it belongs.

‘Mixed-ethnicity’ is better. It’s three extra syllables, true – but it celebrates our differences and embraces their mixing.

So… is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No.

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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Afterthought 1

Although I’m English, a DNA test showed I have 36% Scottish ancestry. Och aye, th’ noo! (Sorry, couldn’t help it.) But I wouldn’t refer to myself as having mixed ethnicity – probably because it doesn’t involve my skin colour, and it’s still North European culture. So my mixed ancestry doesn’t need explaining.

Racism is prejudice plus (institutional) power. The white majority’s irrational colour prejudice means only people of colour with mixed ethnicity have to explain their ethnicity.

Afterthought 2

A commenter on this post has pointed out that young people of mixed ethnicity – the facially obvious kind, presumably – tend to refer to themselves simply as ‘mixed’. That’s a good solution.

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Dear reader/scanner, feel free to Comment

(All comments will be answered.)

6 thoughts on “Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

  1. I find it offensive when my son is referred to as being of mixed race. I find it degrading when it’s used to describe him as a 24 yr old, mixed-race, male. My son identifies as black, so what does it matter that his mother is white and his father is black.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Amy. I think I’d also find it offensive. Your son chooses to identify as black. That’s his right, of course. Perhaps it makes life easier. But isn’t it unfortunate that in so doing, he’s denying – in effect – half his ethnicity?

  2. All sensible enough, but I notice young people tend to refer to themselves as being mixed.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Paul. ‘Mixed’ is great! Easy to say, doesn’t use that toxic word. I’ll amend my post accordingly.

  3. You are one sad, twisted liberal piece of shit. BTW, what is that purple piece of shit in the center of your page? What you think beauty looks like, with bulbous nose, twisted lips and painted on eyebrows to replace the big hairy ones she was born with? It is so utterly “sad” that you are so brainwashed that not even a glint of truth remains in your thinking, just lies piled on top of more lies and fairy tales designed to suit your twisted, lying version of reality. In a word, you are “disgusting.” Why don’t you post a picture of yourself so that we can all know what “thing” produced all these lies.

    1. Thanks for your comment, John. You say my post is untrue, but you don’t say how, exactly. (You can see a photo of me – and read more about my liberal ideas – on my ‘About’ page.)

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