Conversations around race continue to deepen and reach greater subtletypixabay

The marriage of Meghan Markle to Prince Harry was very exciting for my family, particularly for my mum. Filled with hope about the new-found acceptance of biracial people and couples, she told me that British society was on the brink of a great new change. I, however, was not so convinced.

Identity is an often-politicised issue, particularly so in Cambridge. People of colour within the University often feel the burden of having to ‘fight the fight’, so to speak, regularly. It is hard to feel as if you can switch off, despite the insistences that racial division is not as prominent, as I, and others like me, may make out. The constant desire of many to discuss Markle in racial terms—positively or otherwise—is a major signifier that we are not beyond our obsession with race in the UK. Regardless of the fact that we pride ourselves on being better than the USA (hardly difficult), racial politics in Britain operate along subtler boundaries. Markle is such a big deal in my house because my parents are a ‘mixed-race’ couple, and my brother and I have grown up in a family environment where racial division was simultaneously glaringly obvious and completely irrelevant—until others get involved, that is. Constant questions of “How do you cope with the culture clash?” were constant reminders that, as a person with dual heritage, you are always different.

I have struggled since around the age of 13 with the awareness that I sit in a difficult ‘no man's land’ between ‘races’

Many mixed-race people struggle with their identities: where they fit in a world of division. It can often feel that you aren’t ‘Indian enough for Indians’ or ‘white enough for white people’. My father often tells the story of a woman, who, until this point, believing I was Italian, recoiled at my toddler self in the biscuit aisle of Sainsbury’s upon learning that I did, in fact, have an Indian mother. There is much to deconstruct about that particular incident, least of all why you would recoil from a child in front of their parent so obviously. But it does serve to demonstrate the half-acceptability of people with dual heritage which often messes with their sense of self.

I have struggled since around the age of 13 with the awareness that I sit in a difficult ‘no man's land’ between ‘races’. As a teenager, finding your own identity is complicated. Mine was further complicated by feeling like I had to constantly toe the line between parts of myself. Yes, I am Indian, but I didn’t truly understand or feel at home in British Asian culture. I have never been able to speak Gujurati, the language of my grandmother—a choice my mum made in order to not exclude my dad from conversations with his children—and as such have, at various times, worried about finding a real connection with her and my extended family on my mum’s side. I did go to the mandir, I did have Bollywood Dance lessons from the age of five (I know!), but nothing ever felt properly right.

I have found it hard to toe the line between what aspect of my identity I should be in a space that is overwhelmingly dominated by whiteness

Perhaps it is something to do with how identity is politicised in Cambridge, but since starting here a year ago, many of these struggles have moved from the backburner to the fore for me. In order to combat the structural issues regarding race, gender etc., I feel the need to be open and proud of my positionality as a woman of colour. And yet I have felt as if what could have been healthy and productive conversations have been continually undermined by the fact that I am, in the eyes of many, half-white. It felt like my position as a person of colour was accepted or rejected depending on whether giving me that label suited arguments that others were putting forward. I began to feel like I no longer had the right to claim the fight as my own. Through my time at Cambridge, it has felt like my identity has been weaponised against me, such that finding the balance between parts of myself has become all the more complicated.


Mountain View

We need to talk more about being mixed race

Markle has said that the press’ focus on her background was “disheartening”; her marriage became a statement about race in the UK without her permission. Unfortunately, people of colour are familiar with others using their identity as a tool for their narrative. Cambridge is no exception. As a student of colour, you are automatically a statistic, an exception, a trophy, an alien, someone who has to grapple constantly with their existence in a space that is not designed for them. Markle could easily say the same about her position within the royal family.

Racial politics in Britain operate along subtler boundaries

Finding your identity at university is difficult, whether you are a boatie, a thesp or a rugby lad. But as a mixed-race student, I have found it hard to toe the line between what aspect of my identity I should be in a space that is overwhelmingly dominated by whiteness. Although there are many incredible spaces for people of colour across the University, it has taken a while for me to feel like they are spaces that welcome me. The constant emphasis on my racial identity has, throughout my life thus far, made me feel alien. Taking ownership of that alien positionality is a powerful mechanism of dealing with the constant politicisation of yourself. However, as long as ‘alien’ is still a descriptor by which myself and others must position ourselves, British society is not on the brink of the great change that my mum believes is around the corner. Conversations must continue to deepen and reach greater subtlety, examining the nuance of racial identity in a manner that coverage of Markle has not demonstrated. As ever, more must be done.