The nation's youth might be reading
Zadie Smith or watching Melanie Sykes interview Craig
David, but until now Britain's mixed-race population
has been largely ignored by officialdom.
the fact that one in 20 pre-school children in Britain
is thought to be mixed race, and "bi-racial"
people are the fastestgrowing ethnic group, those
who monitor the country's ethnic make-up have been
slow to respond. Until now, forms have stuck largely
to the basic black, white or Asian descriptions. Britons
who do not fit those categories - 400,000 at the last
count - were part of a rapidly expanding "grey
that is about to change. This year's official census,
the forms for which go out on Monday, includes the
new categories of white and black Caribbean, white
and black African, white and Asian, and an "any
other mixed background" category. It will also
include Asian British and black British for the first
is a significant widening of the scope of the census,
which only began to monitor ethnic origin in 1991
after decades-long opposition to the move weakened.
That year, mixed-race people were asked to tick "the
group to which they considered they belonged"
- in some cases effectively denying part of their
identity - or to tick "other ethnic group"
and squeeze complex details into the section provided.
the numbers ticking the "other" category
proved a problem for statisticians, who couldn't use
it to identify trends. A four-year consultation followed
and the result was a near-doubling of the ethnic group
choices, from nine in 1991 to 16 this year.
Myant from the Commission for Racial Equality said:
"The challenge was to try to find a compromise
between the UK's increasing diversity on one hand
and the need for statisticians to have a limited number
of categories to work with on the other."
figures on Britain's mixed population are expected
to increase when the revised census forms are returned
at the end of this month and when, as planned, the
new categories are extended to all monitoring bodies.
spokesman for the Office for National Statistics said:
"A lot of youngsters who might have been described
as black will now be described as mixed race."
Mr Myant adds: "This is an important move. Many
people have an identity put on them by society, whether
it's black or white. This will let them define themselves."
he believes there is a danger in reaching wildly positive
conclusions about the growth of the mixed-race population
and improved race relations. He said: "People
are forming relationships across ethnic divides which
tells us that racism is weakening. And there is an
increasing willingness by people who are the product
of those relationships to embrace that mixture.
nobody should exaggerate that. There may be a surface
politeness in Britain, but the knives are still out."
used to be classed as 'other'"
Olivia Mercado, 26, lives in Peckham and works for
an investment bank in Canary Wharf. Her father is
Puerto Rican and her mother is British.
"I always used to have to tick the 'other' category
on forms. There was never any way for me to express
what I was," she said. "It felt insulting
because 'other' suggests that you are inferior to
think having a mixed section is a good idea, otherwise
where do you fit in? Some people might expect me to
classify myself as black, but I wouldn't tick black
on a form because I'm not - I'm part Hispanic, which
not saying there should be a category specifically
for me. All you want is a description which allows
you to be defined by yourself instead of by somebody
a cosmetic point of view being mixed-race makes you
stand out in a crowd. I like looking exotic. People
always try to guess where you are from because it's
not immediately obvious."
can be divisive
Writer Helen Kolawole, 31, lives in Westbourne Park.
Her father is Nigerian and her mother is English.
She said: "I have mixed feelings about the change.
I am not dogmatic about labelling myself as mixed
race because I think it can be divisive. In black
communities there have been advantages to having lighter
skin. I am also worried that the results will be held
up by those who want to promote Britain as a perfect
multicultural melting pot where racism no longer exists.
Well no, that just isn't true.
Kolawole said she had not been satisfied with ethnic
categories on previous forms."In the past I sometimes
ticked 'black other', but then I thought, what does
that mean?" she said. "Other times I ignored
the section in silent protest. I thought, 'If you
are not going to provide a space for me I'm not going
to fill in your form.'
good that they've chosen the term 'mixed', which is
better than half-caste and more open than mixed-race,
which implies there are only two races. I've always
defined myself politically as black. People look at
me and see a black face and so I am treated as a black
woman. It doesn't matter to them that my mother is
the past some mixed people have felt pressured to
act either black or white. They don't so much now
because there are so many more mixed kids around.
Mixed children just don't raise eyebrows any more."
the categories is good"
Neil Noronha, 24, lives in Brockley and works for
an advertising agency in Soho. His father is from
Goa in India and his mother is part Portuguese, part
English and part Indian.
He said: "At university most people stuck in
the their own racial groups. The Asians hung out with
Asians and the Greeks with Greeks. It was incredibly
cliquey but I tended to hang out with everyone.
don't know if it's because I'm mixed. If my Asian
friends wanted to ask a white person a question, they
would come and ask me to do it.
see myself as Asian. My Asian friends do treat me
differently, though. I've got green eyes and people
always say stuff about them, and how I look different.
see being mixed as an advantage. It means you can
fit in anywhere rather than not fitting in at all.
People think if you are mixed you are unsure of who
you are, but I've never had that problem. It's a good
thing the categories have been extended. People are
quite happy for you to tick one box and say, 'That's
where you belong.' They want to categorise you. But
it's a bit more complicated than that."