How Literature Can Help Shape Biracial Identity
I will happily go out on a limb and say that every biracial person and parent of a biracial child should read this poem. Half Caste is part of the GCSE English curriculum in the UK and studying it was one of the only periods in my entire education that I genuinely felt I was learning something that would dramatically affect my outlook on life and also the way I viewed myself.
I’ve always been uncomfortable with the term half caste but growing up it was an acceptable term. People would use it interchangeably with mixed raced and think nothing of it. My mum always hated it and made a point to tell family and friends never to refer to me in this way but even taking into account my mum’s disregard for the word I still felt a strong dislike towards it.
At times I’ve doubted my feelings over the term half caste, I’ve asked myself if I’m just being oversensitive, told myself that it’s not really offensive and I’ve never heard people using it in an offensive way – yet that niggle in the back of my head was still there.
Finally sitting in my year 10 English classroom in my stereotypical British secondary school with 30 white children surrounding me and a white teacher standing in front of me a light bulb was switched on. I opened my anthology to the page written on the board and there it was. Reading the poem felt as if I was plucking the thoughts from my own head. All the things I had been feeling and thinking but unable to vocalize were written down in front of me and not only could I see it, everyone else could see it too.
At that point I was incredibly thankful for being part of such a welcoming and understanding school because my friends were genuinely interested in what I had to say. After discussing the poem as a class, one boy that I’d barely ever spoken to turned to me and said – “is this how you feel?” I was 15 at the time, I could have laughed it off or made a joke but I didn’t I simply said “yes” and for me that was the beginning of my identity formation.
It took that one simple question for me to allow myself to think about what biracial truly meant. From that moment on I’ve made a point of claiming my heritage whenever possible, I never let people assume I’m black and I don’t give sarcastic answers when I get the ‘so where are you from – like originally?’ questions.
Not only did John Agard teach me how to understand my own feelings about my mixed heritage but he also taught me how to help others understand. He showed me that not everyone will understand straight away and that’s fine, it’s not their fault. However, you can give them the opportunity to open their minds and to teach them. No matter what, ignorance is never bliss.
Does this poem speak to you? What other literature has helped you to understand the biracial experience? Let us know so that we can read it too!
Check out this blog for younger folks: 4 Great Picture Books for Biracial Children.
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