What’s your full name?
Hanna Thomas. I was born Hanna Thomas Uose, but when my mother and I moved from Japan to the UK when I was 4, she registered me everywhere as just Hanna Thomas. Recently as an adult, I realised that as a result I had absolutely no credit score under my real name. I had to get it legally changed, and drop my father’s name Uose. But I got it tattooed on my foot so I will always carry it with me.
How old are you?
Where were you born/brought up?
I was born in Tokyo, Japan. I moved to the UK when I was 4 and grew up in a few different places – Birmingham, Essex, and then Oxford.
What do you do for a living?
I’m the Campaign and Culture Director at SumOfUs.org, a digital campaigning organisation that mobilises consumers, workers, and investors to curb the growing power of large corporations.
What’s your ethnicity?
Japanese and White British.
How did your mum and dad meet?
My mum was teaching English in Tokyo when she was in her early twenties, and my dad was one of her students.
How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?
I think probably at primary school, when kids would make comments or pull their eyes back with their fingers and talk some kind of ‘ching chong’ nonsense.
Did you want to change your appearance when you were a child?
Yes. I went to a majority white school and I stuck out. I’m sure at the time if I’d had the opportunity to transmogrify into a tall blonde white person I would have jumped at the opportunity.
Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.
Apart from the constant ‘where are you from’ question, some of the moments that stick in my mind the most have been when I’ve found out that a couple of romantic partners have been out with a disproportionate number of Asian women before me. Or when I’ve been sexually harassed on the street and it’s almost always racialised – people calling out ‘Nihao’ or ‘love me longtime’ or just ‘you Japanese?’. I was a chubby kid and insults or bullying were also racialised – I got a version of ‘chubby Chinese’ a few times. At least get my ethnicity right!!
Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?
Not really. My dad was in Tokyo, and I grew up in Oxford mainly in a white family after my mum remarried and had two more children. I was encouraged to think of myself as white. I did try and learn Japanese whilst growing up but it was too hard to do on top of school and it made me feel more of an outsider. I regret that I didn’t learn it now, as I think it would help me claim my ‘mixedness’ more. There are loads of amazing resources out there now for parents of mixed race kids and I’d really encourage prospective parents to check them out!
What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?
I guess the stereotype that Asian women are docile and quiet. I think this leads to the common assumption if you are half-Asian, half-white that it’s your mother who is Asian and your dad is a white guy with yellow fever. That might be true for some, but not for me!
What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?
I think the experience of being mixed is really different depending on who are – whether you have a white parent or not and whether you can ‘pass’ as white, what stereotypes people put on you, where you were brought up and whether you had a community to go to that looked like you or had relatable experiences. So I don’t think the experience of being mixed is universal but I think one common theme might be the feeling of being an outsider, of being ‘othered’, no matter where you go. I recently went to a conference on being half-Japanese and it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. It was the first time in my life that I got to be in a room where everyone looked like me. It felt so relaxing and so familiar, and I think other non-mixed people can take that for granted.
Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?
It depends. There are tons of mixed race celebrities but they rarely speak about or claim their mixedness. They also tend to be the ‘right’ kind of mix that adheres to Caucasian beauty standards. I’d like to see more diversity of mixed people in the media, and more representations of interracial relationships. I don’t think the media has caught up with the real world yet.
Back in the late 19th century/early 20th century being mixed race held a stigma, as it was clear proof of interracial relations which was seen as an affront to society’s morals. Do you think it’s easier nowadays to be mixed race or is it more that racism has become subtler?
I think this hugely depends on what kind of mix you are, and what era we’re comparing it to. It’s probably harder to be of Arab descent in this country now than it has ever been. There’s also been a big spike in race related hate crime since the Brexit vote. So it might not be the 1950s but for a lot of mixed people it’s not easy right now.
Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?
Both! The blessing is being able to see things from different perspectives, and knowing that I could have turned out very differently if I had been brought up in a different environment. It’s a blessing to have that outlook, and it keeps me open-minded and curious.
Have you felt a struggle with your identity? If so, how did you deal with it and if you are now at peace with who you are, how did you come to a place of self-acceptance?
It’s something I’m still working on, but I am definitely more at peace with it now than I’ve ever been. I used to bounce between the two - identifying much more with being white when I was growing up, and then much more with being a person of colour as an adult. I’ve now realised I don’t have to choose. There is a third option I can claim – mixedness - that encompasses all my facets. I’ve come to this place through meeting and talking with other mixed people, activists and academics.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Hey Hanna - no one gets to say what you are apart from you. You should probably claim your Japanese citizenship, and learn Japanese, but even if you don’t you are still Japanese and no one gets to take that away from you. You should read When Half is Whole by Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, and The Multiracial Experience by Maria P.P Root.
Is there anything more you would like to say?
Mixed race people have a really important part to play in the current political climate, to help destroy preconceptions about race. White supremacy can’t survive if we embrace our mixedness without hierarchy, without favouring one part of ourselves over another. Mixed race people are the fastest growing ethnic minority in the country, and that really gives me hope. Soon we’ll outnumber the racists ;)