What’s your full name?
Amani Zarrin Saeed.
How old are you?
Where were you born/brought up?
I was born in London and raised in the US.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a spoken word artist.
What’s your ethnicity?
I’m mixed Indian/Iraqi.
How did your mum and dad meet?
They met in a completely boring way: at work. He was apparently the one all the women in the office fancied, but he was also known for being a jerk. He took an interest in my mum (who was, and still is, fabulous, funny, and beautiful) and cleaned up his act. It’s a bit Bollywood, really.
How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?
To be honest, it wasn’t until I moved to England and started university in mostly-white Exeter that I realised I was different. My high school was so ‘diverse’ that it was majority Asian and I look brown, so I never felt the stigma of being a minority. Finding out that I was different was an isolating and crushing experience, and I still feel incredibly angry that I’m made to feel like an outsider for having brown skin. However, in a weird way, being made to feel different in England made me start to scrutinise how much I feel like a native everywhere else. Being mixed race can absolutely have its advantages, if not privileges. People tend to feel more comfortable around people who look like them; because you look like you could be from a lot of places, people naturally see themselves in you and gravitate toward you. And even when you discover you’re not ethnically the same, you’ve already got the ‘in’—you’ve made a connection, even a friend.
Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.
There hasn’t been one memorable moment, really. It’s just been the cumulative pile-up of people trying to guess where I’m from—there’s been everything, Latina, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese (?!), every country in South Asia, part white. At some point in the guessing game, I clocked I was an ethic mess.
Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?
Not really. It never came up in conversation.
What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?
That mixed-race people will solve racism. It just isn’t true. Until white supremacy is no longer a viable ideology, people who have any kind of colour in them will always be eschewed in this country.
What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?
That not all of our babies will be cute.
Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?
I think we’re getting better at it. I can choose not to watch or engage with things that don’t represent a diversity of appearances, and it’s no longer acceptable for advertisers to only show conventionally attractive, thin white women. I’m so tired of watching white people play across my screen like they represent me. We have options now—I can watch House of Cards, or I can watch Sense8, you know?
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 it’s easier to be mixed race now than it was 50 years ago, although I think it’s about to get difficult again. With the advent of Brexit, racists are getting emboldened, and this country is getting more xenophobic. Times Magazine ran that piece, what will we look like in 2050, and while the piece was positive of being mixed-race, I personally felt like these kinds of articles signal anxiety and a fear of change. We notice when the status quo is shifting; and if people are afraid enough of that, they take extreme steps to change that. The extreme far right take interracial relationships and mixed children as a sign of white genocide (I KNOW) because we’re ‘diluting’ the ‘white race’. I’m personally scared of what’s around the corner for people who have any visible ethnic minority heritage in the UK.
Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?
Both. It’s a blessing and a burden to look like you fit everywhere, but sometimes feel like you belong nowhere. You get a shallow connection with many, but a deep connection with only a few.
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?
My mixed identity blends quite seamlessly. The South Asia and the Middle East share a common major religion and have heavily influenced each other throughout history, so I haven’t had much to reconcile culturally. Because of this, I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never felt I’ve had to pick a side or struggle to bring together the parts of my ethnic identity. Where I do feel friction is when my identity is pitted against whiteness. Then it’s about being a coconut, or not knowing my mother tongue, or being able to cook my food, or being ‘too Western.’ This is frustrating because I subscribe to Paul Gilroy’s idea of roots v routes, or of embracing your hybridity rather than longing to rewind a cassette tape and return to an identity, a home, that isn’t really yours. It’s nostalgia for a different generation, a different time, and I’d prefer to live in the here and now. I don’t have another choice.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t be ashamed of being loud. You have a lot to say, so say it boldly, because you and your words matter.