Rob Gilbert

What’s your full name?

Robert Gilbert.

How old are you?

30.

Where were you born/brought up?

Various places in England, Germany and America.

What do you do for a living?

I’m an Actor.

What’s your ethnicity?

I used to say mixed race now people seem to be saying bi-racial but none of those really feel truly accurate. My Dad is African-American and my Mum is white British.

How did your mum and dad meet?

My Dad was transporting confidential documents for the US Airforce and my mum was working at a car rental desk in an airport in Germany. He flirted with her and they exchanged numbers.

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How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?

I was aware for as long as I can remember. I always saw it as a specialness or a strength. As I got older I started to learn about how it could be used against me or the ways people would use it to limit me. I already struggled with who I should be having parents on separate continents so once I started to realize their separate cultures and races made that divide bigger it made me feel pretty alone. Now I’m glad for having been tested in that way. It’s made me stronger, wiser and more open than people around me who had a more linear or traditional experience growing up.


Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.

I had to write a speech for a family reunion on the African-American side of my family. I wanted to write about how proud I was of my Dad and acknowledge the hardships he’d gone through. This included being labeled with racial slurs. I realized I was worried about saying these words even in front of my family even though they had also been used against me. That was eye opening because it came from within me. I was aware of it even though nobody had explicitly said it to me. It made me realize there had been many small things throughout my life that had led me to that internal conclusion.

Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?

In many ways they did by teaching me that they didn’t use race to judge any person in any way. They taught me by not emphasizing race too much that it is an artificial construct and doesn’t define you. However, I probably could have used more education about racial attitudes and divides to prepare me for prejudice from both the white and black sides of my family and society.  

What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?

Comments or insinuations about not being ‘really’ black make me intellectually dismantle and shame people. It asserts that there is a set of requirements, an attitude or ethic that is ‘authentically’ black and I find that insidiously racist. Also when people feel the need to tell me that they can’t figure out ‘what I am’ like their inefficiency is somehow interesting to me or my problem. Also when people assume what I will be offended by even so far as to disagree with me about what I will find offensive. I tend to get more frustrated by ignorance from people of colour because I expect more from them in that department than I do of white people who don’t have to think about race as much as we do.

What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?

That being mixed actually gives you a broader perspective of a race because you experience more sides of the situation than them. That being plain is not a virtue.

Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?

It’s getting better but it’s a process. At the moment it can be a little ham-fisted. The show Marcella on ITV does a good job of not white-splaining a mixed family. I liked how Louis C.K. (although we now don’t like him) with the casting of the mother of his children in his show. She was light skinned black, he was white and ginger and the kids were white presenting and blonde. Nobody ever mentioned race.

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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?

It’s certainly easier than it was then. It’s still confusing and traumatizing in a way but nothing like what it would have been like then when open racism was government policy.


Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?

A blessing, for sure. It’s always better to see something from both sides than from one.

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?

I don’t think anybody is ever totally at peace with who they are. I try to see my struggle with racial and cultural identity as just a part of wrestling with figuring out my identity as a whole. I don’t let it define me in any total way. It’s just as important a part of my identity as any other. I try to remember that no matter what anybody tries to say I know my self better than they do. Nobody knows me better than I know myself but the truth is I don’t know myself that well. There is a freedom in being open to learn more.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Worry less. Do more. Stretch and exercise more, wear earplugs to gigs, call HMRC in 2009 instead of 2013.

Is there anything more you would like to say?

If any mixed-race/bi-racial/non conforming kid is reading this; you are not defined by any one characteristic. You are the whole person all of your traits come together as. You also have the power to foster or create new aspects of your personality and shape or get rid of old ones. Race doesn’t define you and neither does being mixed. To everybody else; be more open to discuss race and accept that your definition might be wrong or it might be subjective.
 

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