Why I shared my story for the Mixedracefaces project
By Banseka Kayembe, Creator and Editor in Chief of Naked Politics
Like many mixed race people, being in a binary world often isn’t easy; navigating multiple heritages whilst society tried forces you to choose which box you really fit into can be confusing, frustrating and tricky. It’s something even your own parents can struggle to understand. But since last year, a new platform called Mixedracefaces has been giving a voice to mixed race people, including me and giving them a unique experience of exploring their identity with other people like them.
Photographer Tenee Attoh began taking pictures of mixed race people in Peckham, South East London and collecting each person’s story, interviewed about their experiences being mixed race. Her inspiration for kickstarting Mixed Race Faces was to honour her late mother Rienkje Zoet who was Dutch and married her Ghanaian father Fred Attoh at a time when mixed race relationships were not generally accepted. Tenee says the platform is a “tribute to my mother, who was brave enough to break down these cultural barriers. Now it’s time we celebrated the mixed generations that are a product of previous generations’s adversity”.
The platform, also co-run by Tenee’s son Solon and his wife Rachael, has continued to grow, documenting a wide range of mixed people’s stories globally. The stories are hosted on their website and posted on their social media platforms @mixedracefaces. Each person’s story is unique, but there are often huge similarities. Many end up identifying more strongly with one culture than the other, or find that some family members don’t approve. Being half Congolese African and half Punjabi Indian I always struggled to identify as both, particularly as most people viewed me as a black woman only. This was reinforced by being told as an adult that my Indian mother’s father had never accepted their relationship because of my father’s race. The experience of embracing my mixed heritage through Mixedracefaces really helped me embrace and celebrate my identity.
The project has grown quickly, with hundreds of stories documented so far. They have also done the same in Amsterdam, finding mixed people in the city and helping them tell their story. Last week they held their first exhibition, showcasing Chapter 1 of their beautiful collection of photographs, each accompanied with a unique story and well over 200 people in attendance. Explaining why they chose to exhibit the images rather than just online, Tenee says “ this exhibition is very important for everyone as it provides insight into the lives of mixed race people visually. It also allows the community and all people of different races, sexualities, ages, religions and genders to attend and connect in person and be inspired and empowered”.
And the exhibition they created is extremely impactful. Using space in Copeland Park & Bussey Building, it’s deliberately minimalist, stripped back and simple so the authenticity and realness of the images really stands out. It’s possible to find a thread or common theme running through most of the stories, but each one is also wonderfully unique.
The platform has also made the important move of working with organisations, rather than just at an individual level. They have collaborated with The Institute of Cancer Research and Oxford University, giving mixed race people a platform to speak in their own workplace. The University is hoping this collaboration can be a stepping stone towards diversifying and will “empower mixed heritage students at Oxford and foster a community where they can safely share their own opinions, experiences and stories”.
I’ll have the challenge of helping the platform do the same in the UK Parliament, my place of work and a notoriously stuffy, slow-moving institution. An internal report recently found that BAME staff in Parliament feel that their competency and seniority is often questioned and that overt racist behaviour is not unknown. Within the last year there has also been formal investigations into bullying and harassment reported on a significant scale, some of it with a racial element. With this backdrop it’s extremely important that Parliament actively recognises its minority staff and empowers them to tell their story and feel proud of their cultural heritage in the context of their workplace.
And what next? Mixedracefaces want to do more exhibitions, more international work and more collaborations with organisations. Mixedracefaces says “we live in a world based around social media, where there is a keen appetite to connect with people faster and in a different way. When reading about people’s stories in their own words, you can easily relate to them regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion or age”. The platform aims to keep growing, continuing to create a celebratory space for mixed race people, one story at a time.