Academia and the Identity of Mixed-Race Women

I am a 35-year old mixed race woman (Black Jamaican, Nigerian and White British), born and living in Leeds, Yorkshire the UK and I recently completed a counselling diploma. As part of the work I had to do to achieve my diploma I had to do a great deal of work around examining my racial and cultural identity. It was also part of the course requirements that I had to do 20 hours of personal counselling.

I didn’t know it when I started the diploma but I had a massive amount of work that I needed to do around exploring my identity as a mixed race woman. This emerged when I started my personal counselling. I began to realise I had a lot of unresolved feelings around past experiences of racism and the lack of understanding and acknowledgement I had met as a mixed race female. I also needed to look at issues to do with race within my family as well as ancestral baggage. It was extremely difficult, however, for me to find an appropriate counsellor to work with. Prior to starting the counselling it hadn’t really occurred to me that it may be difficult for me to have my counselling needs met if I needed to discuss being mixed race in any detail. My experience (and this includes working with both a white and black counsellor) was that my counsellors really struggled to work with me. My first counsellor defended against hearing my experiences of racism and the second had his own ideas about how I should see myself as a mixed race person which were incompatible with my own views. So after two abortive attempts at counselling I decided to help myself and went away and did a significant amount of reading on mixed race identity. Most of this was academic research from the U.S as research in the U.K on the mixed race population is incredibly thin on the ground. Worryingly there has only actually been one UK academic paper published on mixed race identity and counselling and this was published in 2014!

The reading I did on mixed race research from the U.S was enormously helpful to me. I found quite a lot of it fairly easily online but I did have to buy some books which were often very expensive and in some cases hard to get copies of. The research was somewhat limited in that being mixed race in the UK is obviously different to being mixed race in the US due to different political landscapes and histories. Slavery is much more tangible in the US and this significantly influences perceptions of race there. The UK’s history of slavery and colonialization still massively impacts thoughts around race here but has some different implications for UK Britons of colour. I still found the US research helpful, however, and I did manage to find enough literature on race and cultural issues in general in the UK to receive positive benefits.

Armed with more understanding of myself from the reading I had done I went back into counselling and managed to find a counsellor who did have some specific understanding of mixed race identity. I was able to do some good work on my identity with her.

It feels important to point out though that for counsellors in the UK there is no specific requirement for them to demonstrate any meaningful level of competency or knowledge about working with the mixed race population or working with racial issues in general. My own negative experiences in counselling are certainly not unique and it is widely acknowledged that counsellor training is falling short in preparing counsellors to work competently in this area. I would recommend anyone reading this who is considering counselling around racial issues does their homework regarding their counsellor’s level of skill and comfortability when it comes to the topics of race and culture.

Without the help of reading academic texts on mixed race identity I think my understanding of myself would realistically not have advanced as far as it did. It was crucial for me in developing a fuller understanding of myself as a woman of colour as was my increasing interest in intersectional feminism. Particularly I would say academic research helped me to see my experiences were completely normal and were experienced by many women. The research also gave me ideas about how I could improve my self-esteem and my life.

The problem I would highlight is that reading academic texts can be challenging at times, even for people who have the privilege of a university education. I feel very aware that the mixed race population in the UK will more than likely be deprived of the benefits of academic texts, which would serve them because they are not readily available, not always easy to read and also specifically UK research on mixed race identity is minimal anyway. It takes dedication to commit to searching for appropriate texts.

The answer seems to be that mixed race people urgently need to be more represented in UK social policy and mental health experts need to do the groundwork of converting academic texts on mixed race identity into their practice. We are in a quandary though as for this to happen more academic research on mixed race identity is needed in the UK in the first place. The future for the mixed race population is currently not looking very bright in my opinion where academia is concerned.

The mixed race population is a rapidly growing in Britain and is the third largest ethnic minority group.Both black and mixed race people are over-represented in prisons and the mental health care system. Mixed race people have been reported as more likely to be victims of crime. Mixed race children are the most likely to be put in care and also over-represented in youth justice and child protection systems. I think it’s fair to say right now that academia is definitely failing us.

This piece originally published at the Ain’t I A Woman Collective.

The Mixed Roots Stories team is, like Nicole, eager to see more mixed race representation in global academic discourse. Stay tuned with Mixed Roots Stories this year as we release the Mixed Roots Commons, our forthcoming online forum for invited scholars to gather around central themes and debates taking place in Critical Mixed Race Studies today. 

photoNicola Codner is 34 years old and currently training to be a person-centred counsellor in Leeds, UK. She is biracial and her heritage is White British and Black Caribbean. She has a strong interest in difference and diversity which led her into re-training as a counsellor. Prior to training as a counsellor she worked as a publisher in academic publishing. She’s keen to continue to develop my writing experience hence part of her interest in blogging. She has a degree in English Literature and Psychology.

In her spare time, she loves reading, music, art, theatre, traveling and cinema