‘Where are you really from?’: Mixed race students on their experiences at King’s

I’m tired of explaining who I am to white people

During my time at King’s, my race has become a source of curiosity wherever I go.  People are always dying to ask, “Where are you really from?”. Despite being an English Literature student who has lived in London my whole life, I’m still congratulated by white students on how good my English is. And if I’m not being praised for speaking my native language well, I’m told that I “look exotic” or that I’m”ethnically ambiguous”.

I spoke to other students about their experiences of being mixed race at King’s:

‘There are no black people on my course’

Maya* is a third-year liberal arts student of South Asian and European origin. She says “there are hardly any POC on my course… most of them are white-European.” She admits that she feels she is “only accepted because I’m white-passing, but as soon as I bring up my culture I start to feel unwelcome.” Additionally, Maya claims “most microaggressions are from fellow students. Teaching staff are far more sensitive.” 

Maya attributes this “lack of cultural awareness” to the “culturally and socially homogenous schools” that many of her coursemates attended. She believes that for many students “this may be the first time they’ve met a mixed-race person.” She also says “I’ve been told I’m not a POC because I look white.” Whilst Maya accepts that these micro-aggressions are “a product of a lack of anti-racism education”, she still questions “who raised them to think it was ok to say things like that to someone.” 

Rachel*, a third-year English student of Korean and Hispanic descent, has also experienced this cultural insensitivity. She recounts an experience during Freshers where people were stating where they had moved from. Rachel says: “I said California, and a man acted clearly perplexed and asked the old-time question, ‘Where are you really from?’” She says “Considering no one else in the group was asked about this, I felt quite isolated.” 

‘I am in the least diverse educational setting I have ever been in’

On the one hand, Maya applauds her course for having “one of the most inclusive reading lists and prerogatives”. However, she still feels that these attempts to decolonize the curriculum “don’t make up for the lack of scholarly representation of POC.” In fact, Maya says “I don’t think I have ever read something by a mixed-race writer knowingly” and that “discussions of mixedness rarely feature in our seminars.”

Similarly, Rachel says “there have been few instances where the English curriculum has included mixed-race scholars and their perspectives”. She has noticed “much of the discussion exists in a binary between a Western/European white author and a POC author.” 

‘It’s frustrating when my friends colonise my culture’

Additionally, Maya tells us that her middle-class white friends love cooking Middle Eastern and South Asian food as they find it “exotic and mildly exciting.” She says “I once sent a picture to my friends of my Mum cooking dahl and one of the girls questioned whether it was as good as a famous white chef’s recipe.” 

Although Maya realises that this girl was not being intentionally racist, she still finds it “incredibly offensive comparing a family’s cultural staple to some middle-class white lady’s recipe.” She also says “I felt like they were colonising my culture. Since when did it have to become a competition between cultures?” 

‘I feel ‘too white’ to be accepted by my other cultures’

Equally, Maya also struggles with ” the unique complexities of what it means to have intersecting cultural identities.” As a “white-passing” student, Maya tells us “I often feel I don’t belong either when I’m around South Asian students.” Similarly, Rachel* also feels on the periphery when around fellow Korean and Hispanic students. Although she explains it is through no fault of their own, Rachel still feels “I’m seen as ‘too white’ to be fully accepted.” 

Rachel continues to tell us “as mixed-race students we often feel in this “limbo” between different cultures.” Ultimately, she argues “it is essential that there is more inclusion of students who feel on the periphery in both white, and ethnic, spaces.”

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A King’s College London spokesperson said: “We are proud of our diverse community and remain committed to creating an inclusive environment and to embracing the true power that diversity represents. Addressing issues of race and fighting racism and racial inequality are central to the university’s mission, and to our ability to continue to provide world-leading academic, educational and research excellence. “
“We continue to work on a number of projects and planned work to tackle racial prejudice and racism, including tackling microagressions, which we recognise in our Race Equality Charter Action Plan as one of four stubborn issues for race equality. We have outlined key steps we will take to support students to identify, challenge and report micro-aggressive behaviours.”
“We remain committed to embedding teaching approaches which build more inclusive learning environments and improve levels of student participation and engagement in their learning, such as the internationalisation and decolonisation of the curriculum and our Inclusive Education Partners Programme. Building on the insights from over 50 conversations between students and their peers we are also working on projects to support the closing of attainment gaps.”

“We, like our peers across all sectors must fight against racism and the ignorance, intolerance and apathy that allows it to continue and ensure that everyone is supported to thrive while serving society and making the world a better place. Students can also access a range of peer to peer networks, wellbeing and counselling services. We actively encourage any King’s student with concerns regarding racism, discrimination or inappropriate behaviour to report it so that we can support them.”

*Some names have been changed

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