Richie Brave: “Somebody’s experience of being mixed doesn’t invalidate mine”
The presenter on racialised societies, mixed stereotypes and how his families have encouraged patience
Hi, welcome back to Mixed Messages! This week I’m speaking to presenter and broadcaster Richie Brave. I have had the pleasure of working with Richie for some time now and while I knew of Richie’s love for Guyanese culture, and especially Notting Hill Carnival, I was excited to delve more into how he feels about his mixedness. Read Richie’s story below.
How do you define your ethnicity?
I’m Guyanese and Burmese. My mum is mixed Burmese, Indian and white Irish, although I don’t have any contact with that Irish side.
I’ve defined myself as mixed-Black or Black since I was young. I’ve got a very specific experience growing up in South East London, which is a majority Black and West Indian area. I didn’t really see myself as any different than people who had two Black parents.
Has your sense of self been quite consistent?
I got a school report when I was about seven years old that said “Richie is very clear in his identity.” I’ve thought more about it recently. There’s a conversation at the moment about whether you’re monoracially Black, with two Black parents, and that matters to other people so I think it’s only right that I attempt to explore that. But I’ve never experienced that feeling of being too much for one group but not enough for another. Nobody’s going to tell me who I am.
Did you ever speak to your family about your mixed heritage?
It’s a conversation that’s always happening, and always a positive one. My nan on my mum’s side was very big on identity. She was the one who took me to Notting Hill Carnival. My dad sat me down when I was about six years old and said “ you’re a mix of things, but you’re Black.” That stuck with me.
Are people ever surprised by your mix?
Most people read me as Black, and when they realise I’m mixed, I get a lot of “what are you?” questions. When I worked in Ilford, a man looked at me for a while before he asked if I was Indian. He could see it in my face. Because I’m not mixed-Black and white, I’ve got a look you don’t see every day and people can’t quite place it.
Another time, I was in Starbucks and saw someone with a Burmese flag on their name badge. He asked how I knew it, and I said “because I’m Burmese.” He looked me up and down and said “well that’s weird.” I said “well Burmese people fuck Black people, and this is what happens when they do.” I think when you’re mixed with Black it’s a whole different thing because of the way anti-Blackness is set up in society.
People are also surprised when I know about things like gulab jamun, they can’t get it through their heads that this Black person in front of them is mixed with Indian. There’s something about being Black and West Indian specifically, because a lot of West Indian people are mixed anyway and we come in lots of different shades. I don't look any different to somebody born in Guyana to Guyanese parents.
Do you think there’s a stereotype of what it means to be mixed?
Yeah – there’s so many variations of what it means to be mixed. When people hear mixed-race, people automatically think of an Irish mum and Jamaican dad.
I think we need to open our minds to consider that the mixed experience is not monolithic. Our experiences and how we operate in society are going to be really different. Mixed people don’t fit into these neat categories, or they do, but people feel like they’re denying one side of themselves, so I feel like spaces for mixed people to come together and have conversations is important. Somebody else’s experience of being mixed doesn’t invalidate mine, and vice versa.
What’s the best thing about being mixed?
Family, food and the ability to experience so many different things. Both sides of my family get on so well with each other and it’s given me unbridled love, plus the ability to have patience with other people's experiences.
Can you sum up your mixed experience in a word?
Listen to 1Xtra Talks with Richie on BBC 1Xtra, Sundays 9-10pm. Next week I’ll be talking to author Kyle Lucia Wu. Subscribe to get Mixed Messages in your inbox on Monday.
Enjoy Mixed Messages? Support me on Ko-Fi! Your donations, which can start from £3, help me pay for the transcription software needed to keep this newsletter weekly, as well as special treats for subscribers.
Mixed Messages is a weekly exploration of the mixed-race experience, from me, Isabella Silvers. My mom is Punjabi (by way of East Africa) and my dad is white British, but finding my place between these two cultures hasn’t always been easy. That’s why I started Mixed Messages, where each week I’ll speak to a prominent mixed voice to delve into what it really feels like to be mixed.