Mixed race character and feeling disconnected from your own culture
So I’m writing a fantasy story in which one of the main characters is mixed race. She lives with her (white) mother in a setting based largely off of northern european culture, as that was where her mother lived and her parents met. Her father (presumably black,arab or indian equivalent) had travelled up to this area from the south (which is based more off northern africa or southern asia and the middle-east). As he was a traveller, he didn’t stay long, so no one really knows who he was.
Because of where she grew up, she connects more with the predominantly white culture of her homeland. However, she also recognises that she is culturally different to her peers and experiences discrimination. I was wondering how I could describe the connection she feels with her mother’s race but still keep the alienation she feels because of her father’s?
Alright, so this feels somewhat relatable to me, so I’m going to answer this from my own personal point of view. It doesn’t have to be the same for everyone.
First of all, it sounds like you have the absent black father trope in here. You can find more about this trope in our tags, but to put it shortly, it’s a harmful stereotype of Black people being bad parents who abandon their own children. We’d like to see that stereotype gone.
As to your character’s feelings for their culture and heritage. If she doesn’t know her father, meaning he hasn’t played a part in her upbringing, how is she culturally different? What other culture has entered her life and how? From your wording, it also seems like you’re confusing race and culture, while they’re not the same thing.
Growing up as a Black mixed race, non-white passing person in a predominantly white setting and culture, can really give one mixed feelings about their culture and belonging as well. Like growing up like the outcast amongst your own people and everyone knows it, but no one talks about it. Like sometimes forgetting you’re different until the micro-aggressions hit like a slap in the face. Like feeling an ever-present but passive disconnect from the only culture you really know, because even the cultures you’re connected with through family members doesn’t feel like it fits as best as you feel it should. It’s feeling part of your culture only when you’re with people outside of that culture, then completely losing your sense of belonging once you’re surrounded by people of your own.
It’s getting weirded out by national pride. It’s internalized biases and always having to prove yourself. It’s days of completely rejecting your culture while others you force yourself between narrow lines and definitions just to feel a part of something. It’s using mocking humour and racist jokes just so you don’t have to hear them from others and seeming less threatening and “uppity”.
It’s being the exotic other in your own home. It’s not always knowing what to think or feel. It’s being mistaken for a foreigner, while white foreigners are treated like family. It’s people, friends,as well as strangers being biased and discriminative, racist even right to your face because they think you’re cool with it. It’s being “one of them” so they can use you to excuse their xenophobic and racist ideas and opinions. It’s being called a “tropical beauty” but not suitable to bring home to their parents. It’s in so many little, but important things.
Describing a complicated and nuanced situation like that is extremely hard if you’re not doing it from experience, which is why we always advise stories like these to be written from within the community. “Outsiders” have little ways to really understand the fine parts of these sorts of experiences and can easily by mistake pepper their stories with tired stereotypes because they aren’t aware of them. These are often also pretty personal.
Assuming this will be a minor detail instead of part of the plot, you could describe your characters connection with their culture with nuanced and mixed feelings towards things related to their culture. Have them search for a sense of belonging, possibly struggling to find it. It’s hard to give any clear or pointed advice here, because of the nuance, complex and personal nature of this, so the only other thing I can say is ask appropriate beta-readers to find the appropriate reactions to specific situations in your story or leave the cultural (dis)connect out of your story and for someone who can write from experience.
~ Mod Alice