|Mixed Race Britannia: Now (episode 3 of 3): 1965-2011
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
The final installment of Mixed Race Britannia, presented by George Alagiah, aired last Thursday. I couldn’t watch it then, so I viewed it on iPlayer. My notes from the first and second episodes are here and here.
Opens at London’s docklands in the 1920s. Reminder that mixed children at the time were viewed as exotic and mysterious, but also morally corrupt. Connie Fu introduces the four generations of her mixed race family. The difficulties of mixed race people finding acceptance in each of their cultures. Dependence on colour mentioned.
Pamela Uddin talks about meeting her Bangladeshi husband for the first time. Their first date – an Indian movie called Sandam. Shaffiq Uddin smiles smugly as his wife recalls she couldn’t understand a word of it but didn’t care because she was with him. He was part of a wave of South Asian immigrants in the 1960s to London. Racial tension becoming a problem. Brick Lane a hunting ground for the far right (National Front) in the 1970s. Shaffiq’s Wimpy bar was on the front line of clashes in East London. He served the skinheads. Told them if they didn’t cause problems inside, they were welcome to sit and eat. (Don’t think I could have been that generous.) Pamela & Shaffiq experienced discrimination – kept their relationship secret at first. Pamela told her parents. Mother supportive, father not. (This seems to be a recurring theme. What is it with dudes?!) Father refused to attend the wedding in Brick Lane mosque. Pamela confronted him when she was pregnant, giving him an ultimatum: either become a granddad or give up your daughter too. Eventually, she won out. She gets emotional talking about it.
Discussion of adoption policy. Rosie Walter, mixed-race child, spent 16 years living in care homes. She was the natural child of a white woman, married to a white man, who had an affair with a black man. In 1958, survey showed 71% of British people disapproved of mixed relationships. Rosie’s mother Gladys moved out of her marital home and went to live alone in London – split with both husband and lover. Rosie knows her mum. Gladys asked her sister if she & Rosie could live with her. Gladys could, but not Rosie. So she gave Rosie up for adoption. No places in London – she had to be moved to Swansea where she was put into care until she was an adult. Couldn’t find comfort with white or black families.
Lots of mixed-race children in care in the 1960s. Not many couples prepared to adopt or foster mixed-race kids. Duke & Duchess of Richmond had three children, then decided to adopt mixed-race children in the early in the 1960s. They wanted to adopt children that wouldn’t have had much of a chance otherwise. Nimmy March, one of the adopted children, speaks. Once again, Duchess’ father against the idea. Sigh. Mother didn’t care. Father softened immediately on sight of adorable brown babies. Duchess talks about receiving threatening letters. Nimmy remembers them trying to figure out how to comb her hair! Her adoptive parents didn’t know about afro combs.
1970s: avant garde Britain, attracting musicians, actors and artists. Bucking the traditions about everything, including what race partners should be. John Lennon & Yoko Ono. Footage of a white woman telling a mixed couple that she thinks their children will cause a lot of tension and trouble in their lives. Young black woman says she thinks her husband is intelligent enough to accept their child whatever colour it is!
1970s television show Mixed Blessings showing a young mixed couple (white man, black woman) who have just been married. The stereotypes were obvious and the show itself was meant to be light-hearted and humorous. Though it looks cliched now, at the time it was groundbreaking.
The rise of the black power movement. Angela Davis, black American athletes in the 1968 Olympics. Be black, be proud. What about mixed-race people? Found themselves in no-man’s-land. John Conteh, boxer, world light-heavyweight champion in 1970s. Father from Sierra Leone, mother Anglo-Irish. Interviewer: “Do you think of yourself as a black family rather than a white family or a mixed or coloured family?” Conteh: “Speaking for meself, I just regard meself as meself and as a person of the world and as a human being. Not black, white, blue, pink, anything. Just me.”
Dr Chamion Caballero talks about half-caste as a term used in 1970s. The idea of mixed identity not yet a definition – either “white” or “not white”.
Adoption again. Should mixed race children be fostered by white families? Home Office gave an official view in 1970: mixed race children could be adopted by families of any colour. Judith Logan was adopted at the age of two (mixed Afro-Caribbean and white) by a white Scottish family. She says childhood happy because family sheltered her from a lot – but the small town in the Highlands where she grew up was completely white. She was isolated. Secondary school a nightmare. Name-calling and bullying. Teachers didn’t help. Though her family tried to support her, she felt they couldn’t understand what it was like for her because “white people don’t tend to get called niggers.”
Worry that mixed race children were being deprived of their complete cultural experience if adopted into white families. Most transracial adoptions believed to be successful. However, the idea that mixed race children were growing up identifying as white in all but skin colour outraged some people. David Devine, social worker, speaking in 1985 – mixed race children need to be prepared to cope with a fundamentally racist society. Interviewer: Isn’t that a self-fulfilling prophecy? Devine argues that children must be taught to survive with the current environment.
Judith Logan again. Wanted to fit in as a child. At least to have one black parent. Racism experienced in childhood led to low self esteem as an adult.
Clement Cooper, photographer. Puzzled by racial tensions in his Moss-side, Manchester street when he was a child. Who did he side with? As he grew up, began to identify as black. Photography exhibition of intimate portraits of people in his neighbourhood. Group of black youths had removed some of his photos of the young men from the youth club. He asked for them back. They refused, abusing him – half-caste, half-breed. Was physically assaulted. Family threatened. How do you defend against aggression against your being, your identity? Clement went to Jamaica to see if he could find acceptance. He couldn’t. Returned to England & went to Liverpool. Discovered a vibrant, populous community of mixed race people. While he’s speaking, can see how much that meant to him.
Home Office rescinded previous view about mixed race children. They should be adopted by mixed race or non-white families. Unfortunately, this ended up with many mixed race children ending up in care because not enough mixed race couples ready to adopt. Julie & Mike DeSouza, a mixed race couple, speak about not being approved for adoption of a mixed race child by Bernardo’s. Mike himself mixed race – Chinese/Portuguese/Afro-Carribea. Also, they had already had two children. The family deemed in need of extra training. They went through a year of a racial aweareness course (!!!!) – and then were rejected again. By a panel of almost entirely white people. Story made the national news. Coincided with the 1997 election – Britain’s first mixed race MPs.
Paul Boateng, who is mixed race, speaks about being brought up as a young black African male. Mostly it seems for his family that this was a matter of defence against racists, who don’t care about mixed identity, only when skin colour isn’t white. He thinks children need to be brought up with enough self -worth to cope with a world that might discriminate against them. But any colour parents can succeed (or fail) at this. Paul Boateng decided to change again the view on adoption of mixed race because he believes that the state is a pretty bad parent. Mixed race children are still 8% of those in care, even though mixed race people are only 3% of the population.
The DeSouzas went though a different organisation (Hackney council) to try and adopt again. Success.
The UK’s minority population still growing and evolving, many of them refugees from world conflicts. Bosnian, Congolese, Vietnamese, Somali. Attitudes toward mixed race people changing. In a survey in the 1990s, 10% of Britons said they were against mixed race relationships. Dr Chamion Caballero speaks again. Perception altered over the decades from the 1950s to 1990s that it’s normal to have people of different races living together, and abnormal to be racist. High profile mixed relationships. David Bowie & Iman. Crickter Imran Khan & Jemima Goldsmith. Princess Diana & Dodi Al-Fayed. Not just radical hippie musician types bucking the trends any more.
Self-imposed isolation of some immigrant communities reluctant to mix, even now. Film, Bhaji on the Beach, showing an Indian girl in a relationship with a black man, caused outrage among Indians. Young Indian (Punjabi Sikh) man, Jaspreet Singh Panglea speaks about how if his one of his sisters had brought home a black boyfriend, he would have opposed it. (I repeat, what is it with dudes?! JEEZ.) He assumed he would marry an Indian girl. Oh how we chuckled when the camera panned to his stunning wife, Primrose Kaur Panglea, who is Zimbabwean. Funnily enough, his dad was immediately supportive as soon as he was told Jaspreet had proposed to Primrose. (Redeem one for the dudes!) Primrose speaks – they’re expecting, and hope that the baby will bring round members of family that were opposed.
Rosie Walter again. Moved from Swansea to Stockwell, London. She says, “I was 31 years old when I was finally able to stand up and say, ‘I am a black woman of mixed parentage.’” (I relate so much to this feeling. Hello, sympathetic tears.) She ticks one of the “mixed multiple ethnic groups” boxes on the census form. “You’re official,” says George Alagiah. She agrees. “At last. It’s been a long time coming.”
This census has shattered the idea that mixed race people are mostly of working class or deprived backgrounds. Plenty of mixed race people are middle class (hi!) and not living in urban environments.
Back at Limehouse docks. Mixed race people as their own ethnic identity. (Oh, ♥) 2001 census: 500,000. Estimated 2011 census: 1,000,000. George Alagiah invited the people who appeared in the programme to come together and meet. Happy scenes of people of all colours and ages chatting. (This is setting me off again. *honk*)
Conclusion of the series: The famed pragmatism of British people (“Oh sit down & have a cup of tea, love.”) has thus far largely won out over rabid racism and xenophobia. George Alagiah clearly thinks it’s likely to continue to do so as Britain becomes more racially diverse.
I was left wondering why it seemed that, in cases where one parent was opposed to a mixed marriage, it was usually the father, while mothers were mostly quite sanguine. Possibly this was the effect of Alagiah’s choice of interviewees? The ones who weren’t adoptive children were largely in long-lasting mixed marriages. Or is there some weird psychological thing about wanting grandchildren that obviously resemble you?
I should have liked it if the series had covered more mixed communities in the UK. It seemed mostly to be focused on Liverpool and London - places which have a long history of successful integration. But surely there are stories to be told - perhaps ones in which racial integration has foundered - about Bradford, Sheffield, Birmingham and Manchester. There were hints of this in Clement Cooper’s story. I suspect this might have spoiled the rather rosy conclusions of the programme.