Happy Days in Mixed Britannia

“Mixed-race children make up one of the fastest growing ethnic minorities in the UK”

–       George Alagiah, Mixed Britannia

That is a heavily loaded sentence with many assumptions; let’s break it down George.

‘Mixed-race’ is something of a dodgy term to say the least.  To me it sounds like ‘a mixing of species’ rather than loving relationships between people.  The traditions of the terminology make this clearer: Australoid, Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid.  In more everyday racism, these categories probably equate to something like chavs, chinks, natives and niggers, not people and inferior.  Some people try to be more considerate and talk about ‘cultures’ rather than ‘race’, all they are really doing is alluding to a taught racism.  ‘Genomics’ (genetics since the mapping of DNA) continues the ‘race’ debate scientifically acknowledging that there is a socially constructed basis but insisting that the 0.01% of DNA relating to skin colour can contain all the difference imaginable due to ‘bio-geographical ancestry groups’.  ‘Bio-geographical ancestry groups’ are categorised as Africans, Asians, Europeans… hold on I’ve heard this one before, haven’t I Sir Francis (founder of eugenics) Galton!  But ‘bio-geographical ancestry groupings’ have proven to be unreliable, bringing out similarities between ‘races’ rather than historical realities.  As biology proves there is often more in common amongst the mythological categories of ‘race’ than between them.  Just as ‘race’ is socially constructed so too is ‘mixed-race’.

Rather than enabling those not conforming to the tick boxes of statistical analysis to perhaps become a metaphor for the multicultural experience we all share, George encourages a neat label complete with tagline; ‘the fastest growing ethnic minority’.  Those of the civil rights movement such as Walter Rodney, Malcolm X and Stokeley Carmichael recognised that the power system decides who is ‘white’ and who is not (generally if you can trace both parents ancestors back to Western Europe you are accepted as ‘white’).  George is part of that power system, of course he is, rather than investigate how these particular people experience the world and define themselves he sets the framework and marches them into a tick box.  George the narrator could have taken a back seat and asked more open-ended questions in the hope of discovery instead of searching for a sense of comfort.  And how very comforting it was; the parents of these minorities helped us maintain our colonial power over global trade and helped us win the war; God Save The Queen!  Again Walter Rodney predicted that a non-white selected elite would help dominate the ‘natives’ in the UK and in the former colonies, and he was right, wasn’t he George?  We can see it in our councils, our ‘race development officers’, our police forces, parliament and the former colonies.

Tick boxes deny the diversity of experiences people go through, simplifying an entire lifecycle to something altogether alien.  In middle school I hung out with children whose parents were first generation migrants from India and Pakistan, we played at the Adventure Playground and ate together.  I did not see myself as any different.  At secondary school I hung out with ‘white’ boys from another area altogether, we played sports and ate in each other’s houses.  I didn’t see myself as any different.  As I left school I started hanging out with some boys whose parents were second generation migrants from the West Indies, like two of my grandparents; we played much basketball together and ate in each other’s homes.  Again I didn’t see myself as any different.  I’ve worked a variety of jobs, from those that needed little training to those in professional settings, I’ve completed two degrees and in no environment did I understand myself as significantly different from anyone else.  I learned from these experiences that not only are we all so similar but we all share a capacity for racism and can challenge ourselves both subtly and explicitly.  I’m not the only person that can negotiate social barriers, there are similar comments from people in Mixed Britannia but these are never expanded upon.  All this reminds me of Janie in Zora Heale Hurston’s 1930’s banned black feminist novel, Their eyes were watching God, who didn’t realise she was different from the ‘white’ children until she was photographed at the age of six.  She exclaims, “Aw, aw!  Ah’m coloured!”

There are some very beautiful moments in the Mixed Britannia series and archive the footage is a pleasure to see.  Likewise some of the historical details teach us much.  The second episode was stronger than the first but George has already given the impression that everything is gravy today.  Hence he will totally miss the issue of class difference and concentrate seemingly exclusively on the middle classes, or it’s aspirants.  Similarly he appeases the notion of the nuclear family; those that are not otherwise would be in ‘happy’ families if it were not due to external factors far beyond their control.  All this is perhaps summed up best when George hails D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms as a marker of changing views, forgetting Griffith’s other film Birth of a Nation that holds the Ku Klux Klan as heroes.  But the common thread running throughout is the familiar question, “Where do you come from?  Where do you really come from?”  As if I cannot be from England because I have a different skin tone.  I must not have the similar problems and joys as ‘white’ people, I must be a ‘minority’.



Rebellious? Media Conference

The organisers and the performers deserve to be congratulated for putting on this long overdue event because the line up commanded attention depsite nobody taking a fee.  Orginally it was to be named ‘Radical Media Conference’ but due to technicalities the event was renamed ‘rebellious’.  Either way there were few moments of radicalism or rebelliousness, although there were indications and moments towards such adjectives; and this is not me simply wishing for more.  As has proven true in other cases the smaller workshops were always going to be a lot better than the massive plenaries when the opportunity for fringe events was missed to make way for the ‘Almighty Chomsky & Albert Show’.  In the opening plenary there was much mutual masturbation by the duo and little on the media.  Bad organisation also contributed to this becoming comical as the duo couldn’t hear the audience but attempted to an answer along a theme they half imagined.  I was happy to get out of the hall and get into the workshops.

I attended the ‘Mind the Gap’ workshop which was about how to fill the gap left by the corporate media. The workshop made it clear to me that the paramount concern of the conference was to network with like-minded media people. In hindsight this workshop was perhaps a bad choice on my side; I found little room for ideas that I wanted to contribute and a general belief that the way forward was to centralise alternative media and seemingly to mirror the existing mainstream. These are not the ways forward I seek to engage because if the internet has taught me anything it’s that accessing original, different and diverse sources is an irresistible benefit. Despite this the session did reveal a few publications that I want to look into further including the Manchester Mule and the Salford Star. For the final seminar of the day I attended the feminism forum organised by The F-Word. The all-female panel seemed quite a good mix of educated and middle class perspectives from southern England.  I also appreciated the brief discussion on the role of males in feminist thought and action; I felt Laurie Penny almost hit a nail on the head when she said all-female spaces really are a red-herring.  Indeed if all-women spaces can be valuable than so too can all-male spaces, highlighting that it is not such spaces in themselves that are useful but their purpose and meaning.  During this session I had a phone-call from a female friend in Indonesia who once said to me, “I ain’t no fucking feminist, all they do is write and discuss theory.  I am taking action.”  This fits nicely with Laurie Penny’s acknowledgement that those who write about feminism often represent the ‘hive vagina’.  I would’ve liked to have heard some recognition of the return to biological determinism within the corporate media but again there were a number of links worth following up.

On Sunday I went to the forum on alternative voices from ‘the riots’ this was a focused and well organised session; probably worthy of the trip in itself.  A number of young people talked about their experiences of the riots, their interpretations of mainstream media as well as their analysis of the causes.  They expressed themselves in a variety of ways, including using video and poetry.  This was the ‘rebellious media’ I was looking for, not mirroring the current inadequacies but finding common ground with others and allowing their own expression to be the media.  Concerns of those close to events were raised, not mediated through some elite journalist with a decontextualised catchphrase.  This is what a radical media conference should look like as voices from the heart of relevant issues command centre stage while networking and organising follow.  I didn’t need to hear the repeated words of Chomsky and the fantastical theories of Michael Albert, they did say some better things in the final plenary but it wasn’t essential for me.

Some more mutual masturbation occurred in the final plenary, this time with some crowd participation, as people hailed a ‘successful’ and ‘nice’ conference.  When venues for events like this consistently take place in universities and Friends Meeting Houses friendly middle class voices will continue to dominate, whether they come from men or women, white or non-white.  I would love to see these events take place in community centres and to stop panels of academics and professionals dominating affairs.  Mix it up from the status quo and place academics and professionals alongside the youths of the riots and black feminists.  Neither do we need American dominance taking main stage; the UK has a wealth of expertise with greater analytical depth that is directly relevant (as Chomsky acknowledged).  Regardless of my opinion, most obviously there were two things missing from this ‘Rebellious Media Conference’; representatives from Wikileaks and Anonymous. I never even heard these two groups mentioned in passing and wondered if I was missing some aspect of alternative media politricks that served to exclude them.  Anonymous and Wikileaks have had a massive impact in the relatively short time that they have been around, and certainly fill the ‘rebellious’ quality.

Of course if my name was Noam Chomsky or Michael Albert I’m sure my criticism would be consumed much more easily or even swallowed whole.  Thankfully I do not wish this; I prefer the idea of ‘critecon’ (promoting a far more diverse critical economy).


A few groups worth checking;