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’.


One thought on “Happy Days in Mixed Britannia

  1. You very correctly challenge the definitions of race here. It is difficult to discuss these issues without using language which doesn’t accurately reflect reality. We almost need new language to acknowledge the superficiality of “race”. In defence of this programme it was I think aimed at a wide audience and did a good job of calmly introducing some historical perspective. I agree that that it is vital that the impression is not given that at some point racism vanished into thin air. It remains to be seen how the present is covered.

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