Black and white and proud of it

Social ostracism, apartheid, even lynching hasn't stopped sexual attraction across races

SOME YEARS ago I went into a nursery school to interview small children about their racial identity. A research report by a social psychologist, Dr David Milner, had concluded that children as young as three-and-a-half could accurately describe their own ethnicity and race and also had clear prejudices about certain groups. This work was based on studies carried out in the United States, and I was asked by Radio 4's Woman's Hour to test its conclusions.

Sure enough, one child after another expressed views which indicated that whatever their backgrounds, they all thought that white was better than black. The children who moved me most were those who came from mixed- race families. Serena, for example, had clearly thought a lot about this, although she was not yet four: "My mummy is pink and my daddy is dark brown. I am light brown but I want to be pink because that is better."

The school I visited had plenty of puzzles, books, and pictures showing black and Asian families. But there was nothing at all that reflected the home lives of bi-racial children. Indeed images and references to this type of family are generally rare. This invisibility in social spaces has added to the feelings experienced by many mixed-race children that there is something wrong with them. Recently Danielle Brown, the actress in Emmerdale and the Spice Girl Mel G's sister, revealed how much "hassle'' it was having a black dad and a white mum, and how she had overcome her feelings of shame and guilt.

Historically these children have always been regarded as a problem for society. In 1930, one social anthropologist wrote: "The problem of the half-caste child is a serious one. The coloured families have a low standard of life, morally and economically. It is practically impossible for half- caste children to be absorbed into our industrial lives."

Britain today has one of the highest rates of mixed-race relationships anywhere in the Western world and the next census is likely to show that the rates are going up. We already know that 40 per cent of black children have one white parent.

Attitudes are changing. There are now more books on the market and a number of self-help organisations that offer support and try to influence policy-makers. But there is still a will not to view the growing community of mixed-race Britons as a distinct group. With racism being so pervasive, it has been easier to talk about divisions between groups than about the way they are subverted by people who fall in love whatever the obstacles.

Social ostracism, apartheid and even lynching have not been able to stop sexual attraction across races. This then becomes a challenge to both racists and those anti-racists who can only read the world in terms of black and white.

What is needed is for the nation to acknowledge the extraordinary history of mixed-race people and the contributions of our many talented and famous mixed-race individuals. Without this, as the academics Barbara Tizzard and Anne Phoenix point out in their book Black, White or Mixed Race?, "mixed-race people have no past, and no heroes or heroines with whom to identify."

A book published today, Remember Me, by Asher and Martin Hoyles, a mixed- race couple, aims to start that process of acknowledgement. There is a vast body of information that even the well-read are unaware of. The writers Robert Browning, Alexandre Dumas and Alexander Pushkin, and the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, were all of mixed race. Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, the black American leaders Malcolm X, Booker T Washington and WEB Du Bois, and Arthur Wharton, the world's first professional football player, were all mixed-race individuals.

Come to the present, and the list gets longer. It includes Cleo Laine, Shirley Bassey, Sade, the MPs Oona King and Paul Boateng, the writer Hanif Kureishi, and prominent anti-racists such as Lee Jasper and Linda Bellos. Ms Bellos, Mr Jasper and others define themselves as black, but as the numbers grow and a new generation becomes more vocal it is becoming clear that many mixed-race people feel that this label is an affront to their distinct and complex heritage.

This brings me to a letter I have just received from a young mixed-race girl who is living with a foster-family. She writes: "I am Sandy. I have frizzy red hair and brown skin because my mum is Irish and my dad is black. But I have to explain why I look like this. Even strangers feel they can ask me why my hair is frizzy. These people killed my parents' marriage but they will not destroy me. I am black and white and I am proud. I am the future."

Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father

Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?