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
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project