A CRE eConference · 4-6 September 2007
|A mixed-race experience (Bradley Lincoln, Multiple Heritage Project)|
|15 August 2007|
A mixed-race experience
Posted on: Wednesday 15 August 2007
I am 37 year-old man living in Manchester. A son, a brother an uncle and I love reggae music. I have worked in education for the past 15 years and currently manage the Multiple Heritage Project. Who I am is made up of lots of different things and shifts depending on the context and what questions I am being asked. Some things people find quirky about me, my liking for brown shoes is just one. My racial identity is also something of a talking-point to people. I self-identify as mixed race, not black. Not confused, not caught between cultures, not a marginal man. I am me. But getting to know me wasn't easy!
When I was younger I had an experience that went something like this:
My parents split up when I was quite young and I would visit my Dad at weekends and take holidays with him and his second family. During one holiday I was called names and got into a fight with some lads. After the fight my Dad asked what all the fuss was about. I told him the boys had called me a "nigger" and "blackie". He responded by saying: "...Well, you are not black, so what are you worrying about"? This statement left me feeling slightly confused but I soon pushed the incident to the back of mind. A similar experience happened a few months later when I was at home with my mother. I got into another argument with some boys and they made similar racist remarks. I told my Mum and she said: "Tell them you're black and proud." This again left me feeling a little confused, yet able to recognise that my parents' 'mono-heritage' perspective was very different to my own 'mixed heritage'.
I wasn't able to articulate my frustration at that time but I was able to separate the fact that both my parents loved and wanted to protect me. At the same time they did not see the world as I did. I was about nine years-old when this happened and looking back I can see this was a major turning point for me in relation to developing my racial identity.
Previous to these incidents I hadn't considered myself to be any different to my three older white siblings. Me and my brothers were fed the same food, played the same games and on many occasions would receive the same 'licks'. However, when we were out in the street my racial identity was increasingly bought into question. Questions such as, "Where's your father from?" or "Are you adopted?" were regularly thrown in my direction and because of this experience I became much more aware of my mixed race appearance which meant I increasingly internalised external opinions of my identity from the adults around me. Often those opinions were quite negative.
I made a mental note during this period to revisit the issue in more detail at a later date. When I became a little older I looked to my teachers and school to demystify some of what troubled me, only to discover that mixed race young people were completely invisible in school, or stereotyped. In conversations with my older white siblings whenever I approached the subject it was met with complete confusion - they really did not know what all the fuss was about.
The majority of my extended family were white and so were my friends. I tried to explain that the mono-heritage world in which they existed did not ask them to self-identity as white or black. They were not asked to deny one side of their parent heritage in order to fit in. They were not accused of being neither black enough nor white enough.
I spent many years silently mulling this information over and over in my head. I even tried to 'over-identify' with one side of my parent heritage in order to fit in but of course that did not work. I developed a thirst for information and started a journey through the academic text books. To my surprise I discovered the majority was written from an Afrocentric/Black American perspective reinforcing the doctrine of the 'one drop' rule. The bulk of this writing focussed on negative historical myths such as, anyone who has 'one drop' of black blood is considered black. Other literature reinforced negative stereotypes adopted from the work of people like Robert Parks and Everette Stonequist's Marginal Man theory. Very rarely did any of this literature speak about the positive aspects of mixed race identity.
Because of this lack of information I decided to start a discussion with young people across the country. In March 2006 I set up the Multiple Heritage Project which aims to raise the profile of issues relating to children and families from mixed race backgrounds. I self-funded the project and was fortunate to sign up a number of schools quite quickly.
A mulitiple Heritage Project event
That was nearly 18 months ago. Since then I have run conferences and school programmes for young people of mixed race backgrounds in Manchester, Leicester, Birmingham and Nottingham. I invite about 50 students from 5 schools in the city to attend and basically create a 'safe' space for them to talk out loud about issues that they feel are relevant to living the mixed race experience.
The students have taught me a lot about the subject. Through their insights it has helped me to understand further that "Mixed-race" is not a homogenous group. By its very nature it is diverse, cutting across cultures, religions, nationalities, histories and races. There is no such thing as a mixed-race community in the conventional sense. The ties of culture, tradition, history and religion do not bind the mixed race population as a separate ethnic grouping. Quite the contrary many of these things bind mixed race people to other ethnic groups.
In my opinion, it is time to recognise that platforms like this for young people are crucial for a number of reasons. For example, young people of mixed-race tend to be subsumed under a 'black identity' where their specific concerns are rarely raised. They are often forced to choose one racial identity at the exclusion of another. The young people tell me they no longer want to be ignored and whilst their cultural heritage is only a part of who they actually are, it is still significant. They see their 'mixedness' as a cause for celebration and they want schools and wider society to join them in this positive recognition.
There are many young people across the country who have had similar experiences to me. But actually, whether the story is the same or different, it doesn't really matter. The important thing is that the 'lived' experience of mixed-race young people is heard, listened to and understood.
About the author
Bradley Lincoln is the founder and project manager of the Multiple Heritage Project. His Father is Black Caribbean of Jamaican Heritage and his mother is White British.
Comments from some students who have taken part in Bradley's events
"My experience at the multiple heritage meeting was very positive. I was rather shy at first but was warmly greeted by very enthusiastic staff, then as I was taken through into a room with a smaller group. I found that even though I thought I was the only one that felt a certain way about something, as the group got talking I found out that everyone felt the same and I gained a great confidence from this. Then Bradley gave us a heartwarming speech about one of his own experiences and I felt I could really adapt this to one of my own personal experiences and I found that I could really relate to what he was saying.
We were also given a quiz about black history and this was a real eye opener as I thought I knew a lot about my history but my results didn't reflect this. I found this very positive as I now know that I need to do some research of my own on this subject and learn more about my heritage. Then we had to set goals for our own school and I found this helpful as I know that if there are changes, I can take great pride in knowing that I helped make those changes."
"I thoroughly enjoyed the day, and learned plenty of new things, a lot of them surprising me. The day was very well planned out, and the setting was wonderful and impressive. There was even a prayer room, a facility which I was surprised to find. The food was great, as were the activities. I found discovering other people's views immensely interesting and I loved sharing my opinions with different individuals. This event has definitively motivated me, and made me think about how we could help mixed-race people with issues, and raising their self-confidence. Thanks to this, I now want to become an active member of the community, standing up and speaking out for my brothers and sisters out there."
"At first, I'll be honest with you, I only wanted to go to the 'Leicester Multiple Heritage Conference For Youths' if my friends were going. Soon after I walked through the doors of the Peepul Center's Hall my eyes lit up as I saw so many of my other mixed race friends from other schools and from then on I knew I was going to have a good day. We were quickly put into non-friendship groups and were sent to our morning workshop. I thought not being in friendship groups was a plus as you got to meet new future friends and being able to talk about past experiences without looking at your friends seeing if they are laughing at you or not. When we arrived there we had a little ice-breaker, telling jokes and getting to know our group members names.
Here I started to talk about my life experiences as a mixed raced youth and was given intellectual answers from the other teenagers in my group. It may sound silly but my fatal flaw of sensitivity was broken, and I took the answers given straight to the heart. We had dinner after that session, and the fish, the cooks made in a Caribbean style, for me was mouth watering. The food was a definite plus and how it was cooked in an Afro-Caribbean recipe added to the feeling of that we was respected to having a black side of us and it being brought to the table (literally). After that we went to our afternoon workshop, here I looked at mixed race celebrities, and had a guessing game for various celebrities racial background. This workshop went really well and included loads of laughter and smiles.
After this some students had a chance to have a video recording of their thoughts of the day. I thought there was no point in not going as I have nothing to loose. This gave me a