In Conversation with Mix-dPosted: April 13, 2012
First to enter is Jeanette. Attired in an elegant blouse, she is ready for her close-up. Her sweet smile and murmur of ‘good morning’ gets immediate replies from the rest of us in the studio. Jeanette’s blue eyes will not get completely accustomed to the dim lighting, they are not as sharp as they used to be. Bradley Lincoln, her son, standing a few inches taller is leading her from behind and with a tender hand on her waist, he guides her to turn left into the studio.
The pair make their way to the sofas. After a long train excursion from Manchester, tea with milk for Bradley and water for Jeanette puts everyone at ease. Mother and son sit with the warm sun on their backs, facing Rhoda and Andy. Angela, Andy’s assistant is away from the studio today. Andy’s younger daughter, Emilia and I are sat parallel to the group, excited for the discussion to begin. Faint music can be heard playing from a distance. Bradley is usually the one asking the questions. In 2006, he founded Mix-d, an organisation that aims to elevate discussions on mixed race identity. Mix-d is today a place where all people of multiple heritage are able to express their feelings on the subject. This fantastic organisation has several ongoing projects, including an information pack offering helpful advice for parents and imminent parents of mixed race children. Last year they held the second Mix-d Face, the UK’s first modelling competition for people of mixed race and judged by Jade Thompson, the winner of Britain’s and Ireland’s Next Top Model.
Today, it’s Rhoda who will be asking the questions. Andy explains the project originated from several questions that kept resonating in his mind. “What impact, if any, does having an English father and a mother of Afro-Caribbean descent have on my children? How does the world’s view of my three children affect the way they see themselves?” Bradley nods in between Andy queries. “Okay, I get that.”
Andy concludes, “and it would be interesting to have a project where we could get people from different mixed backgrounds to share their life experiences and bring new faces and a new dimension to the discussion.” Bradley is the ideal candidate for this project. He has spent his life negating his own racial identity and brings this determination to helping others at various stages in their own understanding.
Pressing ‘play’ on the video recorder, Rhoda adds, “before we get started, we would like to thank you both for taking part.” There’s that smile of Jeanette’s again. She has a sip of water.
Excerpts from Bradley and Jeanette’s testimony.
Rhoda Where are your parents from?
Bradley My Mum is white English, my Dad is black Jamaican.
Rhoda And how would they describe themselves?
Bradley My Dad describes himself as Jamaican. My Mum, how would you describe yourself?
Jeanette White English.
R How did you meet Bradley’s dad?
J I used to work in a pub. I worked at the bar and he came in quite often with his friends. I’d already been married. I already had three sons. I met Lloyd then.
B It’s all right, we can be honest. My Mum and Dad are not still together.
R That’s all right, that’s not the question. I’m asking because often how people meet, especially with older mixed race subjects, it was a big deal. In a way they were pioneers who went against social norms. It can be unusual.
J It was quite unusual, simply because Lloyd was the only Jamaican black person that went in there. Even though I worked in a pub it was a small suburb and he didn’t really know anyone else and he was quite a charming person.
R Bradley, how do you describe yourself?
B When I’m talking about racial identity I would definitely say I was mixed race. If I was say, in the States, I would describe myself as English. So that would come before my racial identity. It depends on context as well.
R How do you define Bradley? How do you describe him?
J I just describe Bradley as my son. I don’t define him by colour. A lot of people do. They say to me, ‘your two younger ones I’m talking about. The two mixed race ones’. And to me all my sons are the same. I’ve got five sons. Three white and two mixed race, but I don’t differentiate between any of them, but I do find that other people do. It was never by their name either, it was mixed race, you know the black child. In fact when I did have Bradley and Darren, I remember somebody thought I had adopted my children because it was quite unusual. There weren’t a lot of mixed relationships then. It was nearly forty years ago.
B Yeah, around that time. [laughs]
J I remember when I was having Bradley when I was in the hospital. I was treated very differently. The black nurses always looked after me more. They were really nice because they were sort of more seen as a bit different. It wasn’t that I was married or that I wasn’t married, it was that I had a black child. I think the black nurses were really nice because I think they saw what was coming for me. I didn’t because I had no inkling there was any sort of racial problems going on. Really I had never thought about it.
R Bradley have other people wanted to define you?
B Yes, I remember when I was young just being one of the Lincoln lads. What was fascinating is that when I was at home I was one of the Lincoln boys, but when I would come out of the house I would be something else. So being mixed race wasn’t the most important thing about me but I became more sensitive about it because it was something that was brought into question.
One example was when I was on holiday with my Dad and I was playing football and they called ‘oi! blackie! oi! n*****!’ and I got upset and I always got upset. And I told my Dad and he said ‘well you ain’t black’. And I remember that sitting in the back of mind, thinking if I’m not that then what else am I? And there were other instances when boys were playing football with my white brothers and would say ‘we’re not having a n***** on the team’ and I would look about me thinking ‘where are the n******?’ and they were talking about me because my identity was very much as a Lincoln boy. So I guess all the time I internalised external opinions and that’s where it started to shape my identity . So it was a very personal, private, quiet thing that was going on on the inside, but it was definitely a response to stimulus to what I was getting on the outside.
R When you were growing up was there anybody or any media personality with whom you identified or were particularly proud of?
B Not necessarily proud of, but I remember going to my Dad’s and he used to have the Ebony magazine and I’d read it. And maybe I just felt more attuned to that styling, and thought I can’t bring it home because my brother is going to think that it’s racist so I didn’t bring it home but I used to look at it and see black people in a certain way. it was a very mild sensation, but…
R So it wasn’t anyone in particular, it was the notion of there being a clandestine black elite.
B Yeah, somebody who wasn’t white. I lived in a predominantly white environment and in school I remember not being represented in the curriculum even though I couldn’t articulate it. the small bit of work we did around black history which was very minimal. I didn’t feel like I could authentically be with this because I’m not fully black. I felt quite absent from lots of things but because I had a happy home life in lots of other ways I think that counter balanced it, but given the personality I have I was always searching for what truly represented me without having to give up my Mum or my Dad.
J I think also when Bradley’s father came over here from Jamaica he tried to pursue another lifestyle, he didn’t want to be seen as black. He tried to fit in into the white…to assimilate. So I think this is maybe why he didn’t navigate Bradley through some of the Jamaican culture because he himself had come from that and he didn’t want that any more, he didn’t want that in his background. He just wanted to be seen as someone who had lived in England for years and years. He didn’t want to take Bradley through all this, he just wanted to push all the Jamaican things to the background. Cos it was later on wasn’t it, when you got older started to investigate your Grandma and everything. It wasn’t up to your Dad that instigated that.
B Yeah, and Darren and I are very different as brothers. He couldn’t be less interested in some of the stuff I do and I respect that. And similarly I’m the same. It’s funny cos we come from the same household we have a different take on the subject. When I start talking about mixed race subject, he just rolls his eyes at me. Occasionally he’ll congratulate me on something that I’ve done, but we don’t tend to have too much conversation about it, but that’s what’s made me understand that people have a different entry point, everybody has something that is sewn into their identity that is unique to them. And he probably talks about it with his friends a different way, it comes out of him a different way.
R Are there are any personal thoughts you’d like to see included in the debate?
B I’d certainly like to see the discussion handed over to more younger people. Cos I’ve done some work in Europe, in the States and here and I find we can get locked into that victim or blaming other people, or victimhood, or looking for a problem. I find that lots of people seem to be looking for a problem. So they want to have a conversation but not to the end of finding an issue. Creating a space that gives them permission to talk about it. It seems that lots of academics enable the conversation by looking at the sociological and the psychological. Sociological is how it’s introduced in schools and how governments see mixed race. The psychological is the disconnect between the two, but the larger voice is the sociological voice. What I’d like to see is people who are mixed race from different backgrounds and experiences just talking about things from their own point of view, to kind of balance out the academic discussion. Cos the academic discussion is a different language. When I went into this project I wanted to look at the academic route but they’re actually just saying the same things. You can codify it and break it down. And they’re moaning and complaining and being intellectually superior to each other, which doesn’t actually involve the individual. It’s more of a cerebral exercise that they pass between each other. I’m more interested in nurturing the emotional side of this discussion, which then leads to the vocabulary of the psychological and the sociological so they can talk about it.
R Well, I think you’ve got the vocabulary. But I think you’ve worked out for yourself the tools which take other people longer to work out.
B When I talk to young people, when I go to a school and talk to about fifty students and I ask them, I’m doing a project on mixed race identity, would you want to get involved they sort of ask me, why? They say, why I haven’t got a problem. And I say great! I say would you like to share with other people who feel differently about it and it kind of changes their body stance. And they kind of go, ‘oh, so you’re not looking for any problem.’ And I say, no, I just want to talk to you about your point of view. And what’s amazing is they carry all this round but they don’t know how to articulate it. So they’re going to do this a lot when they get older and school is not providing that place to talk about things from a mixed perspective. It’s monoheritage, it’s either white or black. So we still need to develop that vocabulary within organisations that includes that space. One boy said to me, he was eighteen and he was mixed and his partner was mixed and he said, ‘what do I call my child?’ But he was waiting for someone to negate that for him and I’d like to move away from that. I’d like to move away from young people waiting for their identity to be negated for them and for them to negate it themselves. I think you’ll find that’s what happened with the mixed race subject. you’ll find everybody has an opinion. Lots of mixed race people are waiting to be told yeah, they are mixed or waiting for another term. The black identity is stronger because you’re seen as disowning your black identity. No, actually, it’s what I share in common, so I share as much with my Mum as I do with my Dad. Just getting people involved and we just have to have a new language. I think that’s what good about what you’re doing, it brings a new language in and we need that. Doing an academic piece of research will only bring about what we talked about before.
Andy Just out of curiosity, when do you bring up that conversation when you talk to kids? Do you talk to teenagers or do you bring up that discussion when they’re younger?
B That’s interesting, cos I’ve been in education for many years and I’ve worked in both primary and secondary and I’ll usually have that conversation with somebody when they’re ready to have it, and they’ll tell you when they’re ready to have it, because I met these emotionally mature year sixes who were ready to have that conversation and I’ll meet year elevens who are still yet to find that. So I’ll kind of meet them where they’re at and they’ll indicate that’s where the conversation they want to begin or that’s the kind of question they have in themselves. As the general rule, it’s kind of near year 8 and year 9 is the voluntary take up for young people to say I’m here, I’m ready. Year 7 and 8 they’re still working at a new school and forming their identities.
R The things that define these kids is that they all sound the same.
B Yeah, that’s true. I was tired of academics talking in a certain way so I didn’t start this project til I was 36 so I’d seen lots of different discussions and I thought this is boring, everyone was saying much of the same things. I was trying to find a way to have this conversation with young people in a way they wanted to have this conversation. And that was quite freeing because nobody was doing that and people criticised it, academics criticised it and that’s what they do, but they critique to the point where they somehow find problems that aren’t there. But there is a way of still having this conversation, to have it in a way where being seen as mixed isn’t victimised. It’s a very middle line, that some will resist, but it exists and people say, yeah, that’s where I live, that’s how my mind works. But academics don’t like that.
Written by Kanyin Sanusi.