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.
Introducing our first Mixed twins, Stephen and Louise Hoo. We happily stumbled across Stephen on a feature for Channel 4’s “In Conversation with…” talking about his work in the theatre and we knew we had to get in touch with him about Mixed. The first time we spoke to the actor and rising playwright, he was busy playing the part of Eddie (lead) in ‘Takeaway‘ over at the Royal Stratford East and we set a date for the end of it’s run for him to come in to the studio.
In his career, Stephen has sought out work that deals with themes of homosexuality and identity, and his roles typically go against the stereotype of what it is to be Chinese and gay. How Stephen sees himself is complex and contextual… he identifies as ‘Eurasian’, ‘British Chinese’ when he is in Europe, and ‘Hun Xue’er’ or ‘Mixed Race’, when he is in Asia. His sister Louise on the other hand, describes herself as English in relation to her race, but nevertheless her Chinese heritage is very important to her. Louise currently works in the financial industry, however she also has a strong footballing pedigree having played internationally for Malaysia, (the twins’ father’s birthplace). Stephen and Louise’s mother is English and they were both born in London.
What drew us to Stephen is that he quite clearly has some very interesting views on his own identity, particularly with the additional dimension of sexuality in the mix. In his testimony, he talks about how his choice of study has been greatly influenced by a desire to learn about his culture. Stephen studied Theatre at the world-renowned Brit School and thereafter, attended the School of Oriental and African Studies to study Modern and Classical Chinese. He has even lived and travelled in the Far East in order to further explore this element of his mixed heritage. He certainly didn’t let us down, he was fascinating and very open about his life and his experiences.
Below: Trailer for Rikki Beadle-Blair’s ‘Kick Off‘ (2008) featuring Stephen Hoo
Angela Griffin was in the studio a week ago and now joins a growing list of sitters we have been honoured to meet and photograph for the Mixed Project. Angela has worked extensively in television acting in well-loved British soaps including Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Holby City. At the age of 14, she was spotted by a talent scout who visited her school. Angela appeared on our television screens for the first time in Under the Bedclothes. In 2008 she made her film debut with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in Last Chance Harvey. She recently had her own day-time talk show Angela and Friends on Sky1.
Angela came along to the studio with her husband and their 2 young daughters. After the portraits Rhoda talked with Angela about her identity, background and her upbringing in Leeds. Angela’s view of her identity centred around being a Northerner first and formost.
In 2001, as part of the Channel 4 programme, Brown Britain, Angela got the chance to interview her mother. Angela also interviewed well-known people of mixed race such as fashion designer Bruce Oldfield and Hanif Kureshi.
I look forward to sharing more of Angela’s testimony and photos as the project progresses.
The Mixed Project is very much a combination of photography and words, with each part complementing and strengthening the other. Before I photograph our sitters, singer and songwriter Rhoda Dakar joins us in the studio to lead an informal discussion around our sitter’s lives and experiences. She treats every ‘interview’ like the first and is intrigued by each person’s story and history. Her warmth makes each meeting special and it is from these insightful conversations that we have our testimonies which are recorded and transcribed at a later date, allowing us to take words and thoughts from the conversation and lend them to their image which in turn gives them some context and more importantly, gives each face a voice. It was an introduction via Myspace that led to a meeting with Rhoda and thankfully she was enthusiastic enough about the project to kindly lend her time to it. I was eager to contact her because her musical background during a very pivotal time in Britain’s history and my personal history led me to believe she would have some strong ideas about being ‘mixed’ and her own thoughts would give a fascinating slant to the project.
Back in the last century, in my early teenage years (era 1979-1983), I was influenced by ‘Two Tone’ bands and their ethos which Rhoda was a part of. Two Tone drew from 1960′s Jamaican Ska music, New Wave and Punk music, essentially an amalgamation of cultural sounds and style which produced a new British identity in youth culture. These bands were often multi-racial line-ups and sung a message of integration during a time of racial tension in Britain. It was an unsettled and confused time, typified in films like ‘This is England’. My own views and ideas about race, politics and culture were partly shaped by bands and music of this time.
Rhoda’s father is from Jamaica (born in Panama), and her mother is English. Rhoda was born in Hampstead and grew up in Brixton before going on to become lead singer of the Bodysnatchers. She also collaborated with the Specials & the Special AKA, best known for tracks like ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ which for me, perfectly define early 80′s Thatcherite Britain. Rhoda’s most recent work is a collaboration with prominent Ska artist Nick Welsh released in 2009, an album entitled Back to the Garage. She is also a regular DJ and recently returned from a stint at the pop and politics tent known as Leftfield, at Glastonbury 2011.
Isabella, 17, on what it means to her to be mixed-race:
“I’ve decided that neither my parents nor others will define me. I will define and describe myself. I see myself as tanned rather than either black or white. My mother is white and from Portland, Oregon (USA) and my father is Jamaican with Asian blood and born in England. Even the government tries to define me with the tick boxes they give you on forms asking what race you are. It’s irritating and pointless to me, but I answer anyway to make them happy – with mixed white and black Caribbean.
Britain is a multicultural country, which I think is great. I am not the only person of mixed-race at school. Several of my friends I hang out with are mixed. I have never felt excluded because of my skin colour from my friends, family or anyone else. I hope I never will.”
Dennis on his children growing up within two cultures.
I think two experiences can only mould, make the person stronger and enrich their own experiences. If you’re lucky to experience that outside of your own ethnic group then that’s great. But a lot of people, who don’t get the opportunity till too much later on in life… by that time their own experiences will be entrenched. The brain’s already wired to think in a certain way.
Going outside our home, on our street and the surrounding streets- there are a number of mixed couples. And that’s what I like. I like that I can go to the park and I know I’ll see a mixed race child, the dad’s there, the mum’s there, and you kind of get those experiences.
Two weeks into the project and there has been a lot of progress. We’ve had several sitters come in to be photographed and share their stories. For me, it’s all about the imagery. As I am not of mixed-race, I feel it is not my place to speak on the behalf of someone who is. This is where the testimonies come in- they make the project more interesting and give it a broader context. We’ve had some insight from Dennis and his partner Jane about the use of the term ‘mixed-race’ and this week we filmed the testimony of my daughter Emilia, who with her mother Laverne was the first sitter for the project. Her full testimony will be on the blog soon, but for now, here is an extract from it below.
Emilia Barter, 14, on what it means to her to be mixed-race
A lot of people would describe mixed-race as being half this and half that, so I would be half black and half white. In actuality being mixed-race pushes off those labels from me and makes me neither black nor white. Without those stereotypes, being ‘mixed-race’ allows you to think, dress and behave as yourself, instead of perhaps conforming to one particular ethnicity.
In her book Checkmate, which is part of the Noughts and Crosses trilogy, Malorie Blackman summarises that ‘you’re not half anything, you’re wholly you. Half implies short measures or a fraction of something. You haven’t got half a tongue or half a brain. And you’re not a zebra with black and white stripes. You can take the best of being a Cross (someone black), the best of being a Nought (someone white) and put them together to create the person you want to be’. This quotation I feel sums up my opinion on what it means to be mixed-race.
Is ‘Mixed Race’ a term you would use? Dennis, above, and his partner Jane discuss.
Dennis: Jane would use that, I wouldn’t. I shift with the times.
Dennis: That’s a very 80’s word
Jane: What’s the new word then?
Dennis: Dual heritage, that’s what they use at the moment, but I’m sure that will change at some point to something more politically correct. I don’t know who (my children’s) long-term partners will be, and who they decide to have kids with, and they could be from another culture so again, it will shift and change.