Last week we photographed Die Another Day Bond Girl Rachel Grant and her mother Isabel. Isabel is from the Philippines, while Rachel’s father is of English-Scottish descent.
As is now usual with the testimony, Rhoda Dakar joined us before the shoot for her customary cup of Earl Grey and together with Rachel and Isabel, we all sat down and discussed everything from the use of the word ‘Oriental’ to perceived multiculturalism. Rachel gave us a fascinating insight into her childhood experiences growing up in Nottingham and her current life in New York. Isabel talked about, among other things, a question in her head around her children’s ‘mixedness’- we’ll let them tell you in their own words… extracts to follow.
After a hectic week shooting commercially, today we were finally able to sit down and begin the process of choosing the best image from the shoot. This is always a challenge and a catalyst for much debate in the studio.
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.