Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Mixed Britannia BBC

This song makes me weep. It's so specific that it seems like it's about a real woman. She's half African, half Norwegian, went to Cambridge, acculturates white. But her feelings do not count.  She can "can never get away from the fact, if you're not white you're considered black". It's a calypso by Lord Kitchener, from around 1950 when mixed race was much less common than now. The man assumes the woman is acting superior because she doesn't fancy him. Years later when Lord Kitchener sang the song in Jamaica, he made it even more sexist, as if the woman was doing a crime for choosing not to sleep with him. At least calypso songs deal with race issues openly. But why should any woman, or any person, be defined by race?

Currently there are several programmes on the BBC about race issues. George Alagiah's Mixed Britannia must have taken ages to make because it's extremely well researched and outstandingly well made.They've uncovered completely new material, which has lain unnoticed in the archives and needs to be publiicized. Like the "Eugenics" movement which tried pseudo-scientific measurements of "mongrels" as mixed race people were called in those days. Someone must have realized where such things led, as they were quietly phased out after the Nuremberg race laws in Germany.

That didn't stop vindictive racism. As soon a WWII ended some bright spark had the notion of rounding up Chinese in Liverpool and shipping them back to China. The men were rounded up in the street, like animals,  and put on board a waiting ship. Many of the men werre long established UK residents, and had wives and families, but weren't allowed to make contact, or collect their belongings and papers. So hundreds of women and around 1000 children thought they'd been suddenly deserted, and never found out what happened..

If the men did make it back to China (they may have been dumped in India), the country was still in chaos, millions of refugees, destitute and homeless. Ironically many of these men would have worked for the British navy and merchant navy, where thousands of Chinese were enrolled, a huge proportion killed serving the British war effort.

Fortunately most normal people are sane. But racism is alive and well, for too many have vested interests in fuelling hate. The recent riots showed just how skewed assumptions really are.  Far Right white gangs attacked the police, immigrants gave their lives to defend their neighbourhoods, and  looters were most colours and classes. So programmes like Mixed Britannia are vitally important, to remind us that race is packaging, it isn't the person within. 

Please also see my posts on race issues, under labels like Africa, Chinese stereotypes, social issues etc. Watch the full movie Within Our Gates here too, the earliest known movie by a Black American that confronts things like lynching and exploitation. Also full download of Broken Blossoms, and a critique of Piccadilly, the Anna May Wong film much lauded by the BFI as progressive. The more I think about that film, the more offensive I think it is, but its appeal to Chinese outside Chinese culture is genuine, and needs to be analysed. You might also like this piece on Ghana Freedom, which mentions George Appiah, whose marriage to Stafford Cripps's daughter Peggy features in the second Mixed Britannia episode. Theirs wasn't the first high profile mixed marraige. My mole in FCO archives told me about the Govt of South Africa protesting mixed marriage in Britain, threatening to quit the Commonwealth. There are thousands of other stories waiting to be told. Like, a Colonial Police Officer held prisoner in a Japanese camp wants to marry. Under colonial rules he needs his commanding officers' approval.  They're all prisoners in the Japanese camp too but they forbid the marriage because the fiancee can't prove she has no mixed blood. Of course she can't. She's Eurasian. This is April 1945, right at the end of the war, but these colonials don't twig that the world's changed. Imagine what the Japanese thought. (and the irony still rankles with non whites today)


new deal said...

The material is available in a number of books (it hasn't 'just lain unnoticed in the archives'). See, for example, D. McNeil, Sex and Race in the Black Atlantic: Mulatto Devils and Multiracial Messaihs


Doundou Tchil said...

That's so, but there is so much in the archives that hasn't been publicized in the mass media, so there's no way we can be complacent. All the more reason that shows like this need to be seen, though they won't please everyone. History is dangerous. In some fields, the archives subvert the status quo so they aren't going to see the light til the ploitical climate changes. Asssuming we have the archives as so much is not even recorded, even if you can access non-European languages and can interpret what has survived. Here's a link to a very small piece of work done by one of my readers, an African specialist. http://classical-iconoclast.blogspot.com/2011/06/secret-history-of-ghana-freedom.html