Showcasing Britannia’s long and diverse history of racial mixedness
A London South Bank University professor asserts: "The history of mixed race people, families and couples is not a contemporary phenomenon."
"It forms part of a longer history of mixedness and minority ethnic presence in Britain," says Dr Chamion Caballero, a senior research fellow at the Weeks Centre for Social Policy Studies at LSBU. She collected histories, photographs, images and film from archives to tell a compelling story that was made into a BBC documentary. It was featured in the Guardian newspaper, and now further findings are available for all to see online.
Dr. Caballero, in association with Dr Peter Aspinall of Kent University undertook this research supported by a British Academy grant in order to bring out the voices and first-hand experiences of mixed race people.
"We were bowled over by what we found, including documents, visual material, colourful photographs and a lot of material around World War II babies from Black GIs stationed in the UK. But there is also an older history going back to Edwardian times." said Dr. Chamion Caballero, whose own origin is a mixed family that comes from Newcastle, Trinidad and Tobago.
Part of a Broader British History
Camion Caballero believes these images are particularly important for "young people who may be struggling with a sense of place, belonging and identity. They can now feel they are part of this longer and broader British history."
Aspinall and Caballero's research became the foundation for the "Mixed Britannia" BBC2 series presented by George Alagiah in October 2011.
"The interest we had from this project, the links that we made and the feedback we had from it, really show just a glimpse of some of the exciting research that we do at LSBU, often very different and connected with audiences – like charities, local organisations and schools – outside academia. I think the project is quite representative of the way that we involve our partners in our research here," said Dr. Chamion Caballero.
The LSBU Mixedness Fit
The research topic also reflected the mixedness of what is happening in South London and within the university.
"LSBU has a very diverse community and many students share the backgrounds of those who featured in the research and the BBC film. They can get a sense of belonging, being part of British history, but also being part of the work we do here at LSBU," added Dr Caballero.
Many people in Britain had not seen anyone who was not like them, Caballero points out, until the advent of the Second World War, when Black GIs were stationed in rural areas where a lot of mixing occurred with white British girls, to the dismay of the authorities. In Bristol, women who found out about plans to ship out the Black GIs, linked arms and marched to the base gates to shout, "We want to see our Coloured sweet hearts."
"What surprised us was that there was so much mixing happening in London. It happens today and happened in the past. But also in other parts of the UK as well. Even rural experiences. Wonderful stories. We found a transcript from a guy raised in the Rhonda Valley in Wales. He had a very rural experience. His father was Black African and his mother White Welsh. […] We saw wonderful stories of people coming from Yemen and Somalia. Then take places like Cardiff with wonderful images of the city's 'Cairo café' and of the setting up of a mosque in the forum there."
Positive Stories of Integration
Caballero was keen to clarify the perception that the other story of mixed race Britain was a negative one – with racism, ostracism and isolation. In fact she found many stories and testimonials of integrated ordinary families.
"So in this research in Mixed Britain we really tried to draw out some of these peoples, couples and families, the mixedness was only part of their lives and people still managed to live happy lives, had children and settle even if they faced racism."
Dr Caballero and Dr. Aspinall, whose work is being further funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, want to encourage young people to think about their own family histories, upload materials, essays, poetry and photographs so that future historians can see their experiences.