Wednesday, 2 July 2014

People In Harmony

People in Harmony is a mixed race organisation which promotes the positive experience of interracial life in Britain today and challenges racism, prejudice and ignorance in society. For more details go to their website here.  They will be holding their 2014 AGM & Seminar on 27th September 2014.


'Mixed Race and Education 2014'

raising levels of educational achievement and inclusion

for mixed race pupils and students

Venue: The Hall, St Margaret's House, 21 Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green, London E2 9PL
Date: Saturday 27th September 2014
Annual General Meeting: 11.00 – 1.00pm
Seminar: 2.00pm – 5.00pm

This seminar will:

  • consider best practice in education to ensure mixed race students feel included in the classroom
  • highlight experiences and practice that are recognised as raising achievement.
  • give examples of teaching and learning resources which enrich the curriculum.
  • seek understanding of the pupil / student experience and how this impacts on their lives and education
  • promote better understanding of mixed race and diversity, enhance learning experiences and improve working relationships between all pupils
  • provide material for a report to be published and used as part of a targeted campaign 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Thoughts on Belle by Miranda Kaufmann

I really enjoyed reading this article about the history behind the film Belle by Miranda Kaufmann.  Dr. Miranda Kaufmann studied History at Christ Church, Oxford, where she completed her doctoral thesis on 'Africans in Britain,  1500-1640' in 2011.  As a freelance historian and journalist, she has worked for The Sunday Times, the BBC, the National Trust, English Heritage, the Oxford Companion series, Quercus publishing and the Rugby Football Foundation. Read more about Miranda here
Follow Miranda on twitter  read her blog.

So I finally saw Belle! I'm delighted that the film has been made and hope it is the first of many such stories of Africans in Britain to get the Hollywood treatment. Watching it has prompted many thoughts, but I'll try to distill the best of them here.

"Based on a True Story"?
Like any historical film "Based on a True Story", Belle takes liberties with the historical record. Alex von Tunzelman has made a good start on sifting the fact from fiction in her Reel History column in the Guardian. You can find a brief biography of Dido in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Or read Paula Byrne's book for more background to the few details we have of Dido's life. You can read more about the legal history of slavery in England here. It's also worth paying a visit to Kenwood, especially if you take a look in the writing desk in the library, where you will find a brief pamphlet on " Lord Mansfield, Slavery and the Law", as well as reproductions of some of the original documents relating to Dido, including a letter she wrote on her great-uncle's behalf.

Dido's status
The film shows Dido as occupying a strange position in the hierarchy of the Kenwood household. She is part of the family, and yet may not dine with them. The historical source for this is an entry in the diary of one Thomas Hutchinson, the exiled Governor of Massachusetts, who visited Lord Mansfield one evening in August 1779. In fact, this entry provides us with much of the known details of Dido's life. Hutchinson was hardly an unbiased observer, and mostly refers to Dido as "a Black". Paula Byrne points out that perhaps Dido did not attend dinner that night in order to shelter her from this man, rather than the other way round. Either way, the fact that she did not attend dinner on 29th August 1779 does not necessarily mean that she never dined with the family.

The fact that Dido helped manage the dairy is not an indicator of lower status. It was considered a genteel occupation for a lady, and even the Duke of Wellington took an interest in it, sharing his recipe for butter with Louisa, Lady Mansfield. However, Dido was not the wealthy heiress that the film portrays. Her father left his money to two of his other illegitimate children. However, by giving her financial independence, the film asks interesting questions of the interplay of class, race, and cash in determining status in 18th century society. Although Dido was not an heiress, it was not inconceivable for a woman of her colour to be so. Many men who fathered children with enslaved women made attempts to provide for them, as Daniel Livesay's research has shown. Perhaps the best-known example of this was Nathaniel Wells, the son of William Wells and his house-slave, Juggy, who was educated in England, inherited his father's St. Kitts estate in 1794, and bought Piercefield estate near Chepstow, Monmouthshire, for £90,000 in 1802, going on to become a Justice of the Peace in 1806 and Sheriff of Monmouthshire in 1818. 

Portraits of Africans 
One of the fascinating threads of the film for me was the interaction between Belle, and the images of Africans she saw around her, both growing up at Kenwood, and around her in the streets of London. The film shows her as fearful of having her own portrait painted, lest she be portrayed in the subservient pose she assumes is the only way for people of her complexion to appear in art. While we have no idea what she felt about portraiture, the film dramatises a deeper truth. There are large numbers of the sort of pictures Belle despised hanging on the walls of country houses across Britain, including this one of Henrietta of Lorraine and her page  by Van Dyck, now at Kenwood, and this portrait of Anne of Denmark and her groom, which I blogged about last year. However, there are also some fascinating portraits, besides Dido's, that give their black subjects dignity and character, such asThomas Gainsborough's  1768 portrait of Ignatius Sancho. They key point about the portrait of Dido and her cousin, perhaps, is that it shows a black woman alongside a white woman in a position of relative equality. 

Dido and her cousin, by Zoffany, now at Scone Palace, Scotland.
The Legal Drama
I was pleased with the way the film brought to life the drama of the Zong case of 1783, but was amazed that it failed to make any mention of Lord Mansfield's earlier judgments regarding slavery, most pertinently, that in the Somerset case of 1772. I suppose the film-makers thought the audience could only deal with one monumental court case at a time! The script however, lifted the words Mansfield uttered in the Somerset case, on how slavery was odious, and placed them into his final judgment on the Zong.

African Extras
I was intrigued to see a large number of African men shown in the film as attending the final judgement in the Zong case. According to the IMDB, one of these is meant to be Olaudah Equiano, played by Lamin Tamba. Equiano actually played a pivotal role in the Zong drama, as it was he who alerted abolitionist Granville Sharp to the case's existence.  Unfortunately, Dido does not speak to him, or the other well-dressed Africans she passes in the gallery, and so their stories remain untold. Her interaction with Mabel, the African maid is a little more detailed- and gives her the chance to ask Mansfield over breakfast: "Is Mabel a slave?" -This would have been an ideal opportunity for the Lord Chief Justice to explain the legal status of Africans in Britain, and his judgement in the Somerset case. Unfortunately, although we learn that Mabel is free, and paid wages, the subject is soon dismissed as not suitable for the breakfast table.

Other Stories to Tell...
As I told the Observer newspaper in January, I really hope that in the wake of 12 Years A Slave, and Belle, " film directors will turn their attention to telling Britain's slavery stories such as Equiano's which would help a new generation understand their nation's role in a trade referred to as 'the great circuit' and remind them that "Africans have been living in Britain for centuries before the Windrush". There are so many great stories still to tell. Maybe I should write a list of suggestions for up and coming filmmakers who want Oscar-winning material? But that's a blog for another day...
Follow Miranda on twitter  read her blog

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Research participants wanted from Scotland

Are you from a family where parents are from two different ethnic groups?

University of Glasgow

Mengxi Pang is a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Glasgow who is conducting a research project exploring mixed identities in Scotland. 

A recent study shows that one in every six households of two or more people in Scotland are of mixed ethnicities. There is however little information about the experiences of ‘mixed’ people and their families. She is keen on listening to your everyday experiences of being mixed or being a member of a ‘mixed-race’ family. If you consider yourself as a mixed individual aged over 18 growing up in Scotland, or the parent(s) of mixed children and currently living in Scotland, and are interested in taking part in the study, or simply want to know more about it, please get in touch for more information. She is also interested in interviewing ‘mixed-race’ families living in Scotland, including parent(s) and adult children over 18 years old.

The research will be conducted in the form of face-to-face interviews, lasting about one hour. All information will be treated confidentially and personal information anonymised. She is happy to answer any questions if you would like to know more! Contact Email:

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Casting Call: Lass Productions “OTHELLO”

Lass Productions is casting for a new production of Othello to be staged at Gullivers new 80 capacity studio in Manchester’s Northern Quarter on late September.

About Lass Productions
Lass Productions is one of Manchester’s best loved fringe theatre companies. Since our first production, Rising Damp in October 2011 we have delivered an exciting blend of revivals, new writing and near impossible shows that have been delivered with our trademark flair and invention.  Previous Lass Productions have included Coronation Street 1968 and 1977, V for Vendetta, Hot Fat, Russell T Davies’ Midnight, Alan Moore’s Ballad of Halo Jones, Big Sid, New Dawn Fades, the Wine of India, Suspended in Space and Rotten Apples.

We won the 2013 Manchester Theatre Award for THE BEST (Best Fringe Production) and had two of the five nominations for Best Actor in the 2013 Fringe Actor categories.  This is our first new show since leaving the Lass and winning the MTA.

About Our Othello
Using the original text, our production of Othello will be set in and around Venezia FC. By setting the play in a football club, which has never been done we believe we can refresh and re-examine the themes of jealousy, reputation and ambition that remain as true today as they were 450 years ago.
We see Othello as the first black manager of the club, Iago the seasoned centre back passed over for the captaincy in favour of new foreign signing Cassio. Rodrigo is the young striker hungry for fame and adoration, Brabantio the Chairman of the club and Desdemona his sheltered, privately educated daughter.  Rounding off the cast is Emila, the Club’s physio and Bianca, a wannabe WAG in love with Cassio.

We are casting for the following roles (all other roles taken);

OTHELLO – Male, playing age 30-45. Manager and ex-club captain.  Noble, arrogant, insecure. Good physical stature. Black/Asian/Mixed Race actor sought.
IAGO – Male, playing age 30-40. Long serving centre back at Venezia FC and ‘beating heart’ of the club.  Think John Terry. Evil, deceptive, manipulative. Arguably Shakespeare’s most complex villain and the fulcrum of the plot and all characters in the piece.
RODRIGO – Male 18-24, good physical condition (has to pass as a footballer). Young, cocksure yet naive. Under the spell of Iago.
MONTANO – Male 30-50. Othello’s predecessor. Noble, competent. A man of stature.

Do you want to know more?

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Belle, A Film That Makes You Think

Belle  is a 2013 British drama film directed by Amma Asante, written by Misan Sagay, and produced by Damian Jones. It stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw .  It was released in UK on Friday 13th June............ It certainly made me think- Oh and I also shed a tear or too!   This article is written by 

Dido Belle painting
Painting of Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Belle, 1779.
 Photograph: Courtesy of the Earl of Mansfield / Scone Palace
Twentieth Century Fox and The Damaris Trust held a private exclusive screening of the inspiring film Belle at Fox Headquarters. Belle, a film inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral, is a perfect example of a film stimulating thoughts and discussions on the world.

Prior to the screening, Nick Pollard, Founder of The Damaris Trust, spoke about the charity, and why he and his wife Carol decided to set it up 14 years ago. The Damaris Trust works in partnership with film companies to produce community education resources related to contemporary films. Nick and Carol saw community groups were trying to change people’s lives, and recognised that films could be an excellent tool to do just that. Nick said, “Films can stimulate people to see different perspectives, and can lead to people questioning what they can do to help change other people’s lives”.

Belle - screening with Damaris Trust
Nick Pollard, Founder of The Damaris Trust, speaking at the pre-screening of Belle

The film takes us to life in 18th-century Britain, where Dido is brought up in Kenwood House, Hampstead, alongside her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, whose mother had died. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Dido’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the colour of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing.

Belle, film preview by The Damaris Trust
                                                                             Kenwood House, Hampstead 
                                                           Photograph: Courtesy of English Heritage / Charles Hosea

Dido is generally treated as a member of the family, and the affection her family has for her is clear to see. However, despite their affection for Dido, Lord Mansfield and his wife consider how others in society will view her, and she is treated differently because of this. Dido’s odd status in their world is difficult to watch at times. “I am too high to eat with the servants, too low to join you at dinner,” Dido, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, tells the Earl of Mansfield.

Her cousin Elizabeth is white but poor; she doesn’t have the inheritance that Dido is privileged with. During the film we see how complicated life can be. Elizabeth is the ‘right’ colour and class, but without an inheritance her chances of marriage are very low. On the other hand, Dido has an inheritance as her father acknowledged her as his daughter. The inheritance gives Dido independence, yet due to her colour her prospects of marriage are also slim.

In the film Dido falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.
The film considers a range of themes, including racism, sexism, and classism. These can lead to the viewer considering and discussing society, whether things have changed much since the 18th century, and what they would like to change in the world.

The Damaris Trust is currently using film to work with young people through The Scouts and with older people through Age UK, and are looking to start intergenerational projects in the future.

For more information about The Damaris Trust please visit:

‘Dido Belle – her story’ exhibition is running until the 31st October at Scone Palace. Please visit: for more information.

A selection of Dido souvenirs is available from the Scone Palace online shop:

Friday, 30 May 2014

Half-Caste by John Agard

John Agard, Half Caste, GCSE poem
The playwright, poet and children's writer, John Agard was born in Guyana in 1949 to a Caribbean father and Portuguese mother, he moved to Britain in 1977. In 2012, he was selected for the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. His poem Half Caste  has been featured in the AQA English GCSE anthology since 2002, meaning that many students (aged 14 – 16) have studied his work for their GCSE English qualification. (Wikipedia).  Listen to John recite the poem and hear his thoughts on Half-Caste via this link to BBC Learning Zone

To find out more about John follow this link to Literature British Council

by John Agard 

Excuse me
standing on one leg

I’m half-caste
Explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when picasso
mix red an green
is a half-caste canvas/
explain yuself
wha u mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when light an shadow
mix in de sky
is a half-caste weather/
well in dat case
england weather
nearly always half-caste
in fact some o dem cloud
half-caste till dem overcast
so spiteful dem dont want de sun pass
ah rass/
explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean tchaikovsky
sit down at dah piano
an mix a black key
wid a white key
is a half-caste symphony/

Explain yuself
wha yu mean
Ah listening to yu wid de keen
half of mih ear
Ah looking at u wid de keen
half of mih eye
and when I’m introduced to yu
I’m sure you’ll understand
why I offer yu half-a-hand
an when I sleep at night
I close half-a-eye
consequently when I dream
I dream half-a-dream
an when moon begin to glow
I half-caste human being
cast half-a-shadow
but yu come back tomorrow
wid de whole of yu eye
an de whole of yu ear
and de whole of yu mind
an I will tell yu
de other half
of my story

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Mixed-race children need our support

Link to Ramon's blog
This article was written by Ramon Mohamed who is a teacher originally from the UK, but now based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Ramon is a mixed race man born in the UK who has travelled through many issues around his identity. He has worked on Sheffield building sites and taught in London schools as well as teaching children in Afghanistan and Pakistan in search of his roots. His father was a Muslim and his mother a Christian and he married a Saudi who he met in Sheffield while she was doing her PHD.  They now have a beautiful 9 month old daughter who is a 'Third Culture Child'.. English, Pakistani and Saudi!!  He now continues his journey over in Saudi Arabia and writes.................

Mixed-race children need our support (published Saudi Gazette 16th May 2014)

I am from a dual heritage background and I am proud of that fact. My father was encouraged by the British Government to leave his village in northern Pakistan in the late 1950s and helped with the rebuilding of Britain by working in the steel works in the East End of Sheffield. He met my English mother and they married and had seven sons and one daughter. Being brought up in a northern English town during the 1960s and 1970s was a challenging time and racism was tolerated. There were no laws to challenge discrimination; however, over time anti-racist laws now exist and students are educated to respect other cultures, traditions and religions.

During my childhood, I suffered “racism” from both the Pakistani and English community in the form of racist name calling and discrimination against me when applying for some jobs.

During my childhood, I saw no positive role models and witnessed racial stereotypes in my education. However, life today for those special children who are born from parents of two different cultures is much more rewarding through positive education resources, and the children of mixed marriages have a more respectful understanding of our common cultures and shared humanity.

Which brings me to some of the discriminatory articles and debates I have read over the past year or so in the Middle Eastern media including newspapers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It feels like for me, living and teaching now here in Riyadh, that I am back in the racially prejudiced UK of the 1960s and 1970s.

I am a British male married to a Saudi. We are both professionals and work in education and we have a beautiful nine-month-old daughter. According to an article written in last week’s Saudi Gazette, there are 700,000 Saudi females married to foreign men. I presume most of these marriages are between those of a Middle East origin and, therefore, the marriage partners have some sort of shared culture.

The article mostly focused on the archaic marriage laws that discriminate against Saudi married females and their children. Enough has been written about these racist laws. My family is on the receiving end of them. What is needed is for the government to act upon them and treat both Saudi male and female marriages equally in terms of rights, responsibilities and access to services.

What I was particularly incensed about was a quote in the article from a principal of a Saudi school in which she highlighted, in her opinion, the problems faced by children of such mixed marriages.

This so-called family affairs activist remarked, and without any evidence, that traditional and cultural differences can lead to many family problems for the children and an early divorce of the parents. I am sorry but in a global world you cannot just wish these bi-cultural, bi-racial, bi-tribal marriages and their children away.

Moreover, what are the divorce statistics and challenges that face parents and children who are from the same dominant culture? One cannot just make sweeping generalizations without any statistical evidence.

I am a schoolteacher with 25 years educational experience. The majority of my teaching career has been in London multicultural schools. The Middle East and particularly Saudi Arabia need to wake up to the fact that there are a growing number of mixed-race, mixed-tribal, mixed-cultural marriages, call them what you like, and that children from these marriages need support in school and in the wider society.

Just as in the UK, teaching resources need to be introduced that encourage the educational development of such children including those children from the dominant culture so that they are accepted and understood in mainstream Middle Eastern society instead of them and their parents being seen as a “problem”.

Our daughter will initially be educated at home by her parents and our bi-cultural marriage will be her role model and, hopefully, later she will go to a school that will encourage her to respect all cultures and promote a healthy diversity as well as see the good and positive elements of what it is to be a third-culture child.