Instructors do three things: arrogantly talk about themselves, ask for students to engage in superficial, meaningless introductions that no one will remember, and read every line of their boring syllabus to students like we can’t.
So I show up fashionably late to reduce the total amount of time wasted, especially for an 8am class.
Imagine my surprise to walk into this class 30 minutes late to see the teacher sitting at his computer doing nothing and all the students working on an assignment. I thought what a disinterested, lazy bum, he should be fired.
I looked at the board and read the instructions: “Take out a sheet of paper. Write four paragraphs, the first 3 must start with the words “I am” and the last one starts with “I am not”. Now turn that into a 2-3 minute oral presentation.
I mumbled, “I’m not sure how much I should share about myself” leery about the motive for this “assignment”. But I decided to take the jump since everyone else seemed to be working diligently.
We all gave our presentations, and I have to admit, the class was much more interesting than I imagined it would be. I learned a lot about my classmates, but I still thought the instructor was a lazy bum.
The next class, my perceptions of the teacher did a 180 when the instructor gave their “reflections”. The lazy bum was transformed into a passionate, motivating, Civil Rights historical educator that gave us an insightful critique about our presentations. Two of us were cited by name for the content of what we talked about. After dissing my attitude when I came in the door, the professor gave me props for communicating the chip on my shoulder, that too often people see my looks and ignore my intelligence, my drive, my substance.
So after class, I felt it my responsibility to tell the instructor. “I thought you were a horrible instructor last week, totally disinterested in your students. But today I saw your passion. I was wrong.
But the more I thought about the instructional approach, the more I wondered how honest they were being, not with us necessarily, but with themselves. The more I listened to the stories about being a “Black educational activist”, the more curiosity it stirred in me. I was confused, that the instructor seemed so lost and confused about who they were. Let’s keep it real, “who the hell did the prof think they were fooling! Definitely not me!” I don’t know much about activism but I know good stuff has to start with the truth, and I knew what I was hearing from the teacher was far from the whole truth.
Just looking at my professor, in particular his skin, after the third class, I played my hunch. A group of four or five students started a conversation about how much we enjoyed the class as the instructor was packing up, not saying much, but we slowly drew them into the conversation. I decided it was time to ask the question that addressed one of my biggest pet peeves, when people are not honest about who they are, often without even thinking about how they define themselves to the world. Although I was unsure how the professor would respond, I was sure that they were hiding an important truth from the class, and maybe from themselves, I knew it was time to force the issue.
The answer was quick and direct, but you could see my professor’s world crumble as they began to think about the implications of my question for their words, ideas and actions.
So what was the question? Simple and to the point.
“I can’t help notice you are kind of light (skinned), like me. Just wondering…
P.S. – I received an invitation to join some type of business advisory board from my instructor. I replied that I would consider that invitation if they read and responded to this post. So far, no reply. Given my concerns about possible retaliation at school from my instructor, and the heated and ugly way race conversations occur in America, I’m unwilling to reveal my true identity at this point.
Write about your life for Tangled Roots...we want your story in our next book!
Following on from the first, highly successful book, we are now seeking submissions for the next volume of Tangled Roots: True-Life Tales of Mixed and Multi-Racial Families.
We want your true stories/memoir/true-life tales, as well as your family pictures and your memories.
There are millions of mixed race households in the UK, but little published writing about what life is like for mixed families, or how there came to be so many. To fill this gap, Tangled Roots will be publishing a second volume of true stories about mixed lives.
We are also looking for photographs, anecdotes and stories for our new website.
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE MIXED RACE - ANYBODY WITH EXPERIENCE OF MULTI-RACIAL/ETHNIC HOUSEHOLDS CAN SUBMIT. If you support the idea of Tangled Roots, then your contribution is as important as anyone else's.
Bernardine Evaristo MBE ('Mr Loverman') and Charlotte Williams ('Sugar and Slate@) are already commissioned to write for this collection. Your work will appear alongside theirs and that of other renowned writers. Also, if published in the collection, you will be paid for your contribution.
What do we want? Short (up to 2,000 words) pieces of memoir, autobiography and true-life tales sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Cut and pasted into the email – no attachments please.
When do we want it? By April 30th 2015 to be considered for inclusion in the next book, but at any time for the website.
Who do we want it by? ANYONE who has experience of mixed race families in the UK.
NB We are aware that definitions of race and religion can sometimes overlap, therefore we welcome stories where religious tensions has/can form a significant barrier to personal relationships.
This is a chance say what you REALLY feel about race and mixture – we are open-minded about subject matter. For detailed submission Guidelines please see www.tangledroots.org.uk You can also read previously-published stories here and get writing hints and tips.
Been a good while since I put pen to paper. Wait this is awkward, fingers to keyboard rather, 2015 and all that. In any case, I’ve been thinking for a while about something of paramount importance. Me. (Vote Bilal..) or rather, people like me. By this I mean mixed-race people. But this is where I may lose my fellow beige skinned people who got excited that I have some enlightening news from Mixed-Daily. Actually, maybe I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about the people who are mixed ‘unconventionally’ you know – those of us who, God forbid, are mixed with two or more ethnic minorities. Madness. Those people exist?
You probably wouldn’t think so would you.. I mean as much as things have progressed and we now have our beloved beige beacons, Jess Ennis, Lewis Hamilton, etc. – where are the people like me? The 50 shades of beige people? Actually now let me ‘throw some of those shades’. Don’t be alarmed, I’m not trying to scare you into giving me a voice, I mean according to certain Arquette’s, it’s probably time we take a break in the ‘march (at the speed of a granny on a Zimmer-frame) of progress’ and start paying homage to those I can only think of as the resemblance of every FOX news Anchorwoman… *insert Virtual DJ siren noise, wheel it back up again*. However I AM saying that there is an unmistakeable gap in the representation of the experience of another type of mixed-race voice. So often the voices of those who are mixed ethnic minorities are left out of a discussion of what it means to be mixed-race. So how do we identify? Where do we fit in?
My dear mum herself is one of them. With her ‘darkskinned’ (loaded terms deh) or for a much better use of language, black, let’s use that for all skin-tones people, mum and her Oriental looking, but of shady/ambiguous origin dad, she grew up in Jamaica unaware that she would not be categorised as mixed race when she moved to the UK. Instead, she found herself coming here and for the sake of avoiding writing an extended thesis on any Monitoring Information forms just decided to self-identify as black. That was all good for her, until she found my Pakistani dad, Mr. Khan (you may have seen his name on various butchers throughout London – please – no photos). Sorry dad, as much as you claim to be Kenyan, we both know that I will never be English, works both ways bruh. Fast forward a few years and the happy couple give birth to this hybrid creation, Bilal Harry Khan, a mixture of all colours non-white, born into a society where to be mixed-race was a progression from being ‘half-caste’ but the term is still loaded with connotations of being ‘half’ white and ‘half’ other. Other. Horrible word. To grow up wondering what your Dadami just said to you in Urdu and just assuming it was ‘more food?’ and then going back to your Nana’s yard and being loaded with curry goat and rice and peas is a great thing. (You half white people are slyly jealous now aren’t you? Pub food is good and that but…) Sorry. That was a joke, if you know me that was ‘Bilal-funny’, not actually funny, but if you’re smirking/rolling your eyes you lot are empathising. But to grow up like that in a society where the ‘so where are you from?’ question is almost fundamental to any social introduction can cause a lot of problems for your own interpretation of identity. Particularly when you never see or hear of much representation of anyone like you. In fact, outside of the Caribbean and Brazil, perhaps the holy grails for being mixed beige pon beige, you could almost be lulled into a false sense of security that ones genetics MUST contain at least some white in order to pass as mixed in our society. Maybe I’m TOO different. A question that all too often passed through my mind, even growing up in a place like Brent, apparently the most multicultural borough in the whole of London I’ll have you know. Great Ikea there as well.
But, It’s obviously a very personal experience, depends entirely on the interaction with both sides of your parentage, the area you’re from, the school you went to, the food you ate, and *insert the rest of the infinite variables that created you here* but regardless, speaking from my own life, the experience of being mixed with a number of ethnic minorities in a still capitalist white patriarchal society with no recognisable space for yourself , not even on a form – and don’t give me that ‘other’ nonsense, cannot fail to put you at a disadvantage.
Now please don’t all jump at once and vote me as champion for all colours of the Dulux beige colour chart. I prefer being a keyboard warrior. But don’t we all think that it’s about time we change our perceptions of what it means to be ‘mixed-race’ in Britain today? It’s 2015, in the urban sprawl where society is increasingly multicultural, perhaps it is time we open up further representations of what it means to be mixed, that being mixed is not just about being half-white, that indeed #ITooAmMixed @Tweetsbybilal
For more articles by Bilal and to follow his blog, please click here bilalupnorth
People in Harmony are hosting an Open Debate on Mixed Race and Education on Saturday 25th April in Bethnal Green London. Sir Keith Ajegbo and Respond Academy were both present at their AGM which I attended in September 2014. I have put the date in my diary already!
Please see the poster below for further information.
It's October 1959; Paddington station is busy... Scanning the departures board for her train a nervous looking woman hurries towards the platform. In one hand she carries a suitcase and holding her other hand tightly is a pretty 2 year old; a mixed race child. The girls's name was Rosemary Walter and the journey she was about to embark on would change her life forever. She could not have known it off course but she was being rejected; hidden. You see Rosie's mother, a white woman married to a white man had had a black lover and Rosie was living proof of a relationship that was not just illicit but in those days deemed utterly shameful... These are not my words but the word's of George Alagiah narrating the three part series Mixed Britannia. The little girl in the story is my mother; this was the tale of the early years of my mothers life... My mother was born in 1957 to a white mother and a Jamaican father; in 1959 at the age of two she was handed over to the National Children's Home and transported from London to Wales; she would spend the next 16 years of her life in children's homes across the country. The world that my mother inhabited in her youth was not like today; there were not as many black people in the country; there was no noteable mixed race population and Wales was more or less a white's only territory. Wherever my mother would go she would not fit in. Her hair was too frizzy, she had big lips and a big nose; there was no way that she could "pass". She was clearly an object of curiosity to the people that she met who had never interacted with a "darkie" before. On holiday's such as Christmas unlike the other children my mother did not have a family that would come and take her back to the family home; she would spend the holiday's with kind Welsh and English families doing a good deed. My mother spent most of her time in care in Wales; she was sent to London, Brixton at the age of 14 to be with her "own kind" as Brixton had become known as a place where the West Indian community congregated together and it was also where her mother lived who had become an honorary Jamaican. It was the thinking of the children's home that as she was getting to the age of having boyfriends she should be around her own kind for mating purposes. For my mother Brixton was as much a culture shock as Wales. My mother had a Welsh accent; she was mixed-race and had never met her Jamaican father. Although she had always sympathised with African-American struggles and her obvious "otherness" made her desire to understand that part of her she knew nothing about; she was not a part of the Jamaican community. My mother faced as much isolation in her early day's in London as she had faced in Wales; she was different; a "red gyal" with a Welsh accent and a lack of understanding of Jamaican culture. She was not accustomed to the ways of the big city and she was alone... Gradually my mother began to fit in; she learnt the cultural codes; she began to make friends, kind friends that took care of her because they empathised with her life circumstances. Not long after arriving in London my mother ran away from the children's home to stay with a school friend. Her friend had brothers and at the time Rasta was dominant in black youth culture so my mother became aware of it; the young Rasta men were protective of my mother and ensured she was treated with respect and dignity by the more unrespectable men. Eventually my mother would return to the children's home but maintained the relationships that she built whilst away. I was born when my mother was 17. She was technically still in care. She had met my father at a wedding. He was a handsome "Shaft" looking guy who wore fancy clothes and had a nice car, he was an ambitious person but perhaps not emotionally equipped to have a relationship with someone who had experienced the trauma of detachment from such a young age. By the time I was 12 my mother was a single parent with 3 children; a care-leaver with no solid family relationships and a limited education; the odds were stacked against her. She seemed destined at the age of 30 to become another statistic but things changed... My mother's life experiences had filled her wit a burning desire to help people to do something good and to support people like herself. My mother had always been unbelievably sympathetic to the plight of down and outs and saw herself in them. So she set out on a journey to do something positive in the world and to one day tell her story. She enrolled at university; she struggled every year to make the grades; she struggled with depression and poverty whilst dealing with a son involved with youth-crime and detained in police stations across London but she was able to find the strength to make it through and get the grades. I remember her watching the movie "Educating Rita" over and over again. I think she saw herself in the character "Rita" and it inspired her to become something more than the statistic that she might have been. My mother's years of study are what inspired me to want to read; go to university and to think about politics and civil society and change the world... Today my mother is a team manager in social services and a qualified social worker; she has escaped the trap of so many care-leavers and is able to support other's whose lives are damaged but she never forgets the struggle that she has been through and still has a burning passion to make the world a better place. A passion that she has passed onto me. The narrative that I began with has been the culmination of my mother's rise from abandoned child to matriarch; the telling of her story on national TV! It is a story of overcoming struggle and adversity in order to become a change maker; a story of identity that I want to continue. In my work I am not pursuing the "dreams of my father" like Obama but the "dreams of my mother"...
Research Student, Remi Joseph-Salisbury is looking for research participants to take part in his project entitled:- 'A consideration of the specific barriers facing mixed-race males in contemporary UK education'. For more information look here . Remi's contact details are on the flyer below.