Wednesday, 7 January 2015

'My Mother's Mixed Race Experience'

Dreams of my mother...

by Tony Thomas

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"...

Written by Tony Thomas   Twitter OrganiseLondon

Monday, 1 December 2014

Mixed race males wanted to take part in a research project

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.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Disney's Mixed Race Hero

Big Hero 6" is arguably the most ethnically diverse Disney animated movie in the history of animated movies.

It is set in a futuristic metropolis called San Fransokyo (a portmanteau of San Francisco and Tokyo), and where 14-year-old genius robotics expert Hiro Hamada forms a superhero team to combat a masked villain responsible for the death of his older brother.

Hiro and his brother Tadashi are of American and Japanese parentage and what is refreshing is that the characters are played by Ryan Potter (Hiro) who is father is Japanese and mother is White and Daniel Henney (Tadashi) who is of Korean and Irish American parentage. Nice to see mixed-race characters getting parts, especially when it comes to animation as so often characters are voiced by actors who bear no resemblance to the characters they're playing.

The movie has already been released in US, but here in the UK we have to waiting until 30th January 2014. Read more about the movie here

Friday, 21 November 2014

Not So Black and White

By Alexis Wilson

Mixed marriage, abandonment, a mother’s secret, same sex parents, Broadway, the Ballet, and AIDS all make up a multi-colored tapestry of this author’s valiant journey towards a strong and clear passage; leaving the reader uplifted and wanting more.

It is the early 60’s in Europe, when a breathtakingly beautiful interracial couple dance great ballets together and fall passionately in love. She is a Dutch ballerina and he is an African-American international ballet star. They come to America and create a family and a new life. While their daughter Alexis grows up dancing before she can walk, the marriage grows angrily apart. Her father soon becomes one of the few celebrated black choreographers on Broadway, while her mother turns toward a shockingly desperate existence of survival.

At age eleven, Alexis’s world comes crashing. Her mother abandons her and her brother and they are shuttled off to New York City to live with their adoring larger-than-life father, the footlights that beam on the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Chita Rivera, and the other man in her father’s life.

Find out more about Alexis Wilson and Not So Black and White here 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Can you Foster a Child ?

Mixed Race children are significantly over represented in the care system and constitute the biggest minority.  You can see from the statistics produced by British Association for Adoption and Fostering that they form 9% of looked after children. See post
TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust) have asked me to post the following advertisement for new foster carers and adoptive parents. Their core work involves providing high quality and well supported fostering or adoptive families for children and young people in the care of local authorities. They working in partnership with local authorities from offices across England, Wales and Scotland, they are dedicated to providing creative, effective and outcome-focused services. They also campaign on behalf of children and young people in care, carers and adoptive families

Across the UK, there is a shortage of fosters carers to look after children and young people who are in need of a loving home. At TACT, we're always looking for people to come forward and take the first step on the road to becoming a foster carer.

People often ask themselves ‘have I got what it takes to be a foster carer’ and ‘how do I become a foster carer‘. It’s true that being a foster carer can be challenging at times, but our carers tell us it’s the most rewarding thing they have ever done. And at TACT, we’re here every step of the way with support, training and a friendly ear whenever you need it.

So, what do you need to make a great foster carer? Let’s find out…
TACT fostering and adoption charity present this infographic on what makes a great foster carer

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

One Drop of Love

Fanshen Cox DiGiovanniAs an MFA candidate in the Television, Film and Theatre program at California State University, Los Angeles, Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni originally set out to make a documentary about identity and race, using her Jamaican and white ancestry as the core of the story, as her thesis project. But since her concentration was on performance, a professor advised her to do a theater piece to showcase her acting chops. So she took her footage and research and transformed the documentary into a multimedia one-woman show called One Drop of Love

The title derives from the U.S. Census “one drop rule,” which states that a person who has at least one parent of African descent is automatically considered black. The daughter of a Jamaican father (Winston Barrington Cox) and white mother (Trudy Cox), DiGiovanni spent her early years in Washington, D.C., until her parents divorced and she moved to Cambridge with her mom and brother Winston. She spent much of her life questioning and aligning herself with a strong black identity, but falling in love with a European man caused her to ponder that choice more intensely. 

The blue-eyed, blonde-haired actor, writer and producer married her husband, Diego, in July 2006, and her father did not attend the wedding. His absence from her nuptials caused them not to speak for seven years. But One Drop of Love needed an ending, just as her relationship with her father needed reconciliation. Here DiGiovanni talks about her ethnic identity, the role race has played in her family and a chance encounter with one of the show’s producers, actor Ben Affleck.

ArtsATL: How do you ethnically identify?

Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni: I am a culturally mixed woman searching for racial answers. That’s the best I can say, and I explore this in the show. I talk about how my ethnic identity has changed over the years, based on geography and relationships with my family. It is constantly changing. However, I got to the point politically where I had to educate myself about the way black people are treated in this country. As someone who may not look black or identify as black, I have a lot of privileges that people who don’t look like me — who aren’t light-skinned or have blue eyes — can’t take advantage of. Sometimes I think that calling myself black and aligning myself with that struggle does a disservice to people who are actively living that struggle, because they don’t have the same privileges. 

 That’s what the show is about. I spent a good bit of my life identifying as black and aligning myself with movements that are about justice for people who are oppressed. Then I fell in love with somebody who is not in that category, and it shocked me. In 2006, after [Diego] proposed and we prepared for our wedding, I had a lot of difficulty figuring out how I would present that to my father, who identifies very strongly as being black. I was afraid of what he would say and how it would make him feel, so it took me a long time to tell him about the wedding. And when I did he didn’t come; so that’s the opening of the show. ArtsATL: And we get to see you explore that in One Drop of Love?

ArtsATL: What was your relationship like with your father growing up?

DiGiovanni: We were pretty close for my first seven years, because we were all in D.C. When my parents divorced and my mom moved away for her job [as a nurse midwife], we would see him on school holidays and for a month in the summer. We certainly grew further apart during those years, but there was always a piece of me that missed him and felt that it was important to have a relationship with him. I admired him, because even though he is guarded, he is also a very loving man. We weren’t estranged during those years, but we weren’t very close. But when he didn’t come to my wedding, I basically cut him off and we didn’t speak for seven years. 

ArtsATL: So you all just started speaking last year?

DiGiovanni: Yes, we started speaking last year, and honestly it was because I needed an ending for my show. Originally the show was just about our family and the larger historical context about why race was playing this role in our family. I knew that the ending of the play would be that I would call my dad and have this conversation with him, but I had no idea what that conversation would be. I called him a week before I was doing a public reading, and we had the final conversation that you’ll see toward the end of the show. 

ArtsATL: In identifying as black, did that affect your relationship with your white mother?

DiGiovanni: Momma Trudy is a free spirit who loves everybody and cares deeply about justice and equality, and she was all for it. She encouraged my brother and me to attend historically black colleges. She encouraged us to identify as black. She was never hurt by my identity choices. She encouraged us to know her family, but she also shared stories about how her mother disinherited her after she married my father. She did us a great service, because she shared it all with us, including her understanding of justice and equality, especially knowing that my brother was going to move through life as an identifiable black man. 

ArtsATL: How did One Drop of Love go from a thesis project to now touring? 

DiGiovanni: I had the great fortune of having grown up in Cambridge . . . and having done theater with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and we stayed in contact. I think Ben found out about my thesis performance through Facebook, and I got a message from him saying he was going to come see the show. He ended up coming with his wife, Jennifer Garner, then he emailed me a couple of days later and said that he wanted to help me get the show to more places. The first thing I asked him when he offered to help was for a quote for my web page. He wrote back and said he wanted to put me in touch with his agent at William Morris Endeavors, and they signed the show. This part is hard for me to talk about because it is still happening for me. 
ArtsATL: It seems serendipitous

DiGiovanni: This is the best part of the story for me. I’ve been in Hollywood for 13 years, and one of the hardest lessons I learned early on is that you have to make your own opportunities; no one gives them to you. Not to mention the way I look.
When I first moved out to LA, when my agent would send me out on auditions I had to ask whether or not they had submitted me as black or white, so I could decide how I was going to style my hair, how I was going to speak, how was I going to perform my race that day.

ArtsATL: I read on your website that you want to spark conversations about race through One Drop of Love. Right now it seems like we’re talking about race a lot in this country. Does that conversation need to change?

DiGiovanni: I hope that a great deal of what people get out of the show is that we need to focus less on race and more on racism. On the DNA level we are not all that different. There are cultural and traditional differences, but I’m hoping that we can all get behind the fact that this race thing was imposed on us. Perhaps we can examine it and unify to focus on ending racism. 

Find out more about One Drop of Love    

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Marvellous Adventures of Mary Seacole

Come and see amazing actress Cleo Sylvestre (one of our Ambassadors) as Mary Seacole - proceeds to the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal! Friday 10th October 2014 at Clapham Library 7pm. Tickets £12 and £8 for under 16s.
Embark on an enthralling journey with Mary Seacole, one of the unsung heroines of British History - voted one of our top ten Great Britons.

Cleo Sylvestre, acclaimed actor and official ambassador for the Mary Seacole Memorial Appeal, presents her inspirational one woman show illuminating the life of this remarkable woman, based on Seacole's own autobiography. "Be prepared, Cleo Sylvestre will transport you back to the Victorian age and leave you thinking that you had actually met Mary Seacole".
This event is being hosted with the support of Clapham Library.