Excavating The Reno Unearthing The Stigma Of Being Born Half Caste In The 1950s
- 24 October, 2016
- Linda Brogan
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My video camera came today. Soon I will be booking people in twos and threes to record their oral history of the Reno. As I learnt watching Brennan and Marcus there is loads of great stuff trapped in people's interactions. Start thinking about your ideal video partner. You can do more than one with others you might want to have a different reaction with. Big person time now. I have to pull the Heritage Lottery Bid together. First draft of first bit. Slightly different kind of language. Come onto site and log your thoughts.
Beneath the grass on the corner of Princess Rd lies a famous Moss Side cellar club: The Reno. Demolished in 1986. A civilization, with its own monetary system, social structure, king and queen, all frustrated artists. 'Wall-to-wall half-caste teenagers.' The first born on mass in the 1950s, stigmatized by the 1930s Fletcher Report, which states:
‘Offspring of interracial alliances suffer inherent physical and mental defects, are socially outcast and marginalized. The children find their lives full of conflict within themselves and the family and all the circumstances of their lives tend to give undue prominence to sex. These families have a low standard of life morally and economically, there is no future for the children.’
To unearth the correlation between these paragraphs, before the Reno is lost to redevelopment next year, as OAPs, led by Linda Brogan, a Reno Regular, now an award-winning playwright, Reno Regulars will collect Reno oral histories from its 1971 rise to its 1981 gang war fall, in preparation for the Reno’s excavation.
They’ll disseminate their findings in a documentary that rolls to their wicked soundtrack. Before archive and artifacts are exhibited in Manchester Museum as a civilization.
Our project focuses on cultural heritage,
namely the host culture’s reaction to,
and indictment of, the ‘invading’ culture.
Racism is a product of the complex interaction in a given society of a race-based worldview with prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. Racism can be present in social actions, practices, or political systems (e.g., apartheid) that support the expression of prejudice or aversion in discriminatory practices.
A half-caste experience in the 1950s is a unique window into racism, as we experienced it from both sides. We are a manifestation of a historical taboo. If we had been born in slavery to a white mum she’d have been dragged to a nunnery and we’d have been left out to die. Quote by a father about his daughter in a 1950’s report, ‘Rather than see her married to a nigger, I'd watch her die having a kid'.
People spat into our prams. Our white aunts and uncles disowned their sisters. Our black aunts despised us as evidence of the theft of husbands and fathers.
Quote from a 1960’s report, ‘If you’ve got half-caste children, they’ll class you as if you were a prostitute. On the bus you get these old women looking at you from head to foot, you hear them say “Disgusting”.
As a child some of us agreed with the world-view: our mum was no good. If she was what would she be doing with a black man? I have a vivid memory of my mum walking down the corridors of an ante natal clinic with her stockings rolled down, it must be 1963 when I am four. She’s on her way to an internal. I am walking beside her ashamed she is having yet another black baby.
Whilst talking about the experience with fellow Reno Regulars in preparation for our video diaries, we have unearthed how as young men only specific youth clubs were open to them, as they were neither wanted in black nor white clubs. I have first hand experience of black girls wanting to fight me, and my two half-caste, best friends because they thought we thought our pale skin and loose hair was fine.
To hide the abomination, many of us were adopted, put into care, given away to caring neighbours. If the white mum already had a white child often these were given away to move forward with the interracial relationship and make room for the half-caste siblings. When I asked my dad why my mum had not brought her four children from her first marriage, which led to her being alcoholic, my dad said, ‘a black man could not bring up a white pickney.'
Even if our experience wasn’t dramatically extreme, and your life was fairly stable, tiny nuances made us feel different. Our dad’s didn’t have the same cultural love of Xmas. Money in a third world country has a very different resonance than money in an affluent country. Punishment was disproportional to your white mate's. And whole black families knew each other in a whole different way. At my dad’s eldest brother’s retirement party we were the odd family out. More so, when my mum became paranoid that all the surrounding black women were trying to bed my dad. Societal racism made it that my mum saw my dad and his kin as animals too.
In the 1940s and 50s, The Reno was a place where African sailors slept before going back to their ship. During the 1960’s only the basement was in use as a club. As viewed on Manchester Beats’ website, local white bands played there too.
During these years many half-caste were growing up isolated in predominantly white areas. Brought up by marginalized mothers, being made ashamed of their skin. Most often than not, having to fight to defend it. ‘Fuck you,’ their teen self-expression.
I am surmising, and I wil question this in video interviews, they travelled to the Reno to locate their African father. Their dads had moved on. Finding camaraderie with their own, they stayed. Their feral needs spawned a unique culture, Robin Hood mugging, a strict code of conduct, and social hierarchy, governed by the clothes they wore, and the furnishings of the club. Court being the three top tables right of the stage.
There were four distinct phases.
—1971 The Rise of The Flak Jacket Knights.
—1976 Women’s Lib: [when I went down].
—1979 The Rise of The Safari Jacket Knights.
—1981 The Fall ignited by two individual affairs cause first civil, then gang war.
Funneled by these distinct phases, our dramatic story will be video archived on www.thereno.live. Enhanced by photos and memorabilia. Opening each video diary asking, ‘tell me about your first journey to the Reno.' All half-caste Reno Regulars I have approached have commented on seeing loads of their own colour and knowing: they experience what I experience; even though none of us talked about it at the time.
Online, the archive is multi dimensional.
—The old age pensioner telling the story in this era, with these race values.
—Their teenage self in that era, with those race values.
—The subtext trapped in each era will be in dialogue with each other.
—The interacting online audience bring their internal values.
Enhancing memories with archeological remains, to unearth our experience, as the first Salford University archeology spade hits the first blade of grass, all are invested in what has survived of our civilization. Screw, table, flakes of dance floor, strips of the fake linoneum bar all imbued with the heritage of the diaspora born of a diaspora, confined to this tiny plot of land by no blacks, no Irish, no dogs. Both archive and artifact will be exhibited in Manchester Museum, shedding light on the far reaching legacy of the host culture’s reaction to, and indictment of, the ‘invading’ culture.