Questions

Been crunching figures all day for the Heritage Lottery Fund bid. It was kind of therapeutic, like filing, or ironing. Something where your mind can tick over on the back burner and question what you are actually trying to say. Got in trouble yesterday about my blog, from 4 different angles.

 

Thinking out loud.

 

That’s a good thing. It means people are reading it. It’s not a good thing. I am not getting my point across. So I am going to try and simplify it today.

 

In a huge conversation I had over the last week with various mixed race people of our generation we realised we harboured derogative thoughts about our mothers thanks to the view being perpetrated by society at the time: that white women who had been with black men were no good. That they had crossed a mark they could not re-cross. I was not targeting any white woman in particular.

 

Walking in the park with a half-caste friend, we tried to imagine we were our mums pushing a trolley with one of us in it in 1959. We tried to comprehend how it must feel if the whole park is against you. You and the child are as good as lepers. As we said, this must still be lurking in our minds. In our mother’s mind. Like mustard gas it has permeated our family and our self-perception.

 

The 1930s Fletcher Report.

 

In the 1930s a lengthy social report was conducted in Liverpool about the offspring of interracial relationships. The conclusion was: ‘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.’

 

At first when I read it I was livid. How dare they. But as I thought about it I began to wonder if they weren’t right. Not the bit about the mental and physical defects that is just pure undiluted racism, with a word of warning, like a government health warning on the back of a cig packet:

Do Not Have Sex With A Black Man This Is What You Will Give Birth To.

 

The bit I have been forced to question is the internal conflict, and the reasons why.

 

It was conflicting to be half black and half white: for me anyway, in loads of little tiny ways, as well as large dramatic ways. My mum always went out of her way to save money at the Post Office from September onwards to make sure we had Xmas presents. My dad showed no interest. Whether right or wrong, I thought this was because he was black. It might have been because he was a man. It might have been just his personality: he was a bit of a Scrooge. I also put that down to him being black. When I had visited Jamaica in 1974, it was like going back to slavery. There was no electric, no running water, and they still cooked on rock stones outside.

 

I had already had the idea to dig up the Reno:

an act of pure defiance.

 

It was the idea that had led me to read the Fletcher Report. It’s a bit the chicken and the egg. I can’t think about the Reno without remembering the first night I walked down the stairs and Derrick Thomas, Paul Collins, Ozzy Sadie, they are too numerable to mention, was staring back at me, all these other conflicted half-caste souls.

But it doesn’t stop there. I have a brother and sisters who didn’t go, or didn’t quite go to the Reno, so it isn’t just purely about being half-caste.

When I was the writer in residence of Contact Theatre 2002, again the majority were mixed race. But they were all aspirational artists. It had a similar vibe to the Reno. In the Reno we'd never have dared think we could be artists in 50s, 60s and 70s. Were we frustrated artists? Was it more like the famous Chelsea Hotel that spawned Jim Morrisson, Jimi Hendri? Loads of us could draw, paint, sing, dance, tell great stories, were witty as hell.

 

And did we never attempt it because unwittingly we still wore this 40 odd year old Fletcher Report label in the 70s?

 

I don’t think our videos can throw up answers to these questions. But they will give us a voice to question them. And as Marcus said, because I am also one of us, not Alan Wicker, Louis Therioux, or a myriad of other white middle class who can afford the time to wave a camera in someone’s face, I will not angle the footage to pass judgement.

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