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A season of BBC2 programmes about mixed-race Britain

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Chantal Badjie | 09:00 UK time, Thursday, 29 September 2011

George Alagiah, presenter of the BBC's Mixed Race season.

When my parents Bianca (Sicilian/Maltese) and Ade (Sierra Leonean/Gambian) got married there was still a lot of disapproval towards mixed-race marriages. White woman who partnered black men in the late 50s and 60s were often seen as 'loose' or 'immoral.' Certainly my brothers and I grew up in the 60s and 70s during a period of much sharper prejudice towards people who looked 'different'.

On April 29th 2001, a new category was added to the census. Simply called 'Mixed' it allowed mixed-race people for the very first time to tick a full range of boxes to describe their identities. Being mixed-race myself, this felt like a 'eureka' moment ...as if we had finally been accepted into the mainstream cultural landscape.

The 'Mixed' question from the 2001 Census

The 'Mixed' question from the 2001 Census

A few years later, while running some BBC career workshops at a South London school I couldn't help but notice how confident and upbeat the young mixed-race people seemed to be. It seemed that life and aspirations had certainly changed for the better for young mixed people since my day.

And this in turn became the seeds of the mixed-race season which launches tonight. Crucially, this is not just a season for mixed-race people, or those in a mixed-race relationship. It is relevant to everyone.

BBC Two is committed to reflecting contemporary society and Britain in 2011 has proportionately one of the largest mixed-race populations in the Western world. So the history of mixed-race Britain plays a part in the history of all of us.

It is for this reason that we wanted the season to explore the mixed experience in Britain - and around the world, from the distant past to the present day, using the testimonies of a range of people to illuminate this seldom-told story. We wanted to explore these issues irrespective of whether the people involved are, for example, of White UK, African, African-Caribbean, Chinese or South Asian origin.

The season does not claim to examine every single mixed-race issue in the UK, nor that we have represented every combination of mixed-race relationship. That would be impossible. What we wanted to do is provide a snapshot of mixed-race Britain past and present, and to demonstrate that this story is a key part of Britain's social and cultural landscape.

But we do have an exciting mix of drama and documentaries that provide a snapshot of mixed-race Britain and demonstrate that this story is a key part of Britain's social and cultural landscape. We wanted especially to look at: the experience of someone who was born mixed-race in the 1930s and who also happened to be a great British cultural icon (Shirley); the science of genetic inheritance and the nature versus nurture debate (Twincredibles); the imperial and global history of mixing (How The World Got Mixed Up) plus a sharp close up look at mixed-race relationships and wider society in the twentieth and early twenty first centuries (Mixed Britannia).

Leading the season is Shirley, an intimate and revealing drama that tells the life-story for Dame Shirley Bassey. She's one of Britain's national treasures but her rise to international stardom was no ordinary rags-to-riches story. It's an extraordinary tale of overcoming poverty through personal sacrifice and we're thrilled that our fantastic cast will bring this story to life for our viewers.

Following on from this is Twincredibles, a fascinating documentary that delves behind the headlines and explores what life is like for five sets of black and white twins born to mixed parents. Many of us are familiar with the newspaper pictures which pop up every few years, but this film unpeels the impact this genetic phenomenon has on how the twins see themselves and how the outside world views them.

In the one-off history documentary, How The World Got Mixed Up, we examine the complex history of interracial relationships and chronicles the shifts in attitudes that for centuries have created controversy and anxiety all around the world.

If the 19th century was a story of mixed-race being created through white men travelling out to Asia, Africa and the New World and creating a mixed-race population outside Britain then Mixed Britannia tells the 20th century story of African, Asian, Arab and Caribbean men coming to Britain and forming mixed-race partnerships here. Presented by George Alagiah, this three-part series explores the remarkable and untold story of Britain's mixed-race community through the decades and examines how mixed-race has become one of the country's fastest growing ethnic groups. But most of all, the series tells an extraordinary tale of love, of couples coming together to fight prejudice and create a new society.

So from the mixed category being included in the census, to Britain in 2011 - what a difference a decade makes. By March 2010 research at Cardiff University was identifying that mixed-race people were perceived as the most attractive, and with increasing numbers of high profile mixed-race relationships it suddenly felt that the entire narrative had turned a corner. So this year when I filled in my census form and ticked mixed white and black African it didn't feel like a special moment. It simply felt perfectly normal to be British and mixed.

Chantal Badjie is Editorial Lead on the Mixed Race Season


  • Comment number 1.

    I think that the acting was great in this drama. I am was very disappointed in the story line. The story told us little of Shirley's life and struggles growing up and only touched slightly on the prejudice that she faced when she never got the part in Oliver and that was it. I was angry that instead it seemed more about her mother and fathers lives. In fact it portrayed the stereo typical views of an age gone by where all white women where little more than sluts for having a relationship with a black man and those black men where no good, equally portraying that all children of mixed race parents where spawned from unsavory characters. I am from a mixed race back ground and my father was a hard working gentle-man and my mother a hard working nurse, both of whom where married and committed to raising their children well, in fact even more so because of the stigma back then. I am surprised that Ms Bassey would allow this programme to be aired. It says something about her if she is willing to allow such a negative portrayal of her parents to be aired this way in favour of her own reputation. Shame on You!!!...As part of the 'Mixed Race' season, would it have not been wise for a mixed raced writer to have done this portrayal. Someone who appreciated the difficulties that Shirley and her family had faced who could have been more sensitive and understanding showing us the positiveness of how her family had tried to help her on her journey to success.

  • Comment number 2.

    Wonderfull the BBC falls back on the race card again , wont be watching.

  • Comment number 3.

    love the way the bbc are brain washing are kids and changing history yet again.after the black season and now the mixed race season will we get a white season?no i dont think so. the only thing the bbc shows is how evil the white man was and slavery.

  • Comment number 4.

    Mostly all the historical documentaries or dramas on the bbc are about white people. So saxonbattle, you dont really need to ask that question.

  • Comment number 5.

    Daz51, saxonbattle - if you watched it you might learn something about the country that we live in now, whether you like it or not. I think that it is teaching our children a lot !!!, I totally agree with you ladynay.

    Iwatchu - I could not agree more.

  • Comment number 6.

    I have to agree with saxonbattle. Britain is no longer a white country, it is multi racial, so surely this makes it ok to use the word white when celebrating white history and cutlure.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    BBC you need to listen & stop your silly moderation games on here

    When is the BBC going to debate the use of the term 'mixed RACE'?

    Surely, it is improper to refer to a segment of our population as having the word 'RACE' in their description.

    We are all mixed race - when is the BBC going to stop using the word RACE in describing people - I still hear the phrase 'half xxxxx' being used, also.

    When is the BBC going to educate itself & set a standard for others to follow in describing this section of our society as having a 'racial tag' :

    Mixed heritage
    Multi heritage
    Dark skinned
    Fair skinned/dark skinned/ light skinned

    Any/all of these are more approriate & less offensive.

    We don't refer to e.g. some as e.g. ' ?? race' ? As, arguably, not having a separate race 'genetically'.

    Can you imagine the complaints e.g. '??? Chinese race' by combining physical descriptions with the word 'race'?

    So please - STOP IT

    When is the BBC going to end this 'involuntary discrimination' - at best, that is what it is under relevant standards & RE Act/legislation.

  • Comment number 9.

    @Saxonbattle and Ladynay, you're both quite right however saxonbattle your wording will just provoke people into irrational reactions due to how no one seems to be able to read between the lines.

    The sad truth about our country is that most of the people who bang the equality drum are actually after something more; retribution and revenge disguised as social 'justice'. The two-faced attitude towards race, that is also state supported, is the real problem.


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