Where can we be seen or heard? Mixed-race female stories that need to be told

Based on research project on mixed-race females, this article reveals the educational needs and the implications of their voices on all students of colour and their teachers. It describes the ‘single story’ narrative they battle with, both within society and the educational system.

The students self selected, by their Sixth Form head had asked students who identified as mixed-race to come forward. While teachers and society in general often assume that a mixed-race identity adheres to a black/white binary, the group of girls that came forward were very diverse. Ava (2019) who expressed her heritage, being half Algerian, half Irish woman, complained about the shocked expression people have when she says,‘ I’m biracial’.They think I’m fully Arab. I think my type of mixed raced isn’t prominent in media,’

Understanding the diversity of this group has implications for Initial Teacher training and Continual Professional development and what is taught in the curriculum. Emilia, one of the research participants, was shown photographs from BLACK BRITAIN a Photographical History by Paul Gilroy 1930-60; she said photographs like these have never been seen at school.it’s good to see back when it was harder to unite under racial tensions, the resilience to still try and prosper’ (2019).

‘It’s important that black/mixed-race people know their backgrounds. White people should know as well that black people have been through a lot, migrated from one place to another, to settle down and make a home, build a future’ (2019).

All the interviewees describe the external pressures of racialised perceptions imposed upon them and the lack of well navigated discussion around being mixed race in schools. ‘The ‘ordinary’ stories of ‘everyday’ people mixing and of mixed race – both now and then… are critical in presenting a more balanced picture of the experience of racial mixing and mixedness – one that is not all about cultural harmony and acceptance but equally is not all about tragedy, prejudice and difficulty.’

Visibility in childrens literature

As part of the interview the young women were asked to reflect upon representation of mixed-race people in Children’s Literature, by commenting on a range of picturebooks.They all lacked BAME representation and the importance of being reflected (Bishop, 2012), Serroukh appeals for this imbalance to be readdressed: ’it is not an act of charity but an act of necessity that benefits all’..This invisibility can have ‘damaging’ effects on students’ educational confidence, risking increased marginalisation in our current socio-political climate (Serroukh, 2019)

The diversity within that makes up the mixed-race group needs to be reflected in children’s picture books, not adhering to the black/white binary, a ‘single story’. It creates stereotypes… they make one story become the only story’ (Adichie, 2009). ‘The largest mixed group was white/black Caribbean group…35.9%. The mixed white/Asian group numbered…28%’ (Lewis, 2009). If mixed-race females can be facilitated in shaping their own identities, so they do not feel ‘out of place’, it needs to be reflected in books.

It is paramount that mixed-race representations reflect the common and diverse experiences of this diverse group. Diversity in picture books should be defined by,’families with different ethnicities or races, friends, foods and clothes from different cultures, people could also know different foods that aren’t just sandwiches’ (2019).‘A representation that reflects the diversity of who they are. Not necessarily stories those are only positive but stories that embrace all facets of humanity. I don’t think there is any clear recipe for representing people that are mixed’ (Chetty, 2019).

Decolonising the curriculum

Resources are monocultural and do not represent the multicultural students in an average inner-city school. Ava describes the absence of mixed-race people in the curriculum ‘not even in sociology, I don’t think there’s any specific representation of mixed people’ (2019)

All the participants also discussed the discomfort they felt when teachers could not navigate discussions around race, ethnicity and mixed history. Freddie explained how her teachers seemed unaware on the ways to negotiate discussions around race, ‘teachers don’t want to talk about race, it’s like they feel it will open up a can of worms (2019). This indicates a wider context of how many teachers are deficient in racial literacy. If histories of mixedness are mainly hidden then it is hard to integrate them into the curriculum.

Some of the steps the system needs to consider are:

  1. The employment of more teachers of colour/mixed-race teachers

Chetty believes training in education needs to disrupt and employ ‘a productivediscomfort that people start recognising that the profile of teachers [is far whiter] does not represent the profile of kids in this country and if they haven’t reflected on that, it could be a problem’ (2019).

2. Race awareness training, an understanding of whiteness and world/social history for teachers.

3. Professional development that develops critical thinking and teachers’ ability to navigate complex discussions.

4. Classroom practice that enables students to draw up their own experiences; while developing critical thinking to navigate complex debates.

Freire (1970) hooks (1994) and Janks (2010), advocate for a conscious shift in power in the classroom to increase dialogue: ‘If the structure does not permit dialogue, the structure must be changed’ (Friere, 1970).

5. Advocating for the publication of authors of colour and mixed race

When talking about discrimination in the publishing industry, Lawrence commented that although some publishers purported to support marginalised people and diversity, their organisations were predominantly white. Ramdarshan Bold (2019) recommends that the publishing industry needs to recognise ‘the social, cultural and creative case for inclusive publishing alongside the commercial opportunities and invest accordingly,’ (2019).

Coleman, director of children’s books at the Booktrust Campaign acknowledging this discrimination has taken the positive step of launching ‘a three year programme to support and subsidise BAME children’s authors and illustrators because “Children need to see themselves in books and to have access to a rich and diverse range of voices”’. (Ferguson, 2019)..

The publication of nuanced, authentic stories by BAME\Mixed-race authors and illustrators of colour will bring about the reflections and connections these mixed-race females desire and deserve.

This research has revealed the dominant representation of the black/white binary in the mixed-race category and how this can undermine mixed-race people that are not represented by this.

Equally importantly, nuanced narratives would raise debates that lead towards more mixed-race people shaping fluid, self-determined identities, agency, ‘belonging’ and change in education. Echoing Emilia, knowing our pasts to find resilience and understanding for the present and future.

Article written by Maya Bednall-Greaves