Not a black and white issue

3rd August 2007 at 01:00
Mixed-race pupils are the fastest growing minority in Britain and want to be heard in their own right

JACKSON BLYTON'S father is half Jamaican and half Australian Aborigine and his mother is white and English. So the 15-year-old from Nottingham prefers to be called mixed race rather than black.

He said: "In games of football it was often ethnics versus English. I would play one half with the ethnics and the other with the English." Jackson is one of a growing number of mixed race pupils who are the fastest-growing minority in Britain and yet a group of children whose opinions are rarely heard.

Jackson dislikes ethnic monitoring forms. "I don't tick any of the boxes and I write on them, 'Does it matter?'" he said. "Sometimes it really bugs me out. If the teachers are talking about something to do with black history, they come straight to me as if I'm the expert and I know everything."

A Government-backed study has found that black children suffered from low expectations and peer pressure but gave little attention to mixed race children in their own right. Yet mixed race is set to become Britain's largest ethnic minority group within ten years.

Children from two cultures make up 2.5 per cent of secondary pupils, 3.5 per cent of primary and 5 per cent of under-fives. And more than 50 per cent of mixed race Britons are under-16.

In exams, mixed race children perform below average. Apart from those of mixed white and Asian origin, only 32 per cent of the biggest group, those from mixed white and black Caribbean backgrounds, achieve five A*-C GCSEs, including maths and English.

Leon Tikly, a professor of education at Bristol university, said although there has been some progress by government officials in including mixed race children in policy documents and guidelines, there has been very little progress with the curriculum.

"There is still very little acknowledgement in the school curriculum and in the textbooks of identities that are mixed, rather than simply black or Asian," he said.

Bradley Lincoln founded the Multiple Heritage Project in Manchester last year to raise awareness of mixed race issues in education. With a Jamaican father and white English mother, his background is as a learning mentor working with excluded children. He said many mixed race students felt forced to choose one identity to the exclusion of the other.

"Experiences at school have a massive impact on how young people see themselves in society," he said. "Many mixed race students feel positive about their identity and are confident about where they stand. They want this to be reflected in their schools."

An analysis of labour force surveys by Charlie Owen, senior researcher at the Institute of Education at London university, found that around half the children of mixed white and black Caribbean parents grew up with single, white mothers.

More recent research carried out by a PhD student at the institute showed that most of these mothers experienced racial abuse in the company of their mixed race children. There are some commentators who believe this can cause challenges for some mixed race children. Dr Tony Sewell, director of the charity Generating Genius, which promotes excellence in science subjects among black and mixed race boys, said he worries that these children see their absent fathers negatively.

"It means that some of them have difficulty relating to male authority figures," he said. "Behaviour problems occur in school often as cry for help." It can be a sensitive area for teachers, especially since the terminology is still hotly debated. When the golfer Tiger Woods went on the Oprah Winfrey TV show to say he was mixed race, not black, it caused outrage across black America.

Some people prefer the term "mixed race", others "dual heritage". And others, like Zack Bromberg-McCarthy, a 16-year-old from Nottingham, are not bothered either way. His mother is white, of East European-Jewish origin, while his father's family comes from Jamaica.

"In everyday life people call me black rather than mixed race and I don't mind," he said.

"People are fine with me. They look at me and ask questions, but they never make any snide comments. I don't think I was treated differently by teachers because I was mixed race. They saw me as me, I think."


More than 50 per cent of mixed race people in the UK are under 16

The 2001 census was the first to include a tick box for "mixed race"

Six of the seven "black" England footballers in the last World Cup were mixed race, including Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Theo Walcott.

Mixed white and Asian children do well in their GCSEs, 69 per cent getting 5 A*-C grades, excluding maths and English. This compares with 57 per cent of mixed white and black African students (the national average ) and 47 per cent of mixed white and black Caribbean.

Ten per cent of all pupils in London are mixed race.

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