Wednesday, 7 January 2015

'My Mother's Mixed Race Experience'

Dreams of my mother...

by Tony Thomas

It's October 1959; Paddington station is busy... Scanning the departures board for her train a nervous looking woman hurries towards the platform. In one hand she carries a suitcase and holding her other hand tightly is a pretty 2 year old; a mixed race child. The girls's name was Rosemary Walter and the journey she was about to embark on would change her life forever. She could not have known it off course but she was being rejected; hidden. You see Rosie's mother, a white woman married to a white man had had a black lover and Rosie was living proof of a relationship that was not just illicit but in those days deemed utterly shameful...

These are not my words but the word's of George Alagiah narrating the three part series Mixed Britannia. The little girl in the story is my mother; this was the tale of the early years of my mothers life...

My mother was born in 1957 to a white mother and a Jamaican father; in 1959 at the age of two she was handed over to the National Children's Home and transported from London to Wales; she would spend the next 16 years of her life in children's homes across the country.

The world that my mother inhabited in her youth was not like today; there were not as many black people in the country; there was no noteable mixed race population and Wales was more or less a white's only territory. Wherever my mother would go she would not fit in. Her hair was too frizzy, she had big lips and a big nose; there was no way that she could "pass". She was clearly an object of curiosity to the people that she met who had never interacted with a "darkie" before. On holiday's such as Christmas unlike the other children my mother did not have a family that would come and take her back to the family home; she would spend the holiday's with kind Welsh and English families doing a good deed.

My mother spent most of her time in care in Wales; she was sent to London, Brixton at the age of 14 to be with her "own kind" as Brixton had become known as a place where the West Indian community congregated together and it was also where her mother lived who had become an honorary Jamaican. It was the thinking of the children's home that as she was getting to the age of having boyfriends she should be around her own kind for mating purposes. 

For my mother Brixton was as much a culture shock as Wales. My mother had a Welsh accent; she was mixed-race and had never met her Jamaican father. Although she had always sympathised with African-American struggles and her obvious "otherness" made her desire to understand that part of her she knew nothing about; she was not a part of the Jamaican community.

My mother faced as much isolation in her early day's in London as she had faced in Wales; she was different; a "red gyal" with a Welsh accent and a lack of understanding of Jamaican culture. She was not accustomed to the ways of the big city and she was alone... 

Gradually my mother began to fit in; she learnt the cultural codes; she began to make friends, kind friends that took care of her because they empathised with her life circumstances. Not long after arriving in London my mother ran away from the children's home to stay with a school friend. Her friend had brothers and at the time Rasta was dominant in black youth culture so my mother became aware of it; the young Rasta men were protective of my mother and ensured she was treated with respect and dignity by the more unrespectable men. Eventually my mother would return to the children's home but maintained the relationships that she built whilst away.

I was born when my mother was 17. She was technically still in care. She had met my father at a wedding. He was a handsome "Shaft" looking guy who wore fancy clothes and had a nice car, he was an ambitious person but perhaps not emotionally equipped to have a relationship with someone who had experienced the trauma of detachment from such a young age.

By the time I was 12 my mother was a single parent with 3 children; a care-leaver with no solid family relationships and a limited education; the odds were stacked against her. She seemed destined at the age of 30 to become another statistic but things changed...

My mother's life experiences had filled her wit a burning desire to help people to do something good and to support people like herself. My mother had always been unbelievably sympathetic to the plight of down and outs and saw herself in them. So she set out on a journey to do something positive in the world and to one day tell her story. She enrolled at university; she struggled every year to make the grades; she struggled with depression and poverty whilst dealing with a son involved with youth-crime and detained in police stations across London but she was able to find the strength to make it through and get the grades. I remember her watching the movie "Educating Rita" over and over again. I think she saw herself in the character "Rita" and it inspired her to become something more than the statistic that she might have been.

My mother's years of study are what inspired me to want to read; go to university and to think about politics and civil society and change the world... Today my mother is a team manager in social services and a qualified social worker; she has escaped the trap of so many care-leavers and is able to support other's whose lives are damaged but she never forgets the struggle that she has been through and still has a burning passion to make the world a better place. A passion that she has passed onto me.

The narrative that I began with has been the culmination of my mother's rise from abandoned child to matriarch; the telling of her story on national TV! It is a story of overcoming struggle and adversity in order to become a change maker; a story of identity that I want to continue. In my work I am not pursuing the "dreams of my father" like Obama but the "dreams of my mother"...

Written by Tony Thomas   Twitter OrganiseLondon