Mixed Britannia

Over the past few decades, people and couples from mixed racial backgrounds in Britain have become increasingly visible in the public eye, and there is still a tendency to herald their presence as part of a new multicultural phenomenon – what has been dubbed the rise of 'Beige' or 'Brown Britain.'

Yet, mixed race people and couples have a long presence in Britain, as evidenced not only by the prolific debates about the implications of interracial relationships and 'mulattoes' and 'half-caste' children in the late-eighteenth and early-twentieth centuries but also, as we increasingly see, through their own accounts.

In a British Academy Small Grants funded project 'The Era of Moral Condemnation: Mixed Race People in Britain, 1920-1950', Dr Chamion Caballero (Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Studies, London South Bank University) and Dr Peter Aspinall (University of Kent) explore the intersection between perceptions of racial mixedness and mixing by official forces with those of people, couples and families from mixed racial backgrounds themselves.

Collecting the evidence

The project sourced a range of archival material from national and local archives. It included official documents, autobiographical recordings and photo and film material to understand how social perceptions of racial mixing and mixedness emerged and the effect they had on the lives of mixed race people, couples and families themselves, as well as their place in shaping contemporary ideas and experiences.

The project's findings indicate that while mixed race people, couples and families certainly experienced prejudice and hostility in this 'era of moral condemnation', they were not inherently 'tragic', 'marginal' or 'doomed', but simply another part of the longstanding diversity and difference that is a feature of British life.

Part of BBC documentary

In addition to forthcoming publications, findings from the research also form the foundation of a forthcoming three part BBC2 series 'Mixed Britannia' presented by George Alagiah and was subject of an article in The Guardian.

Charting events from the turn of the 20th century to the present day, George explores the social factors that have influenced the shape of the mixed race Britain we see today. The first episode of the 3 part series is scheduled for broadcast on Thursday 6 October 2011. Dr Caballero is interviewed in this series, and Dr Caballero and Dr Aspinall are credited as academic consultants.

The following future publications are based on the research:

  • Caballero, C. (2012) "From 'Draughtboard Alley' to 'Brown' Britain: the 'ordinariness' of mixedness in British society" in Edwards, R., Ali, S., Caballero, C. and Song, M. (eds) (2012) International Perspectives on Racial Mixing and Mixedness. London: Routledge.
  • Aspinall, P. (forthcoming) 'The social evolution of the term 'half-caste' in Britain: The paradox of its use as both derogatory racial category and self-descriptor.'

For more information about the project, you can contact the project team via email at mixedbritannia@lsbu.ac.uk or visit the BBC Mixed Britannia page.

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