Nick Ahad: TV series brings home the story of mixed race Britain

Growing up, I never had a box. But never having a box never really bothered me.

Forms at doctors’ surgeries, hospitals, school – when presented with any official document that required me to tick a box confirming my ethnicity I would simply mark the one labelled “Other”.

It is not as though every time I was faced with an official form, I sat there looking on in envy of those who could tick “Asian” or “White”, or any of the other specified ethnic groups.

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I actually, dare I say it, quite enjoyed the fact that I was “Other”.

As a mixed race child (or half-caste, as I always referred to myself when I was growing up, although I now understand why many mixed race children find the term horrifying) there were plenty of other issues that mattered far more than my lack of a box to tick.

I was young – very young – when the fact that I was mixed race and therefore marked out as “different” was first brought crashing home to me.

My mum, a white English woman whose father was landlord of a pub in Keighley, stopped to speak to someone in the street. I remember with great clarity this woman angering my mum by asking her “what about the children?”.

The rest of the conversation is fuzzy but I do remember the woman making remarks like “they are neither one thing or another”.

The question she asked: “what about the children?” I remember with the clarity of those defining moments that shape who you are.

It was the first time I was really made aware that my strange-coloured skin, that matched neither that of the white children in my school, nor was anywhere near as dark as the Asian kids, marked me out as different.

This year marks a decade since the box “Mixed” was added to the census form, finally allowing me to officially no longer be “Other” but officially recognised.

I was 24 when this significant change happened. I do remember the first time I filled out a form and had my very own box to tick. It gave me something of a thrill.

But it was only last week, when I was watching the first programme that marks the BBC’s Mixed Race season, that I suddenly felt the significance of a box that I could use as a label. The programmes are revealing to me that the history of mixed race children in the UK is far lengthier and deeper than I imagined, growing up in what felt like the only mixed-race family in Keighley.

BBC news presenter George Alagiah is the front man of the BBC series Mixed Britannia. Having married an English woman, Alagiah, who is Sri Lankan, has two mixed race sons.

He spoke warmly of how wonderful he feels when he looks at his children, seeing the great opportunities open to children with parents from such different cultures.

For my part, I embrace that outlook – but growing up I often saw a quite different attitude in the world around me.

My younger brother and two younger sisters all have entirely individual approaches to the fact that they are mixed race, and the truth is I can only ever speak for my own personal experience.

A television season can never really do anything but scratch the surface of what it means to live with a foot in two different cultures – and where you root yourself within that complex world view.

And, in the spirit of not being po-faced about the subject, I was delighted to see a piece of research from Cardiff University. The city was one of the first to see mixed race children in Britain, and experienced riots last century when white men took arms against black and Asian men who had married local women.

The research revealed that mixed race people are now considered the “most beautiful”.

There’s a box I’d happily tick.