Wow, what a story! While I think that Mrs. Brannigan’s choice to feign adoption in order to keep her own son is a sad commentary on black/white race relations, I honestly admire her commitment to her child and think her solution was clever. This certainly is a unique story of “transracial” “adoption”.
Torment of the child from a mixed- race affair
By Ronan Lang
Tim Brannigan likes to say that he was born on May 10, 1966, and that he died the same day too. Minutes after his birth, Tim was ferried away from his mother Peggy, who subsequently told her own parents, siblings and her three other children that her baby had died in childbirth.
For the next five days in Templemore Hospital in Belfast, Peggy Brannigan had one ashen-faced visitor after another express their deepest condolences for her loss while, just a few doors down, her baby gurgled and cooed away like any healthy newborn.
The reason for the deception was that Peggy was a white woman married to a white man, and her new son was black. During a difficult period in her relationship with her husband Tom, Peggy had met and had a brief affair with a Ghanaian doctor named Michael Euke.
When she became pregnant, Peggy panicked and told her husband that she had been raped.
When the baby was born, Tom went along with the charade. Somehow, Peggy also convinced the hospital staff to assist in her scheme. The plan was for Tim to be smuggled to an orphanage under strict instructions that he was not to be adopted.
Peggy needed time and headspace to figure out what to do, but the plan was eventually to ‘adopt’ her own son. To her credit, by the time of Tim’s first birthday, he was living with his family deep in the heart of the Falls Road.
EastEnders scriptwriters would throw out that idea for being too far-fetched, but it’s all true, and laid out in honest, mind-boggling detail in Tim’s new book, Where Are You Really From?
Speaking to Weekend on a recent visit to Dublin, Tim recalls the night that his mother finally confessed the truth to him.
“I was 19, and I remember it was the night before Live Aid,” he says. “We were at a family function, and we’d both had a few drinks. She was saying how she wanted me to travel and see the world. Then, out of the blue, she said, ‘Timothy love,I’ve something to tell you. I’m your real mum and you are my son. You’re not adopted’.”
It’s a bombshell by anyone’s standards, but Tim, astoundingly, managed to take the news in his stride. He remembers crying, but from happiness.
“Honestly, I found it relatively easy to process,” he explains. “At that stage, my relationship with her was already quite established. I viewed her naturally as my mother. I didn’t call her by her first name, I called her mum, and I was closer to her than most of my other brothers. It all just seemed right to me.”
Having had years to absorb the story, and the chance to revisit his origins through writing the book, Tim says that he understands his mother’s desperate motivations after he was born. “I think she was very proud, and was part of a culture of looking out the net curtains and judging others,” he says.
“Because her family were close to the Catholic Church, and they had a little bit of money, she couldn’t bring herself to tell her parents and it became this massive burden. I think mentally she let this secret get out of all proportions. Even after she told me in 1985, I wasn’t allowed to tell my two eldest brothers the truth. They only found out in the last decade.”
Peggy went on to tell Tim about his real father, who had refused to support Peggy and had only ever seen his son once as a toddler. Nevertheless, Peggy seemed to want Tim to find out more about his father.
“She wanted me to be excited about having this father all of a sudden, but I had no initial desire to meet him,” Tim says.
It would be almost 20 years before Tim finally did meet him. In the meantime, Tim completed a degree in politics at Liverpool Polytechnic, but it was the explosive politics in his native town that were to define his 20s and 30s.
…Surprisingly, Tim reveals that the most sustained racism he ever encountered in his life didn’t come from his neighbours on the Falls Road, schoolmates, Republican comrades or Loyalist foes, but rather from the British Army — even its black members.
“I think I escaped the worst aspects of any racism because Belfast was so conflicted,” he says. “The last thing the British Army were expecting to see was a black kid, so they’d be shouting things like ‘black bastard’, ‘nigger’ and ‘go back to the jungle’. But people on the street would then say, ‘Don’t listen to them Tim, ignore them’, and so I became ‘one of us’ and the soldiers were ‘them’.”
… Sadly, his mum’s health took a turn for the worse in October 2002 and, for the best part of two years, Tim nursed her until she died from a brain tumour in March 2004. With his mother’s wishes in mind, Tim decided to track down his father three years ago as part of a BBC Radio documentary.
“Even after all his messing around, my mum held him in high esteem,” Tim says of his father. “Whereas I was more cynical about him. I was like, ‘Why would I want to track him down? He knows where I am, and he’s never bothered. He’s clearly made his decision.’
“My mum wanted me to do well, and I think she wanted to say to him, ‘Look what I did with our son on my own’. So I started with a view to saying, ‘I’ve been through a lot, but I’m still standing; this is who I am; this is what’s happened to me’.”
It’s a journey that brought Tim as far as Ghana to eventually meet his birth father. Along the way, Tim discovered that he had five brothers and sisters on his father’s side, many of whom live in London. After showing initial enthusiasm towards Tim, they have since cut off contact. They’re likely taking the cue from their father.
“He’s a very successful, quite wealthy guy in Africa,” Tim explains. “Money doesn’t motivate me, but they might think I’m after something.”
Tim met with his father a few times during the documentary trip to Ghana. “It was pretty awkward and stilted,” he recalls. “He’s a man who seems to be able to compartmentalise his life. His wife, as far as I know, to this day doesn’t know about me. We met a few times for a drink, but it was clear he didn’t want me around. He was determined to keep me away from his house and the rest of the family.”
The last time they spoke, or had any contact, was by text and an argumentative phone call over Christmas 2008. Now that his story is out in print, there could be a chance of reconnecting, but Tim isn’t going to hold his breath.
“I think a couple of them are on Facebook so I probably will message them to say, ‘Brace yourselves’,” he says with a smile.
So has Tim dealt with what must be deep disappointment, and made peace with the fact that any kind of relationship with his father and half-siblings looks unlikely?
Tim smiles and pauses before replying: “There are issues … in my quiet moments. I find myself thinking, ‘What if?’, or, ‘Will I try again?’
“It’s still a bit of an emotional maelstrom, but what can I do? Maybe they’ll read this and change their opinions.” He pauses again before continuing: “I guess it comes back to what a social worker warned me when I first started looking for my father. She said, ‘If you don’t want to hurt anyone, then turn around now and don’t do it. Someone always gets hurt’.”
Where Are You Really From? by Tim Brannigan is out now, published by Blackstaff Press, €13
– Ronan Lang
read the rest @ Irish Independent
I just wanted to post a bit more about the history of Little Black Sambo. I think the most important aspect of this history is the way the character/story has made people feel about themselves. White privilege protects a majority of people from the hurts that can be evoked by “harmless” depictions in story books and advertisements. The price for that protection can come in the form indifferent ignorance.
- “The cultural understanding of ‘Little Black Sambo’ is a negative,” says Professor Frank Gilliam of UCLA. “It’s meant to suggest that people of African descent are childlike, that they’re irresponsible, that they’re not fully developed human beings.”
- Langston Hughes pointed out that Little Black Sambo was “amusing undoubtedly to the white child, but like an unkind word to one who has known too many hurts to enjoy the additional pain of being laughed at.”
The following is excerpted from an essay found at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia:
Arguably, the most controversial picaninny image is the one created by Helen Bannerman…The book appeared in England in 1899 and was an immediate success. The next year it was published in the United States by Frederick A. Stokes, a mainstream publisher. It was even more successful than it had been in England. The book’s success led to many imitators — and controversies.
Was Bannerman’s Little Black Sambo racist? The major characters: Little Black Sambo, his mother (Black Mumbo) and his father (Black Jumbo) used standard English, not the bastardized English then associated with Blacks. Stereotypical anti-Black traits — for example, laziness, stupidity, and immorality — were absent from the book. Little Black Sambo, the character, was bright and resourceful unlike most portrayals of Black children. Nevertheless, the book does have anti-Black overtones, most notably the illustrations. Sambo is crudely drawn, an obvious caricature… The names Mumbo and Jumbo also make the characters seem nonsensical at a time when Blacks were routinely thought to be inherently dumb.
The illustrations were racially offensive, and so was the name Sambo. At the time that the book was originally published Sambo was an established anti-Black epithet, a generic degrading reference. It symbolized the lazy, grinning, docile, childlike, good-for-little servant. Maybe Bannerman was unfamiliar with Sambo’s American meaning. For many African Americans Little Black Sambo was an entertaining story ruined by racist pictures and racist names. Julius Lester, who has recently co-authored Sam and the Tigers, an updated Afrocentric version of Little Black Sambo, wrote:
When I read Little Black Sambo as a child, I had no choice but to identify with him because I am black and so was he. Even as I sit here and write the feelings of shame, embarrassment and hurt come back. And there was a bit of confusion because I liked the story and I especially liked all those pancakes, but the illustrations exaggerated the racial features society had made it clear to me represented my racial inferiority — the black, black skin, the eyes shining white, the red protruding lips. I did not feel good about myself as a black child looking at those pictures.
Little Black Sambo served as the boiler plate for a spate of other versions, many of which used mean-spirited racist drawings and dialogue. The vulgar reprint versions were symbolic of Black-White relations. Little Black Sambo’s popularity coincided with the crystallization of Jim Crow laws and etiquette. Blacks were denied basic human and civil rights, discriminated against in the labor market, barred from many public schools and libraries, harassed at voting booths, subjected to physical violence, and generally treated as second class citizens. The year that Little Black Sambo came to America a Whites-initiated race riot occurred in New Orleans. It was effectively a pogrom — Blacks were beaten, their schools and homes destroyed. Little Black Sambo did not, of course, cause riots, but it entered America during a period of strained and harsh race relations. It was, simply, another insult in the daily lives of African Americans.
The anti-Little Black Sambo movement started in the 1930s and continued into the 1970s. Black educators and civil rights leaders organized numerous campaigns to get the book banned from public libraries, especially in elementary schools. In the 1940s and 1950s the book was dropped from many lists of “Recommended Books.” By the 1960s the book was seen as a remnant of a racist past.
Little Black Sambo was again popular by the mid-1990s. Its recent popularity is a result of many factors, including a white backlash against perceived political correctness. This is evident in internet discussions. Americans, Black and White, are rereading the original book (and some of the unauthorized reprints). There is agreement that Bannerman’s book is entertaining. However, there is little agreement regarding whether it is racist. White readers tend to focus on Bannerman’s non-racist intentions and the unfairness of judging yesterday’s “classics” by today’s standards of racial equality. Blacks find the book’s title and the illustrations offensive. Most of the debate centers on Bannerman’s version; there is no debating the racism explicit in later editions of the book produced by other writers and publishers.
© Dr. David Pilgrim, Professor of Sociology
Ferris State University
For someone who has a romanticized view of Japan as a near-perfect country/society, this is quite disappointing. It’s not the first I’ve heard of Japanese insensitivity to stereotypes of African-Americans, and I hope that’s all it is. Insensitivity. Oh, Japan.
Little Black Sambo Comes to A Japanese Kindergarten
By Geoff Dean
The end of the last year of kindergarten and/or nursery school in Japan usually features a school play. My elder daughter played Toto in a very loosely arranged “Wizard of Oz” (there were two other Toto`s and all the boys were flying monkeys, meaning there was no scarecrow or tin man) while my younger one recently took a shot at “Alice in Wonderland” in a form probably unrecognizable to Lewis Carroll.
So when a nursery school in Saitama ran a school play, it was nothing out of the ordinary. There were songs, cute costumes, dancing, and kids who cried when the couldn`t remember their lines. Pretty much par for the course. Except that the school play was “Little Black Sambo”.
The Midori (Green) Nursery School of Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture (about an hour northwest of Tokyo) might have escaped notice if one concerned parent of a biracial child who attended the school, had not posted the play`s contents to Facebook. On questioning, a teacher at the school admitted reading the controversial book to the kids in her charge and arranging the school play based on the book. She said the kids “all” loved the book and found it very “cute”. The children even sang a ditty she wrote that was translated as “Little Black Sambo, Sambo, Sambo. His face and hands are completely black. Even his butt is completely black.”
This is not the first time that the racial insenstivity of Japan has gotten them in trouble. A few years back, a toothpaste brand called “Darkey” featured a grotesque picture of a person of color with hugely oversized lips and glowing teeth, the implication apparently being that this toothpaste would make your teeth as shiny as those of a “darkey”. It was ultimately pulled from the shelves but not without much consternation. Many Japanese friends asked me what all the fuss was about.
Another involved the drink Calpis which is sold as Calpico is the states. The carton of the drink featured a “minstrel Al Jolson-style” black faced person with a top hat and the proverbial oversized lips. It was also eventually withdrawn.
I am especially concerned that “Little Black Sambo” was performed in a school where a biracial child was in attendance. How was he/she expected to feel? Did the teacher even consider that? I rather doubt it.
Still, the problem in my view ultimately stems from the lack of exposure and contact (deep, not superficial) that Japanese people have with the outside world. Traveling to and shopping in Guam and Hawaii does not equal “cultural sensitivity.” Especially in rural areas like Saitama, the idea that some might find “Sambo” offensive has never sunk in. But then again, when we have a governor of Tokyo like Shintaro Ishihara who constantly blames the rise of crime on foreigners and especially the Chinese, despite reams of data to the contrary, what can be expected?
Now, as for homphobia, ageism, sexism and glorification of the abuse of women in Japanese media….OK, don`t get me started already!
The facts that the story is read at the school and that this “play” was performed are disheartening, but it gets worse! The parents of the biracial child complained. Big time. And yet the school refuses to remove the book from the classroom, or to stop the children from singing the offensive ditty. I found this letter detailing the fallout after the performance on BlackTokyo.com.
Dear Black Tokyo,
I would like to bring the following matter to your attention.
A daycare center named Midori Hoikuen (みどり保育園), or Green Daycare Center, in Tokorozawa City in Saitama Prefecture, located just 30 minutes by train from Ikebukuro station in Tokyo, has been teaching hate speech to three-year old children daily, despite the protests of the parents of at least one biracial child in the class.
Although technically a private institution, the parents were originally instructed by the city of Tokorozawa that their child would have attend daycare there.
During the two years that the child has attended the daycare center, the parents had never once voiced a single concern about the operation of the daycare center until much to the their shock, the daycare center based a play / musical to be performed on Saturday, February 27th, 2010, on the book Little Black Sambo:
This is the very same book that several Japanese publishing companies had stopped printing due to public outrage in 1988. When the book was reprinted by one rogue publisher in 2005, many residents of Japan–foreign and Japanese–signed a petition encouraging the publishing company to use a different title and illustrations for the book due to their offensive nature:
Unfortunately, now that the book Little Black Sambo has been republished and widely distributed in Japan, it is apparent that the book is now being taught at Japanese daycare centers and quite possibly preschools and elementary schools across the country as well. At least two additional volumes of the book have also been printed by the same rogue Japanese publishing company.
…Here is a quick translation of some of the frightening lyrics from the song the children are being taught to enjoy singing daily at the daycare center in Tokorozawa:
“Little Black Sambo, sambo, sambo
His face and hands are completely black
Even his butt is completely black”
Obviously, that kind of speech should never be taught to children by teachers at a daycare center. Those words are more akin to what might be taught by a white supremacist group.
Apparently, the book they daycare center is using even comes complete with demeaning pickaninny images.
Now every time the 3-year old biracial child sees a black person he starts using the racial slur and mentions their black skin. The parents now fear taking their own child out in public or overseas. As the child is of such a young age, it also is not effective for the parents to tell the child not to use those derogatory words outside of daycare, as the child will only use them more.
In an attempt to be as understanding of cultural differences, as it was possible that perhaps the daycare center teachers were just not aware of the problems with the book, the parents of the biracial child both wrote letters in Japanese explaining the history of the book, why the title was discriminatory, and mentioning that they thought that illustrations showing demeaning racial stereotypes were not appropriate for young children.
The parents even showed the teachers that the term “sambo” was offensive and derogatory, both in English and in Japanese.
Beside being used as a disparaging reference to black people, the English dictionary makes it clear that the word is also used to refer to people of “mulatto ancestry,” in other words, the offspring of parents of different racial origin.
After doing a little research, the parents soon found that the term had been in use and deemed derogatory as far back as 1748, 150 years before the book Little Black Sambo was even written. In addition, the derogatory word “sambo” has been prohibited from being broadcasted on TV or radio in Japan, which was also explained to the daycare center.
This fact that the book contains offensive slurs shouldn’t even be considered news to anyone in Japan, when when Little Black Sambo was republished in Japan in 2005, the website of the Asahi News reported that the book was said to “discriminate against black people” and the article can still be found online:
In an attempt to help the daycare center out of a sticky situation, the parents of the biracial child even had the two following books sent by express mail and took them to the daycare center:
The Japanese translations of “Sam and the Tigers” and “The Story of Little Babaji.”
Both books above are modern, politically-correct retellings of Little Black Sambo that would not cause offense.
However, the daycare center said that they were not only already aware of the politically correct versions of the book, but has also refused to use them.
The daycare center’s excuse is that since all of the children have already learned the title Little Black Sambo, there will be no change in the title whatsoever. The staff have continued to teach the use of the discriminatory word “sambo” and encourage the children to enjoy using it.
In addition, at a meeting with one of the parents of the biracial child, the daycare center said that although they could not make any promises, they would “try” to change the lyrics of the song. However, it seems that additional lyrics were never actually taught and the biracial child and others in the school continue to use the hate speech filled one.
It appears that nothing has been done at all and that the daycare center is just trying to avoid the problem. Despite the parents’ protests, the daycare center still continues to use the racial slur in the presence of their biracial child and encourages the child’s classmates to enjoy singing the song which clearly contains hate speech.
Despite the daycare center’s claims, the fact is that there is no good excuse for racial discrimination.
It is shocking that a daycare center of all places, located just 30 minutes by train from downtown Tokyo, where the population includes a fair number of black people and numerous African Embassies, is teaching hate speech to small children.
As can be imagined, this has caused quite a lot of stress for the family with the biracial child. While understanding that this matter needs to be brought to the attention of the public, one of the parents of the biracial child has expressed concern for their family’s safety, and so wishes that the family not be further identified publicly.
Japanese society is based on shame and often slow to change. As a culture is appears that may Japanese people prefer to try to ignore problems and just hope they go away. Only by shaming organizations that discriminate and drawing the public’s attention to the problem of racial discrimination in Japan, will real change eventually come about.
Please take the time to contact the daycare center yourself, either in English or Japanese, and raise your concerns about the daycare center’s teaching of hate speech to young children. It will only take a minute of your time and contact information is provided below.
Midori Hoikuen (みどり保育園)
Tel: 04-2948-2613 (Monday to Saturday, 9 AM – 5 PM)
Tokorozawa, Saitama 359-1161
Please also make your voice heard, by sending a carbon copy to Tokorozawa City Hall, Department of Daycare Services, which has been informed of this issue:
Thank you very much for your time. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.
This message can be freely copied, distributed or published online. Please help raise awareness of racial discrimination.