& mixing

New perspectives on mixed-race Britons

A CRE eConference · 4-6 September 2007

Equality and mixed couples: the final frontier (Ashley Chisholm, MixTogether.org)
17 August 2007

Equality and mixed couples: the final frontier

Posted on: Sunday 17 August 2007




MixTogether.org is a community website dedicated to helping mixed couples (mixed race, religion, caste) who face opposition to their relationship from family or community.

It was founded in 2005 by this author.

The insights covered in this paper are therefore part practice and part personal experience.

The problem

Particularly for the younger generation of Britons, a large gap exists between people's expectations of what should be possible in mixed relationships and what they can actually achieve.

To leave such a gap unchecked risks undermining all other facets of work on equality and cohesion.

What has caused the gap?

Decades of work to promote equality in the UK have produced seismic shifts in the public mindset. Equal opportunities now exist in education and the workplace, backed up with the legal muscle to make corrections where standards fall short.

This has had the intended effect: young people from different backgrounds who go to school, university and work together, for the most part take each other's equal worth as a given.

It should come as no surprise, then, that more and more young people are taking what they have been taught to its logical conclusion: forming romantic attachments across racial, religious and caste boundaries.

These boundaries have been legally and culturally removed (through a lot of hard work) as barriers to full participation in society. So how can anyone uphold the idea that they should be a barrier to romantic relationships?

And yet the barriers remain.

Multiculturalism (in the official sense; a policy of non-intervention in the customs and cultures of migrant communities) has allowed attitudes to flourish which are openly hostile to mixed relationships.

These attitudes are to be found not only among members of the Far Right, but more alarmingly among members of those minority communities who have benefited most from efforts to promote equality.

MixTogether's standpoint

We are very clear about the need for more work to be done with minority communities to promote acceptance of their children's choices. A misplaced sense of cultural sensitivity should not be allowed to compromise a robust defence of the rights common to ALL British citizens, regardless of their background.

Citizens of the United Kingdom enjoy a number of fundamental freedoms, e.g.:

  • freedom of association;
  • freedom of conscience and worship;
  • freedom of movement;
  • freedom to buy and sell goods and services;
  • a free vote in democratic elections;
  • freedom to marry whoever they choose.

These rights are enshrined in British law. Most attempts to curtail them are dealt with robustly.

Yet for many young people in mixed relationships, their freedom to choose a marriage partner is being aggressively curtailed by their families. A range of different pressures is brought to bear, with the objective of forcing mixed couples apart.

Imagine that

Imagine if the media became aware of systematic attempts by older members of certain communities to force younger members to change their votes (this has already happened, with evidence of postal voting fraud in some households at the last general election). There would be public outcry, and measures would be put in place to better guarantee the democratic freedoms of those affected.

Yet in the sphere of personal relationships (which are arguably more significant than election choices, particularly from the point of view of integration) there is a deafening silence in the face of repeated and aggressive attacks on mixed relationships.

These are not attacks in the street, or through letterboxes; they are hidden, domestic attacks with great power.

MixTogether.org only exists because of the dismal lack of official public support given to mixed couples, in the face of great adversity. Not one public statement, not one poster campaign, not one mention in all the reams of media coverage around integration issues has been spared for mixed couples.

Mixed couples should be held up as an example to wider society of how to co-exist. They should be the most authoritative and highly-regarded voices for any party wanting to solve the integration and cohesion puzzle. Problems that would take the authorities years to solve are solved on a daily basis by mixed couples.

The final frontier

If there is to be true equality in the UK, a two-tier system cannot be allowed to continue.

This example illustrates the current situation:

An Asian man (for example) can sue his workplace under the Race Relations Act because he has been passed over for promotion based on his colour.

The same man is then free to go home and exert strong pressure on his daughter to abandon a mixed relationship with a partner she loves- and who the father has never met - on the basis of the partner's colour.

Statistically, we can assume that the family succeed in splitting the couple up.

Aside from the great damage done to the girl, her ex-partner is also left with the stark realisation that it was his colour- not his character and individual merits- which ruled him out.

He, and all his family and friends, had welcomed the girl into their lives and homes on equal terms. But they have all been rejected because of what they are, not who they are.

Why should any of these people now 'buy-in' to future efforts to improve equality and integration?

Our proposal

We believe the Commission for Racial Equality/ CEHR has a constructive obligation in this area.

Strictly speaking, their remit is to be guardians of the Race Relations Act, which only covers the provision of goods and services in the public sphere. Yet the success which they have achieved in the public sphere is precisely what has given young people the confidence to mix romantically.

What is needed is not more legislation, only simple leadership.

Just as employees can point colleagues to generally accepted standards of race relations in the workplace, mixed couples require a commonly acknowledged validation of their desire to be together.

They should at the very least be able to quote a general standard, supported publicly by the CRE/CEHR, which says that couples should not be forced apart without parents meeting the partner in question.

That, at least, would be fair and equitable.

About the author

Ashley Chisholm is the founder of the community website, Mixtogether.org which is dedicated to supporting mixed couples who face opposition to their relationship from family or community.

Ash raises many many points here that are so important to the acceptance of a varied culture in the UK.

As a member of the site that Ash has created, and in a mixed relationship myself, I am in the 'firing' line of these issues.

The pressure that Asian familes are putting on their children in the UK is against everything the UK stands for in equality, for men and women, for people of all colours and backgrounds. It's not just a 'parental' pressure issue, it is underlined by basic racist underpinnings. This is why it is so important for the authorities to realise this. unchecked this will grow and cause greater and greater problems in our beatifully mixed country.

05 September 2007

Re: Research: I agree further research might be interesting. On one of the forum threads I suggested it would be helpful to drill down into some of these recurring surveys we see about approval of mixed relationships. Maybe that could be a 'quick win'if there are any academics readig this!
05 September 2007


When I say "Government shouldn’t automatically be expected to step in and sort out social problems" I mean there are right and proper limits to how far into our lives that Government reaches (and also limits of capability - research has shown that people feel sports stars and musicians are most influential when it comes to encouraging race equality not politicians), not that we are not getting involved. I’m sorry if I gave that impression.

I wouldn't consider this e-conference standing round wringing our hands and there have been messages more generally about the importance of inter-ethnic friendships (from which love blossoms I would suggest) although this is certainly not the last word.

We could all always do more and this conference is a way to try and think through these issues. My point was that it’s maybe not as simple as you suggest.

05 September 2007

One thing that would be helpful is research into the scale of the problem...
05 September 2007

Thanks for all these comments.

I am going to assume that everyone missed the part where I say: "What is needed is not more legislation, only simple leadership. "

To repeat, legislation is not the answer.

However, the CEHR standing back and saying 'we don't know what to do' is not the answer either.

The Forced Marriage Unit's Survivors Guide opens with the statement:

"Everyone has the right to choose who they marry and
when they get married."

If this can be said in relation to forced marriages, then it can be said in relation to all marriages.

It is difficult to see why this simple and obviously true message should not be communicated more widely. If it needs to be specified that it is in relation to mixed couples, then shouldn't we have the courage to say so?

Anyone genuinely worried about being seen as an 'assimilationist' should be more concerned about young mixed race children growing up without the critical support of their grandparents and wider family. Why would anyone want to be part of a culture which has rejected them?

Again, there is no suggestion that people are being told who to fall in love with. It is a question of being louder about people's basic freedoms.

If anything is to be learned from mine and Tanya Dutta's articles, it should be that what the CRE thinks is implicit in its messages is not being implied anywhere near strongly enough.

Standing and wringing ones hands while young people all over the UK are being disowned- or worse- because of mixed relationships is not really a satisfactory response to the problem.

If "Government shouldn’t automatically be expected to step in and sort out social problems" then why does the CRE exist?

05 September 2007

As Rob suggests this highlights the limits of policy and government’s reach. On the one hand, criminal law exists to protect individuals against the most severe forms of opposition but what of the rest of the spectrum?

I think it is implicit when the government or the CRE talks about the importance of people working, learning or playing together (which it does) that people should be free to make friends and fall in love with who they like. But it is not explicit. This might be for a number of good reasons

– not wanting to come across as assimilationsists (in all the talk of community cohesion there is of course an assumption that communities are valuable entities)

- As Rob says, there are real limits to how effective statements from Ministers or Trevor Phillips might be.

- There would probably be a public discomfort to government even having a positive opinion on who we fall in love as long as it permits us to have freedom

And policy tends to shy away from the ‘softer’ (if that is the right word) side of life - current forays into happiness attract lots of media interest but are still really tentative and social capital theory is more interested in clubs and institutions than unstructured friendship or even love. Why doe sit shy away? Probably for the reason above.

Government shouldn’t automatically be expected to step in and sort out social problems. It can create the framework and support but sometimes the voluntary sector or the arts are the points from which change happen.

05 September 2007

Ashley, you raise some really important points here about the damage that can be done when families allow racism to deny the aspirations of their children. I agree, of course, that people should be free to form relationships with whoever they choose. I wonder, however, about the policy intervention that you suggest. Policy is a pretty blunt instrument and better at removing barriers than changing attitudes. Legislation on forced marriage offers some hope of respite for those who come under pressure to marry against their will. Legislation that enables people to issue proceedings against other members of their family for not accepting their choice of partner seems unenforceable and undesirable to me. They would be strange court cases indeed! Exhortations from the CEHR are also likely to have little impact in this area. Approving because 'Trevor Phillips says so' would be a weak reason and as much as I rate Trevor's presuasive skills, possibly even beyond him. I'd be interested to hear about interventions that might be more effective, even if softer - such as the influence of social institutions, the media, support mechanisms etc. that might be more persuasive in terms of familial relationships. The work of mixtogether seems one source - what support can the rest of civil society provide?
Rob Berkeley
05 September 2007

I support your campaign.
Joanne Payton
02 September 2007

I was born and raised in Northwest London and so, for me, making friends with those around me, whatever their background was an imperative and necessary ability for a well adjusted social and personal attitude. It was also, very interesting.
In the first instance, my experience of the attitudes of some of the families protected by Britain's multiculturalism laws is one of confusion and lack of self perspective, in an out of context social and culturally blinkered position. The result is a reversion in behaviour to base attitudes that are often, quite simply, too blunt a tool to deal with the complexities of human life and of course, love. Having observed myself that morality and religion are clearly linked for a lot of people, it seems obvious that this is the paradox which binds people to modes of behaviour that attach ultimate and absolute authority to the basic lack of subtle understanding that is required in order to develop a modern system of morality that is relevant to an ever changing modern way of life.
On a personal level however, I have seen at first hand that, although many families may make things difficult for their children and in some cases, siblings, ultimately parents simply want their children to be safe, well and loved. It is these basic tenets that are at the heart of many of the misplaced actions of those who are afraid of the consequences of challenging the norms of their respective 'old country' ways, even if those consequences may in fact be negligible. 'Perceived' fear is what really controls a lot of people's decision making, but the only recourse to defeating that is through continued balanced education and the emancipation of marginalised people by way of a developed awareness of the language, art, music, literature, law, history, science, philosophy and lastly, the individuals who have made Britain what it is today.
Good luck to MIXTOGETHER.ORG. It is a brave and noble idea and i wish it every success.

Dominic Lowe
24 August 2007

I read your paper earlier today and it brought back alot of memories from a few years back. The effect of being in a situation where you are openly rejected by the family of your partner because of your racial difference is in incredibly detrimental and harmful to your sense of self and individual self worth. It can take a long time to clinb back from this position. I'm not sure of the best way of making people aware not only of the fact that this happens but also of the fact that it is an unacceptable response to an individual. Reading your article though, I suddenly became aware of two things: firstly that it is not spoken about enough and as a result the sense of loneliness and profound and irrational failure that comes from it can sometimes be overwhelming; secondly, that I was actually not alone when this happened to me and that I could have found support if I had known where to look. It is my desire in life to be the fish that swims against the tide. I nearly stopped swimming at one point, but I think that a few of us have to swim and hopefully the rest will follow.
Sharon Walker
17 August 2007

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