A hotbed of mixed feelings: Why should black people choose only black partners? Emma Lindsey examines the complex web of inter-racial relationships

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Mixed race relationships are a socially 'criminal' offence punishable by derision and exclusion from the black community. Of course this isn't true but it is not far off. Recent articles in the black press highlighting this phenomenon of 'jumping the wall' - wealthy black people ditching black partners in favour of white ones - have brought this controversy into a wider arena.

It's a hot topic, with a small band of black celebrities, such as Frank Bruno, Chris Eubank, Naomi Campbell, John Taylor (the former Tory candidate), Lenny Henry and athlete Derek Redmond caught in the glare of the searchlight. But isn't it all a rather hysterical attempt to rub a bit of gloss on a wrinkly old chestnut? Significant numbers of mixed race relationships have existed in Britain for about 40 years. The large numbers of mixed- race offspring, of which I am one, walking the mean streets and lush valleys of Britain, testify to this fact. We'll still be here after the interest has died down, and one key problem with this 'back to black' movement is that it seems to ignore our existence. Just what is the black community up in arms about?

It's a long, complicated story full of conflicts, controversy and an unhealthy dose of bullshit. But before we start, let's get one thing straight. Unlike the Aryan, Jewish, Chinese and just about every other racial group, sadly the notion of the 'black community' is a myth. We might like to think it exists and that we're all pulling together in the same direction as our African-American counterparts, with some degree of success; but we don't. Divisions in economic power, education and therefore social class and mores, have torn us apart. So the notion of there being a united stance on this is a fallacy.

Critics of inter-racial relationships, particularly those marriages between black professionals and white partners, say marrying out undermines the possibility of ever creating and sustaining a substantial black economic power base in Britain and more important, the sense of community that would hinge upon it. This assertion has a lot to recommend it. The black middle class is small - 1.8 per cent - but growing steadily, which is reflected by the rising fortunes of The Weekly Journal, the only black broadsheet newspaper targeted at this readership.

But the point that back to black proponents are missing, however, is that black people in Britain do not have the same collective experience of slavery from which to draw a sense of togetherness.

The black American model of unity, where relations between blacks and whites have reached apartheid status in many parts of the country, just doesn't fit here where, generally speaking, relations have been more relaxed. Schools in the US are, according to recent reports, more segregated than at any time since the civil rights era and some universities are divided on racial lines.

Black people came to Britain separately and for very different reasons: large numbers of people invited from the Caribbean to share Britain's prosperity during the Fifties, instead found themselves servicing it; wealthy Nigerians settled here to educate their children at the best schools and universities; Somalians and Ethiopians came to find refuge from conflict at home.

When it comes to relationships, the back to black movement is indicative of a general mood of retrenchment - a reaction to increased racism. The move against the proliferation of mixed-race partnerships is just another manifestation of this. If the prickly truth be told, there is a crisis in relationships between black men and women, which the move to inter-racial partnerships has signified.

Recent research by the Policy Studies Institute shows 27 per cent of African-Caribbean men are cohabiting with a white partner, compared with 21 per cent of black women. Among African groups 24 per cent of men choose white partners while only 13 per cent of women do. In sharp contrast, the figures among African-Asians are 3 and 4 per cent respectively.

The article that revived this debate was written by a black woman, Lounna Morrison, for Pride, a black women's magazine in which she claimed that there doesn't seem to be any famous black/black partnerships. (She has a relationship with a white man influential in the media.)

A lot of bright, hardworking black women feel they do not have much choice when it comes to finding a compatible black partner. And seeing potentially eligible, middle-class black men marrying white partners rankles. Black women are fed up with being passed over for white counterparts. Any street survey will show, without exception, that black women want black partners and will turn to white partners only as a last resort. .

A lot of women feel black men choose white partners because they know they will have an easier time of it both within the relationship and in the outside world, where a white partner will be seen as some kind of trophy - symbolic of having 'arrived'. As Madonna's latest recruit for her Maverick label, Me'shell Ndege Ocello, puts it on her album Plantation Lullabies: 'Visions of a virginal white beauty dancing in your head you let my sisters go by/ Does your white woman go better with your Brooks Brothers suit?'

Black women are strong, cultural mores demand it. More African-Caribbean women head households than any other group and a large proportion of women feel black men cannot handle this female success.

Shara, a Welsh-Nigerian teacher who has had more than her fair share of difficult relationships, says: 'I am black. I want a black partner because it just feels right. There is already a shared level of understanding which brings you closer because you're at the same starting point. You don't have to explain the things you would have to explain to a white partner. But for some reason my relationships with black men just kept failing. It reached the point where I contemplated seeking a white partner. At last I've found a black man with whom I am happy and each day I wake up and I pray it will last. But I'm telling you, if this one doesn't work, that's it, I'm never going out with a black man again; I've given them enough chances.'

The positive aspect of the back to black movement is that increasing numbers of black men are opening their eyes and ears to black women. But, Marie, a black writer, is sceptical: 'If this move back to forming meaningful relationships with black women is genuine, then great. But I think a lot of this is posturing.

'The (black) 'conscious' men walking around in sombre clothes and glasses shooting off about selling out and all the rest, are the same ones I remember seeing on the club scene 10 years ago strutting around with white girls in tow. Black girls didn't get a look in. Now things have changed and it's not PC even to admit to having had those relationships in the past. It just makes me suspicious. If they can't be honest about their past, how can they be taken seriously now?'

The conclusion has to be that any relationship formed on grounds other than strong mutual emotional, intellectual and, yes, physical attraction, is open to question.

(Photographs omitted)

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