Mixing it up with white men isn't easy: Emma Lindsey looks at the prejudices black women encounter in mixed-race relationships

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Indy Lifestyle Online
CELIA has never forgotten the way her first lover danced in bed. She complains that she has yet to find a man who could understand what she is talking about, never mind reproduce it. Thelma says a black man will make love to you from top to toe with an unmistakeable sensuous rhythm. Both are young black women. So why do they now find themselves with white men?

These are some of the questions explored on Channel 4's new late- night series Doing It With You . . . Is Taboo, which starts tonight. Sexual relationships between blacks and whites are hardly new: black men have been dating and marrying white women for decades. But what is new is the increasing number of black women who have relationships with white men.

Stella Orakwue, the programme's producer, says her reasons for making the series were partly personal. She has been involved with white men and had noticed no one was really talking about the difficulties of mixing it up.

At last, someone is willing to tackle the subject head on. Everybody is doing it - well, a lot of people are - but I have found that it is virtually a taboo subject outside the milieu of friends.

The deeply entrenched view is that it is not OK for black women to have sexual relationships with white men. But as a friend of mine recently commented: 'Black men have been chasing white skirt since time, but as soon as we start to mix we're made to feel bad, as if we're selling out.'

So is this recent trend revenge? Are black women going with white men to get their own back or to make a point? Speaking for myself, I noticed that the black men I fancied always seemed to be with someone else; perhaps that is why I turned my attention elsewhere. I will notice any man if he is attractive; colour does not come into it.

Dave and I have been together for four years. Neither of us fits easily into any category, so I think that is what drew us together initially. We are both mixed race: I am half black and half white Yorkshire, while Dave is half Indian and half white Welsh. He is light-skinned and, apart from a strong Indian nose, appears European. I am obviously half black and so people assume we are a black and white couple.

After a life of liberalism and ease at university, moving to Walthamstow in north London, with its large Asian and black communities, exposed us both to a lot of unexpected prejudice. I remember going to Hoe Street market with Dave one Saturday and getting hostile vibes from black men. No one said anything, but the disapproval was apparent. It was implicit from their behaviour that these men thought I should stick to 'my own kind'.

On another occasion Dave and I had gone to an Indian cafe. As soon as we walked in, there was a sudden hush and heads turned. When I tried to order I was blatantly ignored so I had to let Dave take over. The waiter tried to speak to Dave in his language and looked disgusted when he did not understand. It was obvious he thought Dave was a lost cause and I was little better than an untouchable.

Society in general has a problem with mixed-race relationships and the hostility to black women mixing it up with white men is just one expression of this.

The disapproval of some black men stems partly from a sense of ownership. Black men who object do so because they consider black women to be their property; they cannot sanction the idea of white men taking their women. One all-too- common scenario is that of black women, obviously with their white partners, being propositioned by men who feel free to offer their sexual services. Because their partner is not black, he does not exist. Men have approached me in clubs that I have been to with Dave, asking: 'What are you doing with him? You know I'd be better.'

In general, we seem to have an easier time of it around white people. It could be because they feel less defensive and so less threatened by us. Or it could come back to sexism; because Dave is perceived as white and he is a man, it is fine for him to be with a black woman.

The constant awareness of other people's disapproval can be wearing and does put strains on a relationship. I remember when an American friend of mine, James, came to stay last summer. We were walking to a pub in north London and I noticed black people smiling at us; some even passed the time of day. James is black. It was brought home to me forcefully that life might be easier if I was involved with a black man.

But hot on the heels of that realisation was an indignant inner voice that said, 'Stuff that, I'll do what I bloody well like, it's my life]' If the person who makes me laugh, hugs me when I am sad and makes excellent pizza (from scratch) looks white or is white, why does it matter?

It matters because we live in the real world. And it is nave to think that love is all you need. Black people cannot deny history or politics, they are part of what we are. We all know that historically the relationship between blacks and whites has been one of inequality and exploitation. So it is now seen as politically incorrect for us to choose to sleep with white men because white slave owners systematically raped black women. But we cannot let that negative past control our lives.

Relating to someone whose racial make-up is different from one's own necessitates constant dialogue and reappraisal of ideas. We probably think about the reasons we are together more than same-race couples because we are always being challenged.

As for the old chestnut that black men are supremos in the sack: from my experience it is not entirely true. Ultimately, sex is as good as you feel about the person you are with. I don't care about the colour of the man I am with, he just has to be very special.

(Photograph omitted)

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