Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Whites keep Britain racially tolerant

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The Independent Online

According to an ICM survey of 18- to 34-year-olds for the BBC Asian Network, most white Britons - a whopping 87 per cent - would happily marry out and between 78 and 83 per cent would date people from outside their own race. Depressingly, the same survey shows that only 53 per cent of Asians say they would marry outside their communities and between 44 and 53 per cent would date non-Asians. Despite the popularity of the BNP, the rise in inter-ethnic tensions and pervasive racism, and our own dreadful Asian prejudices, indigenous Brits are becoming more delightfully open when it comes to love and sex.

Inter-racial relationships have long been barometers of social integration, cohesion, trust and equity between peoples, and these isles now have the highest numbers of mixed-race families in the Western world. However, numbers on their own can't tell the whole story. High levels of sexual communion between different races sometimes indicates subservience and abuse.

Miscegenation in the British colonies was often about control and power. Masters and mistresses used their slaves for violent sex and uptight colonials sought furtive sexual release with "submissive" and obliging natives. The centuries of imperial domination left psycho-sexual damage on both sides. There were examples of genuine, poignant affection between the rulers and their subjects, most noticeably in India before the imperial takeover. In Burma, China, parts of Africa too, some mixed-race couples resisted rules and expectations. With the arrival of ex-colonial migrants, a more equal crossover became possible.

White British women, mostly from the working classes, reached out to black and Asian men, who reciprocated. Explosive sexists and racists tried but couldn't stop transracial love and lust. In 1957, an academic, S F Collins, confidently asserted that the racially mixed family would soon be a normal feature of British life.

He was wrong. The fear of contamination got worse in the lovey-dovey Sixties and Seventies. When, in 1961, The Rev Clifford Hill said on radio that he could accept a good black man for a son-in-law, he was deluged with furious letters: "I sincerely hope that God will cut short your life and that you will die soon so that dear, little white girl may be saved from the hideous fate you plan for her. A black blubber-lipped Negro on top of her." Until the Eighties, mixed-race families were ostracised, mostly by white Britons. Then it started to change. Surveys I commissioned for two books I wrote on the subject showed white attitudes were shifting. Fewer of them cared about "purity" and more were drawn to different cultures and races.

As if to fill that airless space, black and Asian Britons started objecting to what they saw as pollution of their race. Note that the outrage burst out as more black and Asian women chose white partners. Until then, that had been the prerogative of their men. All too soon, though, the chorus of disapproval spread. Black women accused black men of seeking trophy blondes; Asian women said Asian men had white lovers because the women were easy. Young black and Asian people moved into single-identity mental enclaves and sought marriage partners of exact specifications in terms that would never be accepted of whites.

In the Sixties a distinguished Caribbean scholar Fernando Henriques slammed biological and cultural protectionists : "The notion here is that an ethnic group has an almost divine mission to maintain its racial purity. The consequences of this belief have produced immeasurable suffering in the world - Hitler's genocidal activities were only one of the manifestations of this delusion." White Britons have dropped that delusion while Asians have picked it up. Let's hear it for the whities. They keep alive possibilities my brethren seem determined to destroy.

Shilpa is outstanding, but vacuous

"My parents always wanted me to be a graduate and today it's been realised." So effused the always effusive Shilpa Shetty, queen of all our hearts and now the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from Leeds Metropolitan University for "outstanding services to cultural diversity". And then they wonder why we laugh at new universities. Shetty left school at 16, headed for Bollywood where her mediocre talent kept her in supporting roles and then, astutely, got into the Celebrity Big Brother house where she behaved with impressive decency when baited by ugly racists. She won, and deserved to for surviving Jade Goody. But tell me, do you think this winning though vacuous (and deliciously voluptuous) BB starlet deserves awe and veneration from ministers, royals, ambassadors, and now vice-chancellors? Or not? Phone in your vote on our premium rate Shilpaline.