Equality And Mixed Couples: The Final Frontier
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.
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.
Citizens of the United Kingdom enjoy a number of fundamental freedoms, e.g.:
* freedom of association;
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.
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.
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?
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.
This paper was first submitted as part of the e-conference mixedness and mixing 4-6 September 2007.