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Last Updated: Monday, 12 June 2006, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Is this the last taboo?
By Tanya Datta
Producer, The Last Taboo

Mixed-race relationships are growing rapidly in the UK - but remain extremely low between black and Asian people, despite a shared history of struggle against racism.

"Basically there was a racial hierarchy. The first choice for marriage is someone in your own community, then after that, white is the next best thing. And after white, any other race in the world but black."

In a small flat in east London, Rena, a 27-year-old Briton of Indian descent, recalls the stark marital guidance she received from her father when she was younger.

It was advice that she chose to ignore, however, because, sitting and smiling alongside her is her fiancÚ, Tony, 30-year-old black Londoner of Ghanaian origin.

The warning from Rena's father reveals the depth of hostility and intolerance that can often confront Asian and black relationships from within their own communities.

I knew that my feelings for Rena weren't going to change - it was just a question of getting her parents to see the vision

Despite the UK having one of the fastest-growing mixed race populations in the world, the overwhelming majority of inter-ethnic married couples in England and Wales include a white person.

Romance across the racial divide between black and Asian people is not just rare, for many it remains a taboo.

Thrown together through the history of colonialism and post-war immigration, Britain's black and Asian people have lived alongside each other for decades in many major cities.

Their communities span diverse countries, languages and religions from Africa, the Indian Sub-Continent and the Caribbean.

But although they share a history of struggle against racism, concealed underneath are deep and ugly fault lines - fault lines that can split apart when people from these two communities fall in love with each other.

In a modest bungalow in Coventry, Davinder, Rena's father does not deny warning his daughter against marrying someone from the African-Caribbean community. But he is at pains to make me understand that, "it was not out of hatred."

Instead, Davinder says, his warning came out of love for his daughter because he believed that black men had a problem with commitment to the family. He did not want his own daughter to be abandoned.

Rena says that Tony was not even shocked to hear that her father had these views of black men."

"Tony summed it up and said, 'Oh, so your dad thinks that black men are bed-hopping, baby breeders then?' And then he said: 'I'll try my best to disappoint your father,' as in, I'll prove him wrong, and that was quite nice."

Over the next two years, Tony was repeatedly called upon to do his best as Rena's parents fought the relationship.

Vimla, Rena's mother, admits she was deeply afraid that her daughter could be marginalised and isolated by her own community and family for choosing to be with someone black.

But despite the fraught scenes and painful conversations, Rena and Tony refused to cave in to the pressure. They were determined that Rena's parents accept their love.

"I knew that my feelings for Rena weren't going to change," says Tony. "It was just a question of getting her parents to see the vision."

Antagonisms and prejudice

Antagonism to Asian and black mixed-race relationships can come from both sides, although more often than not, it appears to be the parents on the Asian side who have the most objections.

All mixed race: 1.27%
Mixed white/black: 0.61%
White/Asian: 0.36%
Mixed other: 0.3%
Source: Census 2001
Some of the couples interviewed for BBC's Radio 4's the Last Taboo talked about hostility from the African-Caribbean sides of their families.

Some black people we spoke to conceded that there is a general attitude of suspicion and resentment towards Asian communities.

While antagonisms over relationships tend to be a personal matter played out between and among families, tensions do however run a lot deeper between the Asian and the Black communities.

Last October, violence exploded on to the streets of the Birmingham suburb of Lozells as young black and Asian men clashed over what remains an unsubstantiated rumour of rape.

As riots tore apart the ethnically mixed neighbourhood, a young black IT worker, Isaiah Young-Sam, was fatally stabbed. Three Asian men were sentenced to life imprisonment in May for the racially-motivated murder.

The events of October have caused a lot of soul-searching among the communities affected, with questions raised about how much do black and Asian people really communicate in modern Britain.


While that debate is one to be had nationally, the delicate process of building relationships inevitably begins on a very personal level.

Madness, 1982
It was just not accepted in those days - she was shunned by a few people in the family, my father tried to talk her into getting the pregnancy terminated
Lee Thompson of pop group Madness

Back in Coventry, and after a long process of soul-searching of their own, Rena's parents found their own way to make peace with their daughter's relationship.

When Vimla and Davinder told their own extended families in India and the UK, they were amazed that both Rena's grandmothers had accepted her choice of partner.

And it wasn't long before Tony called on Rena's parents to formally ask for their daughter's hand in marriage. They agreed.

The very next day, a strange moment of serendipity occurred that removed any last lingering doubt about the suitability of the match.

Davinder and Vimla had left home early to find a gospel choir for their younger daughter, who was also engaged, and had her heart set on a church wedding. But at the church, Rena's parents walked into the wrong room.

Instead of a gospel choir, they were greeted by a small Zimbabwean congregation who welcomed them warmly into their midst. Rena's parents spent four hours in their company. When they finally walked away, they had all become friends.

For Davinder and Vimla, these were to be their first real black friends.

"And then," says Rena, "I think, they really accepted Tony for who he was."

The Last Taboo is on Radio 4 at 1100 BST on Monday 12 June at 1100 BST or afterwards at Radio 4's Listen again page.


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