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 You are in: Features
Mixed Race
Britain's fastest growing minority

By Cindi John
Community affairs reporter

Glen and Ishi Harbott and one of their two sons, Arif

How one family found their different cultural backgrounds have led to an enriched life over the past three decades.

It is early Friday evening in the Harbott household in north London and Ishi, Glen and Arif, one of the couple's two sons, gather to eat and discuss their day. It's a typical family scene played out in homes across the country.

But Ishi Harbott is among the one in ten Asian women in the UK with a white partner.

It's crazy to object to mixed race relationships ... It enriches your life rather than detracts from it.
When she met Glen Harbott at Surrey University in 1971 mixed relationships were a lot less common than now.

"I think unusual would be an understatement. There were only about five non-white people in the whole of the university," said Ishi Harbott recalling the couple's early relationship.

Glen Harbott said even in the less racially enlightened atmosphere of the 1970s, Ishi was totally accepted by his family in the predominantly white area of Dagenham in Essex.

But Ishi said her decision to marry Glen came as a shock to her family in Tanzania in eastern Africa.

"It was an unsaid thing that I would marry within the Muslim religion.

"I had to write to tell my dad about my marriage which was very difficult.

"I got a letter back saying if that's what I wanted they would accept it. But later on I found out that he was quite upset," she said.

But she had paved the way for other siblings to marry outside their religion with a sister and brother both marrying non-Muslims, Ishi added.

‘Londoners more tolerant'

The couple believed they had been fortunate in avoiding the open hostility that some mixed race couples encounter.
BBC News Online: Race survey

Question: "Would you marry or have a relationship with someone from another race?"

But Glen Harbott said he had sensed some former friends’ unspoken disapproval.

"We've been to some of my school reunions and people who were good friends have never said a word to me about my marriage. And I often wondered if it was because they didn't approve.

"It's crazy to object to mixed race relationships because you're cutting off countless of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

"It enriches your life rather than detracts from it, " he said.

The Harbotts said they felt that they would almost certainly have been more "hassled" if they had not always lived in London.

"I think it would be very hard for us to go and live somewhere that wasn't a big city.

"I think London's great, people are more accepting and more tolerant," said Ishi.

'Melting pot'

That feeling was echoed by the couple's son, Arif, whose dual ethnic heritage means he is part of the fastest growing segment of the UK population.

Background & analysis

"Part of the huge interest [in mixed race couples] is based on the assumption that it wouldn’t happen ... there’s an implicit assumption that you marry somebody of the same colour as oneself..."
Prof Richard Berthoud

Read the analysis to find out more
Arif, 23, is an auditor with a City bank. His 21-year-old brother, Karim, graduates this year.

Arif said race had not been an issue for him until he went to secondary school.

"I went to a predominantly white school and my name gives it away quite quickly so I did get picked on sometimes."

But he believed society had changed since then.

"It's very rare I meet someone who is just one race now especially working in the city, it's a lot more kind of a melting pot in the city."

Arif, who has taken his mother's religion, said that like many mixed race people he tended not to define himself in racial terms.

"I wouldn't say I was black but I wouldn't say I was white, I'm kind of in-between. It depends who I'm with I guess."

He valued the fact that his parents different racial background meant he had a diverse childhood, Arif added, and race would not be a factor when he chose a partner.

His mother echoed that sentiment.

"Whoever our kids marry it wouldn't make a difference to us. It's nice because for them I think it will be easier - at least I hope it will be easier," she said.

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