I watched the recent royal wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry to joyfully celebrate with the rest of the UK, a mixed-race marriage between an African-American woman and a Caucasian man - who happened to be a royal. The marriage has been celebrated as a breakthrough in race relations in the UK.
A globally celebrated occasion – and so it should be – but I’m perplexed. After talking to countless Brits, it’s become clear that despite inter-racial marriages becoming more common in the last 50 years, with high profile marriages like this, its acceptance still lags in everyday Britain.
An Office of National Statistics study from 2011 shows that one in ten people were in a mixed-race relationship in the UK (9%) with that number undoubtedly higher today. According to figures from a British Future report in 2012, such marriages are also becoming more accepted in Britain and more normalised, as concerns about mixed-race relationships fell from 50% in the 80s to 15% in 2012, and that under-30s were Britain’s the most tolerant generation.
Despite this, the report also showed that one in four of over-65s said that they would be uncomfortable about a child or grandchild marrying somebody from a different race. There is clearly a generational divide on mixed-race marriages still prevalent in British society today.
Two generations ago, my Sikh father fell in love and married my Chinese mother in Singapore. They met on a bus, the most ordinary of places, but they knew they were destined to be soulmates the moment they locked eyes with each other, despite their racial, cultural and language differences. Their marriage tore my father’s family apart. My nucleus family with my three siblings was ostracised by my paternal family and I didn’t meet my grandfather until I was 12. He deeply regretted the 12 years he ‘lost’ when he isolated us. I know I’m not the only person from a mixed heritage that has endured this separation.
I repeat this story frequently to highlight the wasted, pointless acts of losing out on spending time with loved ones based simply on prejudice and discrimination. But these deeply-ingrained biases are still very much existing today.
This pretence also lies in the fact that most immigrants to the UK are not welcomed in the same way as Meghan, nor are inter-ethnic marriages so warmly embraced. Many women who marry into mixed-marriages do not necessarily identify with Meghan as representing ‘hope’ for mixed marriage couples. Many will ask “what hope?”, with the additional challenges they face ranging from hostility, negative stereotyping, derogatory comments, awkward stares, inappropriate comments, isolation, rejection or disinheritance from disapproving family, or negative reactions and loss of contact with unsupportive friends.
But this issue doesn’t just begin and end with Meghan and Harry. Hollywood is another wonderful world where the rich and famous seemingly coexist without racial, religious or cultural barricades. Amal and George Clooney, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, and Venus Williams and Nicholas Hammond are all examples of long term relationships that have pushed barriers aside to build a life together.
Perhaps the most confusing world of them all, however, is Bollywood. Its roots lie predominantly in the age-old cultural divide between people from Muslim and Hindu descent but ironically, a few of the biggest celebrity Bollywood couples are in fact Muslim-Hindu mixed who have successfully managed this extremely well. Shah Rukh Khan, known as “The Bollywood King”, a Muslim film star married to an Hindu director and producer, Gauri Khan, remain the most iconic Bollywood couple, happily married for 27 years with three children. However, they are one of many exceptions in the circuit and despite their popularity and romantic love story, modern age British Asians don’t often dare to tread this shaky romantic path.
Today, Muslim-Hindu young couples often face hardships from their unsupportive families who are unhappy at their ‘unfavourable’ union, forcing many to abandon their relationships or face being ostracised from their families if they proceed with the union.
So, love doesn’t seem to conquer all when it comes to mixed-race marriages.
So why does this attitude persist? Much of it stems from ignorance, misconceptions and tendency to fear the unknown or understand others who are perceived to be different from them. Curiously, however, I have observed that money, not love, seems to be the one equalising factor capable of dismantling racial, class and cultural barriers. A person of wealth with the accompanying social standing and fame is more readily accepted by families and society despite their colour, race and cultural differences. What does this say about our society?
Clearly where money talks, there are fewer interruptions.
This status quo cannot remain unchallenged. Mixed-race marriages are firmly part of the rich tapestry of modern Britain. To facilitate necessary, essential changes, more celebrity mixed race couples need to be key influencers, ‘beat the mixed-race marriage drum’ and be role models for public acceptances. Real love stories aren’t easy, and the more we normalise mixed-race marriage by talking about it, its enormous benefits and by showing the joys of loving, understanding and being married to someone who is racially different, the more socially acceptable it will become.
I am proud to be one half of a mixed-race marriage. I frequently do my bit to promote the delights of my union and my mixed-race children are lucky to have first-hand insight of the strength and importance of inclusion and diversity.
With small steps, we can slowly close the gap between the believers and dis-believers. Meghan and Harry are one couple in pole position to take a lead on this. Let’s hope they will go forth to shine a bright light on the love and happiness in their mixed-race marriage, and begin the breaking down of race barriers still present in 2018 Britain.