A lot has been said about the role the media plays in irresponsibly allowing bigoted views to flourish. Often we find newspapers stoking the fires of prejudice themselves. The Sunday Times has just proved that they’re no exception. (I’d recommend reading the whole thing)
Inspired by the upcoming film “A United Kingdom”, the author of this article provides a brief history of interracial relationships in Britain, beginning in the 16th century and ending with the present day where 50% of black men and around 20% of Asian men are reportedly in relationships with white women. She argues that the bravery of white women who were willing to challenge social norms and follow their hearts is at the root of this level of integration. The focus of the article is entirely on these women and how white women today are being changed by their relationships. She uses contemporary case studies to highlight this throughout the article.
The first obvious issue with this article is that it presents white women as the pioneers of multi-ethnic Britain. To quote the author: “Miscegenation goes way back and deep down in Great Britain. Much of this integration is thanks to an unsung history of white British women who defied social norms to follow their hearts.”
If your jaw didn’t drop at the use of the word “miscegenation” in this year of 2016, it probably did at the strangeness of the idea that we should thank white women in particular for an integrated Britain. Interracial relationships have always and still do require a level of bravery, but that’s the case for all partners involved. In claiming that white women “began the social revolution that changed Britain forever”, the author completely dismisses the bravery that was required of the people of colour (PoC) in those relationships. More obviously, she attributes the change in social attitudes that have allowed interracial couples to live in relative peace solely to white women, and not the countless BAME activists who fought for that peace and many, many other freedoms. Her focus on white women presents them as the active participants in these relationships, enacting social change while their passive partners remain in the background – merely the context to this change.
She continually pushes this idea that white women are pioneers by stressing that at various points in black migration to Britain it was predominantly men who arrived on the Isles. This totally erases queer men from the picture and also allows her to ignore the women of colour who are in interracial relationships of their own. In fact, she completely fails to discuss interracial relationships that don’t involve white women at all. I wonder, who then can we thank for all the interracial relationships in which white women can’t be centred?
To move on, no quote better captures the author’s stunning lack of awareness of the realities of racism than this: “Non-compliant females are ostracised more than males because they threaten the social order.” True as this is, to then use this argument to erase the racism that men of colour (MoC) in these relationships undoubtedly experience is wildly irresponsible. To use one example of many, the racist trope of lascivious black men seducing and/or raping white women has been used as a justification for racist violence for centuries. More recent examples range from Emmett Till’s murder in 1955 to the Charleston shooter who only last year justified his mass murder by saying “You rape all our women”. This trope isn’t confined by US borders and the same ideas are found here, too. Just look at the fact that Nigel Farage never cared about white women until he could use the defence of their honour to justify racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric. Beyond this there is the general prejudice that MoC experience in interracial relationships, which is quickly brushed over in the case studies. It is and always has been dangerous for MoC to enter into interracial relationships, too. That the author could pretend that none of this history exists is astounding to me.
That being said, she’s clearly not above enacting some violence of her own. The case studies are ripe with old, racist stereotypes about the men in these relationships. In one, while the white woman is “successful, self-assured, striking” it must for whatever reason be noted that her black partner was an ex-con and former crack addict. Even more dangerously, she includes the testimony of a woman who uses her partner’s “angry blackness” to defend his domestic abuse, explicitly summoning imagery from Othello. But it doesn’t stop there, this man then goes to say “she [his white partner] saved me from myself… a black woman would never have taken me.”
Moreover, not once does the author attempt to tackle racial fetishization which plays its part in the article. She writes of Caribbean men who arrived in England to find “Englishwomen who were enraptured by darker-skinned partners”. This sounds like fetishization 101 to me and yet the author celebrates it. She also fails to address how racial fetishization (as often perpetuated by the media) continues to be an issue today.
She does nothing to challenge the notion of the “exotic other”. These men and their cultures are presented in case studies as strange and exotic, and in such a way that it feels like that constitutes most of their appeal. They’re portrayed almost entirely in the ways that they’re so different to the women in their lives and not given stories or agency of their own. Again, the author presents white women as active participants in these relationships, while their partners are passive.
Finally, the not-so-subtle drag on black women in the case study concerning the abusive partner means to present us angry, unreasonable, unloving and unloveable (as if any of us should want to “take” a physically abusive man). The author herself only mentions women of colour (WoC) to call us “bitter” about white women dating MoC. This is a tired lie, and a hurtful one. In my mind she’s alluding to the fact that Eurocentric beauty standards often render white women most attractive in the eyes of all people, regardless of race. Moreover, racist stereotypes about black women in particular do present us as angry and unattractive, in comparison to fairer, kinder white women. There are large swathes of the internet devoted to denigrating black women for this reason. But, given that we’re intelligent human beings, we’re capable of addressing this issue without resenting white women. The narcissism involved in assuming that we WoC must hate white women who enter into interracial relationships is mind-boggling.
And the author, Yasmin Alibhai Brown, can’t be excused for any of this just because she’s also a WoC. Her criticisms of non-white women in this article are entirely anti-black: from her quoting a “bitter” black businesswoman to the aforementioned inclusion of the quote about black women. No non-black WoC are given anything near the same treatment. It is the black men that by far fare the worst in this article, too. She endangers them greatly by explicitly perpetuating stereotypes about propensities to crime and violence. She engages in the age-old exercise of presenting black men as fetishized objects for white women’s consumption. It’s no secret that women such as Brown can engage in anti-blackness. It’s also no secret that they often do so to curry favour with white readers. Because ultimately they’re the people for whom this article was written.
The general gist of this article isn’t actually a celebration of interracial relationships, but a call to protect and celebrate the white women who enter into them. Its case studies lack any critical analysis and rely almost entirely on racist stereotyping. How a team of editors at the Sunday Times could OK this article is beyond me. But I suspect that we’ll continue to see more of this if we don’t start calling out trash articles when we see them. It would have been easy to laugh this article off as a cute anachronism, but it’s actively harmful. We all need to do more to hold media platforms to account. To make their content genuinely representative of the diverse society of which they’re a part, and not just give us more of the same poison that’s been spewed for time.
EDIT: Just a few more thoughts because my rage runneth over.
It definitely feels like “A United Kingdom” is being used here as a stick with which to beat women of colour. I’m sincerely hopeful that this isn’t what the director, Amma Asante, intended to communicate with her new film.
Most importantly, I can’t stress enough the danger of having these messages be spread by a nationally read magazine like the Sunday Times. This should be a call to people of colour and their allies to stress the need for the Magazine to address and apologise for the stereotypes they’ve fuelled.