Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Black and Asian romance and arranged marriages


BY Trudy Simpson

A BBC presenter and producer is calling for more research on romantic relationships between black and Asian people, and for more action to help the public get a better understanding of what happens in modern arranged marriages among British Asians and people in their home countries.

Speaking on August 14 during an Editor's Forum on relationships and how to choose the right partner, Tanya Datta, who researched the issues, said it was time to shed more light on these two subjects, which sometimes draw dark frowns from some in the respective communities in Britain.

Datta said more research on black/Asian couples was needed because statistics do not give enough insight into partnerships between the two communities, which, she said, often worked and lived side by side and had much in common in terms of their fight against racism and post-colonial heritage.

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"White people tend to be one of the partners. It is either Asian and white or black and white and the statistics are almost negligible for Asian and black and other ethnicities. Yet, through my research, I discovered that these relationships are often very common because black and Asian people do tend to live alongside each other in many parts of the UK. They are going to school with each other and they play in the playground and on the streets with each other so of course, they are going to go out with each other. But, they are more likely to keep it quiet because they know the communities won't accept it as much as they would if it was a mixed-race relationship with a white person," she added.

Datta said black/Asian couples do have difficulties because of existing "preconceptions and stereotypes" and because of existing tension between some members of the Asian and black communities.

But these difficulties are by no means only limited to them. Datta, who also researched mixed couples from other ethnicities who got together amid conflicts between their respective ethnicities or communities, also showed that time can be really tough. However, mixed-race couples can last provided both parties are committed. "They couldn't have got to where they are without being absolutely sure about what they were doing, about what they were giving up by doing it. It wasn't just enough to be in love with each other. They were really attuned to each other. They were politically in step with each other. They had the same idea about how to bring up their children and they were also very good friends, so if there was no one else in their lives, as frequently happened, they were enough for each other. I do think inter-ethnic relationships can work, but I don't think it is for everyone. I think a lot of people will fall at the first hurdle …. and it is only the very strong ones and the ones who are really sure about what they are doing who will make it to the other side," Datta said.

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Datta and other participants also dismissed the common perception of arranged marriages as featuring strangers whose families force them to marry. "Arranged marriages are just a different networking system. It is like a different portal to meet people. Basically the old ways, where your grandmother got married off at (age) 15 to someone she had never met before simply doesn't happen," said Datta.

While she admitted there were exceptions, for example, in cases where people are forced to marry each other, Datta said second or third generation Asians often had a keen say in who they marry and some were often happy to have their families help them choose their partners.
"The large majority of people can't help being influenced by their environment and their environment is so much more independent and free, so it is going to be very difficult forcing children into marrying someone they don't know. Instead, arranged marriages have evolved where your family will suggest to you that you meet a young man and you will go out a few times so that you really get to know that person. That does not involve you having sex but you go out and you get to know someone. And you can come back and say he is not the one so I will carry on waiting - thanks very much," Datta explained.

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Mary Balfour, a dating guru, operator of two matchmaking websites and author of the book, Smart Dating, agreed. "It is often very much appreciated by the offspring because it can be difficult. For example, young Asian women who want to meet someone who is really progressive and takes a role in the household and they need a very wide network often to make the choices. So their parents can help," Balfour said.

"There could be a lot of reassurance in that system I would imagine, in terms of finding the right partner … It could reduce a lot of that anxiety around the whole issue of finding a partner," added Amy Hailwood, a communications assistant at counselling and relationship charity, Relate.
More information is contained in The Last Taboo, which was produced by Tanya Datta for Radio 4 and written for the BBC archive http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/pip/92te8/

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