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Black Female & White Male Relationships
Martin Relph

couple hugging Even though BF/WM relationships were extremely rare at the time we first started going out, we have been very happy together and apart from a few isolated incidents we have not experienced any open hostility towards our relationship .

Of late we have witnessed a proliferation of articles about the growing number of mixed-raced relationships and mixed-race individuals here in Britain. On the other hand, there has been very little serious analysis either of the history or of the nature of mixed-race relationships in this country. This particular article attempts to redress the balance by focusing on black female/white male relationships. I can write from personal experience on this matter, as a white male who has been in a steady relationship with a black woman for over twenty years. I am married and I have two mixed-race teenage children, a boy and a girl.

Relationships involving black women and white men are very much in the minority as far as mixed-race relationships are concerned. Black female/white male (BF/WM) relationships are still uncommon in this country and are often misunderstood by people of all racial backgrounds. This is not too surprising given the history of race relations in Britain and its former colonies, even though there have never been any laws that forbade sexual relations between the races such as existed in the United States.

During the 18th century in the British colonies of the Caribbean, sexual relationships between the white plantation owners and black slave women were not extraordinary. The offspring of such liaisons were generally looked after and inherited the wealth of their fathers and it is their descendents that tend to make up the 'light-skinned' middle classes of the English-speaking Caribbean today. A small number of working class immigrants from this country also settled in the Caribbean colonies and formed relations with black women, which is why there are pockets of 'light-skinned' people where these immigrants settled, such as in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. In India too British men entered into relationships with Indian women during the early years of British colonisation. The mixed-race Anglo-Indian community in the region around Calcutta are the direct descendents of those who engaged in such relationships.

The relationships of the 18th century between white men and non-white women took place during an era before any theories of race and racial superiority had been developed. During the 19th century however there would be developments, both religious and secular, that would effectively stamp out inter-racial relationships in the British colonies. During the early part of the nineteenth century an evangelical revival occurred in England. One of the concerns of the Evangelicals was the race mixing that was occurring in the colonies. To their puritanical way of thinking sexual relations between black and white were somehow unnatural. Evangelical fervour was soon to take hold of the British establishment and relationships between white men and non-white women were to be discouraged and condemned. As the nineteenth century progressed, theories of racial superiority were developed that followed on from Darwin’s evolutionary theory. In the colonies, white women were promoted as the ideal form of beauty and the only suitable women for white men to marry. So unlike in the French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies there was effectively no mixing of the races taking place in the British colonies during the heyday of the British Empire. There were no segregation laws in place but sexual relations between white men and non-white women were deemed to be socially unacceptable. Those who did try to go against the tide often ended up like the tragic Almayer in Joseph Conrad’s Almayer’s Folly. It is also notable that Bob Marley’s own white father and black mother were forced to split up as a consequence of the racial prejudice towards them in Jamaica.

While inter-racial relationships between white men and black women were effectively banned in the British colonies, relationships between black men and white women were beginning to occur at home. In Liverpool and Cardiff there were BM/WF relationships in evidence before the First World War. English women were to date black Americans during the Second World War and when the first immigrants, who were predominantly male, started arriving from the Caribbean in the 1950s, the black men started going out with white women. This trend has continued ever since and it almost seems to be what society expects, though not necessarily accepts. But there is no parallel history of white men forming relationships with black women and it is my personal view that people in this country still do not understand BF/WM relationships.

I have spent most of my life in Wolverhampton in the West Midlands. It was here that I attended a multiracial school but one where relations between the races had been soured by the effects of the speeches given by our local MP, Enoch Powell. I found the racial prejudice that existed at that time upsetting and I wanted to be different from my counterparts. I had both Black and Asian friends, which again was unusual, and I became heavily into black music and culture. I was also aware that I was becoming increasingly attracted towards black females, even though I had never seen a white male dating a black female. In contrast to the stereotypical view of female beauty as blond and blue-eyed, my idea of female beauty was the female soul artists that adorned the pages of Blues & Soul and Black Music magazines. The first time I remember actually seeing BF/WM couples was at an Ike & Tina Turner concert at Hammersmith Odeon and from that moment on I knew that was the type of relationship that I wanted too.

I have now been in a mixed-race relationship for a long time and I could not imagine what it would be like to be in a mono-racial relationship. Both of us had been in inter-racial relationships previously, even though BF/WM relationships were extremely rare at the time we first started going out. We have been very happy together and apart from a few isolated incidents we have not experienced any open hostility towards our relationship, although we are still asked by surprised strangers if we are together as a couple. We are well travelled, having journeyed extensively throughout Europe, the USA, the Caribbean and Latin America. Jointly bringing up two mixed-race children has also made us especially strong as a family unit. My only regrets are that during this long relationship we have never really had friends who are in the same type of relationship.

One of the problems facing all mixed-race couples and mixed-race individuals here in Britain is the lack of support groups or networks. This makes it particularly difficult for those in BF/WM relationships who rarely have the opportunity to meet other couples like themselves. In fact most BF/WM couples seem to remain hidden from public view, except on weekly shopping outings. The lack of support networks can act as a contributory factor to placing mixed-race relationships under a lot of strain, which can potentially cause the relationships break down. This can be particularly sad if there are children involved. Apart from the negative reactions that mixed-race couples can attract from both white and black people there is therefore the added problem of lack of mutual support. Negative stereotyping in the media does not help either, where all too often there is the premise that mono-racial relationships are “normal” and that those who cross racial boundaries in terms of their relationships must have ulterior motives for doing so. This suspicion seems to particularly apply to white men who enter into relationships with black women and is made more prominent by the established media preference for depicting female beauty in the form of white women or alternatively, as a means of representing the exotic, acceptable face of blackness, women who are 'not too dark-skinned'.


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