20 April | 05:41:59
 
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Interracial relationships: A forbidden love
Mixed Britain is fast becoming the norm but, for some, it isn't that easy
Thursday, 03 October, 2013 | 18:30
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Credit: Sabina

The British have become far more comfortable than they used to be with interracial marriage, declares a bold report released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

A paper from the British Future thinktank, The Melting Pot Generation - How Britain Became More Relaxed about Race, states that "mixed Britain is fast becoming the new normal."

We can all breathe a sigh of relief then, knowing that British society has embraced the concept of interracial marriage with open arms, having moved away from the antiquated values of the past. Or can we?

Sabina Ahmed*, a 29-year-old from Glasgow, recalls when she was forced to make the most difficult decision of her life: love or family?

"I met Gregory Kirk in February 2005 through a mutual friend," she explains. "We hit it off and broke away from the rest of the group. We spent the rest of the night talking and flirting. I liked him a lot straight away and I knew the feeling was mutual.

"We started dating, and by our fourth date, I let him know I wouldn’t be able to tell my parents about us should we continue dating."

Gregory’s cool reaction surprised Sabina as he reassured her that he understood. "He said he wanted to date me not my parents."

Sabina’s parents are originally from Pakistan, and had always envisioned that their daughter would one day marry into a respectable Pakistani-Muslim family.

When things began to get serious a few months down the line, Sabina began feeling scared because she knew that, should they ever find out, her parents would never accept her relationship with a British-born, non-Muslim man and she feared their reaction.

The couple was together for five years before Gregory proposed. "That night for me brings bad memories because I realised I had to finally come clean to my mum and dad," she recalls. "It was as though I’d been hiding behind a very thin veil for all those years and the thought of having to finally lift it seemed like such an enormous task."

The night before she told her parents, Sabina secretly began packing her belongings, fearing she would not be able to live at home with them after the truth was out.

"My mum asked me what I was doing. She’d come home early and caught me off-guard. I told her I was just clearing out clothes for charity. Can you believe that?” Sabina scoffs, shaking her head. "I was just absolutely terrified at receiving an aggressive reaction though.

"When I managed to tell my mum the next night, she seemed to go through the grieving process I’d seen her go through whenever there had been a death in the family. One minute she was foaming actually foaming at the mouth with rage and the next she slipped into denial. Another minute she was begging me on hands and knees not to do this to her and my dad and the next she threatened suicide if I went through with the marriage. Thankfully, my dad wasn’t at home. I think he would have been more forceful."

After leaving hurriedly, Sabina received a phone call from her dad that night. "My mum had told him when he came home from work," she says. "It should have been me breaking the news to him, but I backed out after seeing how my mum had reacted.

"He, on the other hand, was just as confused as my mum. One moment he was calm and coaxing me to come home to talk things through and the next he screamed that he was going to rip my tongue out because I said I loved Greg."

After moving in with Gregory, Sabina severed all contact with her parents for over a year in order to let the dust settle. "It... took its strain on our relationship," she explains.

"When we argued, I blamed him for a lot and that put pressure on us. I’d tell him, 'I left my family for you' to which he’d say, 'Well, I never told you to.' It was hurtful for us both.

"There were times when I thought we wouldn’t make it but I knew that I couldn’t go back to my parents should we break up. I had to keep telling myself that I had to stand up on my own two feet. Throughout that year though, it was obvious Greg and I loved each other a lot and wanted to be together no matter what."

Sabina’s brother had told her that their dad had been diagnosed with depression shortly after she had departed, so she tentatively began making visits to see her parents — which she would then come to regret. "It used to give them false hope that I’d 'seen sense' and had come back home.

"When I first saw my dad after that year, I was so shocked to see how distant and quiet he’d become. He was an empty shell. My mum showed me all of the prescription pills he was taking, which I think was a ploy into making me feel guilty. If it was, it worked.

"The first few times I saw him, Dad would hug me tightly, sob and plead with me to come back home. I used to get so upset when I went home to Greg and then I’d go on to have sleepless nights. It was exhausting."

Planning the wedding brought mixed emotions. "I was excited and happy but also felt down to know my parents wouldn’t be there to help."

Sabina did not tell her parents she was getting married. "I was so eager to get married to Greg after all those years," she explains. "And I feared that, if I told my parents about the wedding, they would resort to measures to stop it.

"Although I had a lot of support from my friends and brother, a bride-to-be always dreams of her mum being there when picking out a dress," Sabina says, her voice wavering.

The arrival of the invitations dealt Sabina a hard blow. "I was heartbroken. I cried so much. It should’ve been the bride and groom’s parents inviting people. Instead, it was 'Gregory’s parents and Sabina' inviting the guests."

Married for almost two years now, Sabina and Gregory are now the proud parents of a baby girl.

Her mother eventually found out about the wedding and, although she initially refused to accept the union, recently took a turn for the better.

"It came as a shock to my mum and dad when they found out I was pregnant...but when I’d had the baby, they began making visits to see us.

"The first time they came over, it was really emotional...it was just so good to hear my mum say, 'What’s happened has happened...you’re still my daughter and I want to see my granddaughter too.'

"My parents — they aren’t bad people by any means. They were just too set in their ways. After a gruelling couple of years — and now with the arrival of the baby — we’re being brought back together again. They’re even slowly taking the time to get to know Greg now. I’m hopeful for the future."

*The names in this article have been changed at the interviewee's request.

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