The best books about mixed relationships

The Books I Picked & Why

Colour Bar: Movie Tie-In: A United Kingdom

By Susan Williams

Colour Bar: Movie Tie-In: A United Kingdom

Why this book?

London 1945: the heir to the largest tribe of Bechuanaland (Botswana) arrives in Britain. Seretse Khama, an urbane 24-year-old was welcomed into the elite world of Oxford. But when he fell in love with Englishwoman Ruth Williams, the full force of colonial power was brought to bear to prevent their marriage. 

It has personal resonance for me because when I met Atam, in 1964, Smethwick was in the grip of a racist campaign. Atam and I volunteered to help the sitting Labour MP, Patrick Gordon Walker combat the Conservative Peter Griffiths’ campaign. The slogan was, ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour’. Atam was welcomed because he spoke Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu and we accompanied Patrick Gordon Walker canvassing. When I watched A United Kingdom, the film about Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, I knew that they had portrayed it well when the government representatives treat him with some respect but ignore Ruth. It was on Patrick Gordon Walker’s watch as Colonial Secretary that Seretse Khama was exiled from his country. He was not the right man to fight a racist campaign and he lost. This 4 minute video I made for the launch of STE gives the background.


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Small Island

By Andrea Levy

Small Island

Why this book?

Possibly the definitive fictional account of the experiences of the Empire Windrush generation but it was the mixed relationship that resonated with me. The perspective of white women who marry men of colour is rarely told. Queenie Buxton is a white British woman who rents lodgings to Gilbert and Hortense when they arrive in England from Jamaica. Queenie is pregnant with a baby whose father, Michael Roberts was in the RAF. The UK is justly proud of its role in defeating fascism in WW2. The only problem is that the narrative is often white-washed. The more than 2 million Indians who fought in WW2 are usually ignored. Men and women from the Caribbean responded with a desire to help the ‘mother country.  Michael Roberts - this fictional black character is a good example.


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The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity

By Kwame Anthony Appiah

The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity

Why this book?

Kwame’s paternal grandfather was an Ashanti chief and his maternal grandfather was a British Chancellor of the Exchequer – who better to explore the issues of identity? This book is an antidote to nativism.

My novel Brushstrokes in Time was criticised on a South East Asian Facebook group for ‘cultural appropriation’ - not because it is not authentic - it is based on eyewitness accounts of the Stars artists themselves interviewed over three years. The problem for them was nothing to do with the style, content, or quality of the novel but only the identity of the author as ‘not Chinese.’ Kwame says, ‘All cultural practices and objects are mobile’ and ‘ownership is the wrong model.’ Ideas have always spread from East to West and West to East and our cultures are richer for it. Mixed relationships are not only about colour but also about creed, country, clan, and class. If you are of mixed ancestry why should you have to choose one or another of your parent's and grandparent's identities? Shouldn’t we draw on all of them to create our own?


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The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History

By Linwood Custalow, Angela L. Daniel

The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History

Why this book?

Mixed relationships are not new: think Antony and Cleopatra. The most famous and possibly the earliest in US history are of Pocahontas and John Smith. If you want a romantic Disney-type version of the story, this book is not for you.

Where I live you will find the world’s first public museum, the Ashmolean. Most of the original collection was assembled during the 17th century by the John Tradescants, father and son. They collected objects from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The most significant American object is Powhatan’s Mantle. Powhatan was Pocahontas’s father. It is a reminder of how much the white settlers owed their survival to the local people.

Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow and Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star" claim that they are revealing for the first time the oral history of the Mattaponi tribe regarding the story of Pocahontas and John Smith. This probably is the most authentic of stories about them but is a disturbing read.


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William Shakespeare: The Complete Works

By William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare: The Complete Works

Why this book?

Shakespeare’s tragedies resonate in most cultures because they address the human condition. That is why Romeo and Juliet have spawned West Side Story, many films, and Russian ballets. I personally organised the Joe and Zara workshop with a mixed group of teenagers working on a modern take on the story. The young people in this ten-minute video from the workshop are impressive. 

Othello too is tragic. Othello describes how Desdemona would come again ‘greedy –to hear tales of adventure sorrow and suffering. ‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed and I loved her that she did pity them.’ I relate to that.


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