I’ve been trying to keep a blog on WordPress about racism, sexism and classism in the Netherlands and the UK, in order to document my thoughts and feelings about various observations, as well as share these observations with the world. Since my partner and I began our relationship, we have become much more sensitive to the reactions others have when they interact with us. Neither the Netherlands nor the UK are short of interracial couples who are bringing mixed race individuals into the world, however this hasn’t stopped negative portrayals of interracial relationships such as Alleen Maar Nette Mensen (based on the book by Robert Vuijsje) becoming ridiculously popular.
The film generated fierce criticism in the Netherlands, which was viewed by some as a disgusting portrayal of black women, Dutch Surinamese communities and interracial relationships. Needless to say, we have very little hope for how we are perceived as a couple with these kinds of depictions being the predominant ones to reach the masses. One reaction to the sentiments we have about others’ perceptions of us might be “Oh, who cares what other people think?” Or “Surely it can’t be THAT bad?” Well, when pre-teens take pictures of you and laugh and point at you on the train it is THAT bad. When people begin to comment that you boyfriend “must be into dark girls” or “has exotic taste” – you begin to care what others think. Being so intriguing to relatives, friends and complete strangers is not only annoying, it’s draining. Worse, you wonder what life will be like for your children*.
As much as we have tried to ignore how much it bugs us to be the centre of attention – be it on a train or doing our groceries – when my partner proposed to me on vacation in Ghana earlier this year, I was again reminded of how anomalous our relationship seems to others. Thrilled and excited to start planning, I immediately hit the web to get ideas from wedding magazines and forums but very quickly became quite disturbed. Not only are the magazines completely geared towards would-be brides (thereby apparently excluding men from the planning process and reducing their role to having a stag-do, a hair cut and arriving to the ceremony on time), the would-be brides we see all through the pages of these editorials usually have two major things in common. They are all very slim and all very white. Finding an image for the fuller-figured women is quite difficult, almost as difficult as finding articles from the groom’s perspective, or at least an article that reflects both the bride and grooms needs and desires for their big day.
On a more personal level though, I was shocked to see when bride and groom do appear, again, they are lily white. We see no brides of colour, grooms of colour and certainly no interracial relationships. This spills over into the exclusion of non-Western and/or British traditional wedding formats and themes or beauty tips for women with darker complexions and afro hair. For this, you need to seek out (with difficulty) specialist online forums or magazines. We don’t hear from the grooms who might have a bigger role in the wedding planning because apparently that’s abnormal in the UK. The main time we see men taking on a hefty role in British weddings is on comedy shows such as BBC Three’s Don’t Tell the Bride, where the very fact that men are not expected to have a hand in planning and therefore have no idea what they are doing is the premise of the show. The groom receives £12K in order to plan the wedding with no input whatsoever from the bride, and the show is edited to illustrate the men making choices while being juxtaposed with the women who also go through the motions of picking out a dress and a venue for the benefit of the audience. Usually, the bride’s idea of the perfect wedding is nothing like what her soon to be spouse is planning. Apart from the incredibly sexist premise of the show (where the ever enduring saying “it’s HER day” becomes more ingrained on the public) it features mainly cis-gendered, heterosexual couples. One could argue that despite the show’s problematic set up it has encouraged many men to become willing and enthusiastic about becoming more involved in their special day. However, then we side-step the other huge issue of pretty much every wedding following a very rigid format and still mainly featuring one demographic of the British population.
As with grooms on Don’t Tell the Bride, when minority groups’ traditions are featured in the media, they too are ridiculed for the purpose of entertainment, for example Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which caused outrage amongst British Romani communities for the way traveller cultures and families had been depicted. The problem was not just the show, but the lack of other balanced insights into British and Irish culture and traditions, therefore making the show an unfair representation of one part of British society.
One may argue that the wedding industry is aimed at mainstream Britain, however the face of mainstream Britain is changing. It’s not good enough to not feature non-white couples because they don’t look British enough or don’t follow the most recognisable wedding format. It’s not good enough not to discuss alternative traditions or feature stories with same gender loving couples. We are British and we want to be proud of that, but how can we be if what our rites of passage are excluded along with our interpretations of what it means to be British? When we are featured, we become a spectacle. I have no doubt in my mind, from what I have observed in Dutch wedding media so far, that similar shows broadcast in the Netherlands would also be aimed at a white, “mainstream” audience, contributing to the “white = default” mentality.
In response to this, I decided to keep a new blog alongside Rants and Raves of my own experiences planning an international-British wedding, joining others who are trying to not only raise the profile of non-white brides as well as gain inclusion for new wedding traditions, but also promote the role of the groom in the planning process, as I know that my own wants to be VERY involved! I hope I can contribute something over the next 18 months to add a new prevailing dimension to wedding industry media that can include recession suffering, plus size, interracial, non-white, non-Christian and/or same gender loving brides and grooms. I want individuals who currently feel invisible to be able to find more inclusive spaces and that when they look at those magazines, TV shows and online forums to be able to see themselves in the very near future, because when you don’t see yourself it makes it difficult to relate to personally, and I feel this takes some of the fun out of a very stressful and yet amazing time in your life. For now, the new blog Invisible Bride can be that space.
* To reiterate not only the importance of normalising the visibility of interracial couples within the media – as well as the effects the lack of healthy images has on bi-racial children – but also the (white) public backlash and disdain for such imagery, check out this article by Meagan Hatcher-Mays for Jezebel.