Timeline 1900 – 2024

London 2012 Olympics

The London Borough of Newham, one of the most multicultural boroughs in Britain and home to a large mixed race population, was one of six host boroughs for the London 2012 Olympic Games. The diversity of Newham – and indeed Britain itself – was reflected in the opening ceremony which prominently featured a mixed race family in one of its three main sequences.  While the multicultural nature of the opening ceremony attracted much praise amongst the press and public alike, the inclusion of this family was subject to a vitriolic attack by The Daily Mail which suggested, amongst other things, that the portrayal of a ‘happy’ and ‘educated’ mixed race family was ‘absurdly unrealistic’. The newspaper swiftly edited and then removed the article in response to heavy condemnation of its stereotyping of mixed race families. Bloggers and other online commentators were quick to point out that a product of a happy and educated mixed race family was right under the Daily Mail’s nose in the form of Jessica Ennis, the British gold medallist heptathlete.

Directed by the British film director and producer Danny Boyle, the third segment of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics (entitled Frankie and June Say ‘Thanks Tim’) focused on family life and Saturday night habits as well as a celebration of British music. The family at the centre of this sequence featured a black father, white mother and their children –alongside what appeared to be other extended family members and friends – living and interacting happily at home and outside it. The London Borough of Newham, one of six host boroughs for the London 2012 Olympics, has the second most diverse population in the UK, with estimates in 2008 putting its Black and Ethnic Minority population at 70%. According to analysis of 2001 Census data (Smith et al. 2011), Newham is one of the country’s ‘hotspots’ for racially mixed couples.

The day after the ceremony, the Daily Mail newspaper published an article written by Rick Dewsbury attacking the inclusion of the mixed race family as a representation of modern life in England as ‘politically correct’ and ‘absurdly unrealistic’. In particular, the article was scathing about the make-up of the family, stating that it must have been a ‘challenge’ for the organisers to find an ‘educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family in such a set up’.

The comments section of the online version of the newspaper immediately contained many objections to the paper’s stereotyping of mixed race families as did other social media – Mensch, the former Conservative MP and David Aaronovich, a newspaper columnist for The Times, both condemned the article on Twitter, with Aaronovitch ‘challenging’ his followers to find ‘happy and educated’ mixed race families – many followers naming themselves in response. A complaint was also lodged with the Press Complaints Commission.

The Daily Mail article was subsequently edited – without acknowledgement of the editing by the paper – to remove reference to the education of the parents, though it still argued that such set ups ‘are simply not the ‘norm’ in any part of the country’. The objections continued throughout social media, with many people pointing out that the British gold medallist heptathlete Jessica Ennis, a graduate from Sheffield University and the daughter of a white British social worker and black Jamaican painter-decorator couple, roundly challenged the Mail’s stereotype. A number of virals, including one splicing the Mail’s comments with pictures of Jessica Ennis and her parents at the award of her MBE in 2011, came into circulation. The Mail quickly removed the article entirely.

Contrary to the Daily Mail’s proclamations, recent research indicates that educated mixed race families are quite the norm in various parts of the country. A study of mixed racial, ethnic and faith parents by Caballero, Edwards and Puthussery (2008) found that according to the 2001 Census, it is more likely that a child from a mixed racial and ethnic background in Britain lives with both parents. Moreover, not only do these mixed race families have a strong middle-class profile but they are also increasingly found outside multicultural city neighbourhoods, residing in suburbs and prospering towns.  Similarly, Muttarak’s (2004) analysis of Labour Force Survey data for 2002/3 demonstrated that amongst women in the White ethnic group, while 15.4% were educated to degree level in same race marriages, this figure rose to 23.2% in the case of mixed ethnicity marriages. Moreover, 27.4% in co-ethnic marital unions were in Social Class I (Professional and Managerial) compared with 38.6% in intermarried unions.

It was the absurdly unrealistic scene – and indeed one that would spring from the kind of nonsensical targets and equality quotas we see in the NHS – showing a mixed-race middle-class family in a detached new-build suburban home, which was most symptomatic of the politically correct agenda in modern Britain [....] This was supposed to be a representation of modern life in England but it is likely to be a challenge for the organisers to find an educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family in such a set-up.

— Daily Mail, 28 July 2012