This is a timely book that coincides with the growing interconnectedness of nations and peoples across the globe. The hybrid, globalized human subject is increasingly confronted with the challenge of moving among contrasting racial, cultural, and ideological worlds. Marriages across ethnic and national borders are happening with greater frequency. The concepts of mixedness and related ideas, such as racial and cultural hybridity, which are central to Singla’s study, are ideally suited to exploring the lived experience of intermarried couples who are “visibly ethnically different.” Singla’s book, which explores Denmark as a case study of this phenomenon, is a welcome addition to the growing literature on globalized lives.
The research conducted by Singla and her team draws from in-depth interviews with ten subjects plus the two cases studies involving intermarried couples in which one spouse is Danish and the other is a member of the South Asian diaspora, specifically India and Pakistan. Notwithstanding the small sample size and the fact that there is only analytic generalization, Singla’s data and analysis are highly revelatory. She centers her study on mixed couples’ own subjectivity in order to challenge the myths and stereotypes associated with mixed marriages. Singla combines their everyday lived experiences with her own experience as a mental health practitioner by addressing mental health problems through counselling. This is an ambitious objective and uniquely expands the concerns of research into the applied fields of teaching and practice.
Singla begins her study with a discussion of the Danish history of mixedness, the research material, and interviewees. Subsequent chapters focus on couples’ experience of falling in love, everyday life practices such as raising children, and finally the public gaze, and implications for mental health counselling. Singla argues that Denmark is constructed as ethnically and religiously homogeneous, meaning “white” and Christian notwithstanding the presence of “visible” minorities. Indeed, mainstream Danish history hardly mentions African slaves, although approximately 100,000 black Africans were used as slaves by Danes, including in Denmark, from the seventeenth century until the official end of slavery in 1848. This historical amnesia is one example of the homogenization processes overseeing social diversity in Denmark. Similarly, Danish history of mixed marriages and mixedness more generally is commonly ignored in public discourse. Singla maintains that mixed marriages are often viewed with suspicion precisely because they occupy a hybrid or liminal location that conflicts with the notion of homogeneous and clearly defined normative identities. Singla found that mixed couples are very reflexive about their marriages in light of these and other societal prejudices, expectations, and reactions. Consequently, they are sensitive about emphasizing the centrality of love and happiness in their marriages to defend the normativity of their relationships in terms of their experience of “otherness.”
Singla found that intermarried couples approach parenting in three basic ways. In the first, single approach, parents emphasize values, norms, and a sense of belonging associated with only one parent’s background. In the second, mixed approach, parents encourage their children to engage with the different parts of their background through a general notion of mixedness. In the third, open or cosmopolitan approach, children are encouraged to think beyond ethnic and racial labels, as they are not necessarily seen as rooted in their particular racial or ethnic backgrounds. To some extent this is a struggle to dismantle dominant racial ideology and group boundaries and to create connections across communities into a common humanity. Singla points out, however, that parents may combine and hold complex views drawn from the three approaches. Despite the reality of mixed children, there are no specific categories in official statistics where mixed individuals can locate themselves. Singla attributes this to the preference of maintaining the myth of Danish homogeneity. Consequently, mixed couples and children have been almost invisible in the media and in society.
A major contribution of Singla’s book is her directive that the experience of mixed families requires widening the cultural psychology theoretical perspectives to mental health counselling and family therapy given that both couples and therapists often dismiss or at least ignore the impact of culture on the marriages. This omission is seemingly based on the desire to promote equality but may actually perpetuate illiteracy by ignoring questions that are related to cultural (and racial) identities. Singla explains that mixed couples present unique challenges in addition to those encountered by other couples. She emphasizes that dynamics within an intermarriage are in fact culturally negotiated. Singla reminds us, however, that the intersections of age, socioeconomic status, education, and personal history can have even greater significance than cultural traits, habits, and traditions alone.
Singla’s book makes a significant contribution to understanding the intimate lives and challenges of mixed couples and their offspring as well as improving their wellbeing. Her book would benefit scholars in anthropology, sociology, psychology, and social work, as well as practitioners including psychologists, counsellors, school advisors, and health workers. More important, it is an invaluable resource on strategies of intervention both real and aspirational for achieving healthy and more equitable relations across interpersonal, and by extension, intergroup boundaries.
Af G. Reginald Daniel, University of California, Santa Barbara