When it comes to interracial couples, there seems to be a price that they pay that most other relationships do not necessarily pay in the same way. From the weird glances at public places, to snarky ignorant comments - the sky is the limit on what Christian brothers and sisters - who get the gospel - can say to couples that are from different ethnicities, and visibly so.
Oh, by the way, my wife happens to be white, so my thoughts on this are very much subjective. I want to say that there are a lot of great people who I know whose seasoned words have been a balm of God's grace and kindness to many interracial couples. I know that over the years people have continued to learn how to interact with, and encourage interracial couples with their words. And for those people - may you continue in that graceful, loving and unassuming attitude. This post is my humble efforts to build perspective for some who might not as yet "get it". I claim no expertise in this matter and my views are purely subjective.
When Britt and I started dating, one of the most annoying things ever for me was just the looks and head-turning that came along with it. I mean, I am a guy who generally has, as my wife would say, "a strong sense of justice"! So you can imagine how much boiling I did internally. Those days, Britt really toned me down and somewhat helped me to be able to zone out and almost ignore the stares.
I have matured on this in a couple of ways. Firstly, I have learnt that perhaps because of the divisions that have rocked our world, people are just amazed at this "phenomenon" of a black man walking with a white woman, or vice versa. I do sincerely believe that some stares do not necessarily come from a hateful place, rather mere surprise - although that does not take away how uncomfortable it is. Recently, we were in Harare and some of the stares we got, which my wife noticed more - made us very uncomfortable. We just wanted to leave the place - that's how bad it can feel sometimes.
This point goes deep and I have my own assumptions about it.
For example, sometimes we go and hang out and talk at Bulwer Park in Glenwood, Durban and a couple of times we have seen there is a variation in the stares. White folks, males, in particular, view my wife as "having sold" out by marrying outside her race. Its almost that look of, "Girl! What the heck are you doing settling for this...dude!?" On the other hand, the "uncomfortable" stares we get from black females in particular say something like, "Oh, so you had to go all white, why? You couldn't see us?" Now, I am not saying this is what every white male or black female thinks when they see an interracial couple. Absolutely not! But it is in a sense, a very weird and similar way that interracial couples across the world feel and sense when they get stared at or spoken about uncomfortably. These are very broad strokes too.
It is sad because when it comes to love and relationship, in Shona we say "Moyo muti unomera paunoda" (The heart is a tree, it grows wherever it wants). There are many reasons why people marry across ethnic lines, but at the end of the day what we all find attractive is different, but even more importantly, you may find all things you hope to see in a man or a woman in someone who looks nothing like you, and is from a different ethnicity.
When I was younger I know how many times I heard the type of family contentions that arose when a Shona and a Ndebele even thought about getting married. Society looked at it with scorn. Although both could be black, their cultural backgrounds were seen as absolutely incompatible, sadly. What people simply failed to understand was that moyo muti unomera paunoda, and something as simple as ethnicity is just not enough to quench a true flame of love. It is even worse when it comes to interracial relationships because the differences in ethnicities cannot even be hidden by the colour of their skin, because they are very apparent. For disciples of Jesus, we even have a deeper relationship with people who share in our fellowship with Christ more than those who we look like but do not know him. I married my wife because of this common relationship we have with Christ, and also her love for his mission. She could have been mixed, black, Indian, Asian or whatsoever, and if the same attraction and life goals existed it would not make any difference.
Secondly, I think I have matured in that I have rightly come to appreciate the depth of the effects of our histories as humanity. Look, the saddest thing we can do about our past is to ignore it. What past racial injustices have engraved on our society is best felt by interracial couples, in my humble opinion. I think the way I see people that come from where I come from, or that look like me think, treat and feel about my wife can be troubling. There is a sense of "self-hate" that portrays itself in the objectifying of white people as "treasure", in a way that they will not do if she were black.
Here is what I mean: there is a sense through the comments of black folks that "you have married a white woman, so you have made it" which is not only sad, but outright ignorant and misguided. Such expressions come from the legacy of white supremacy and black self-hate which has been inherited over the decades. It does not make me mad. It makes me sad. Without a gospel-centred understanding of ethnicity, a whole lot of black people have thought of themselves as lesser than their white peers - so a black man or black woman who dates or marries a white partner is not primarily seen as a man or woman who has found love, but one that has also found something else - "a trophy". This is tragic. And we see how this emanates in some of the comments thrown at interracial couples.
"So you can now go to America because you have a Visa, right?"
Not everyone views the West as the "place to be". Yes, there are "marriages of convenience" all over the world that are just for Visas and all sorts of access. But it is also offside to assume this as a reason why people fall in love.
"You are better because you found yourself a white girl!"
What do you mean? Is your mom, who is black, any lesser? Your sisters? It's really all about the substance a person has, and not their race.
"Where did you get the white one!?"
How is that question even meant to be answered? But again, I guess the historic separation still lurks around. We should find ways to firstly be content and sturdy in our own identity as blacks before we can even associate with people of other race. Historically, people like us have been victimised, but we are here today and can stand toe to toe with anybody else in God's beautiful diversity called humanity. We are no lesser human.
All such statements are laden with disgusting logic to say the least. Black brothers and sisters, please do consider what you say before you say it. We are not inferior. A black woman of worth has the same value as a white one, or an Indian one or a mixed one. If a woman is of worth, her ethnicity is secondary.
But the opposite of this is true. Because of the history we share as blacks and whites, some white people still have a tinge if not a whole mass of superiority in their hearts. When they see a black and white couple, they think of the white person as compromising. They view the white person as one "doing a favour" for the black person. One time in Bulawayo, my wife and I were crossing the road on 8th Ave and Fife Street, going into Pick n Pay, and a white truck, loaded with about 5 white males in their 20s passed us and when they saw us, you could have thought an alarm went off and they all they hurled insults at us that I will not give space to on this blog-post or anywhere else.
"Can he even speak proper English?"
Is it the standard? And who set it? Those questions are laden with tonnes of superiority.
"It must be so hard. I think it's easier to stay within my culture?"
Any relationship where two people from two different families are trying to become one is hard. So what were you saying?
"It's so great that you do not see colour."
No, we HAVE to see colour. It's what we do with seeing colour that matters. We see colour, and we seek to learn about each other. We see colour and celebrate God's diversity and creativity as seen in the beautiful cultural expressions world-wide.
I could go on and on.
The point is this: those in interracial relationships should be gracious to people around them as they make sense of this relationship in light of the sheer ignorance that is apparent in our world, but also, in light of some of the residue of our past that exists in the very fibre of society. On the other hand, people around interracial couples should be sensitive and think about some of the comments they will say. Are they based on some form of inferiority complex? A superiority complex?
Proof-read and edited by Mtho Dube.