It’s a warm summer day and a lovely young couple are walking along the beach hand-in-hand, giddy as they enjoy each another’s company and the spoils of young love.
Now what would happen if I told you that the young woman was Zulu and her lover was Caucasian? Would I need to mention in the introduction of my story that the couple was “interracial”? Would their skin colours have changed your awe at their burgeoning love story? I hate that when two people of different cultures fall in love, people refer to their relationship as a “mixed-race” or “interracial” affair. We’re all part of the human race and it’s pretty dehumanising to view a relationship between people of different racial groups as something that isn’t natural or “normal” in society.
Two years ago, a white, female friend of mine mentioned that she was dating a Xhosa guy and that people would often stare at them as they walked hand-in-hand together. On one occasion, she mentioned to me that they were at a movie theatre and a group of his female friends who had spotted them, called him a “sell-out”, giggling and chattering in isiXhosa, making her feel extremely uncomfortable, with her bae refusing to translate what the ladies had been saying. Being in an inter-cultured partnership myself, I understood my friend’s pain and her feeling of inadequacy all too well. What hurt me most was when she had asked me, “what if I won’t be able to give him the same love a Xhosa woman would?” I knew exactly what she meant because interracial (I still hate this word) relationships are really hard and prone to conflict.
Granted, all relationships are tough, but when two people of different cultures come together, there is an added layer of complexity within the relationship. Even if there is a lot of love between these two people, they will undoubtedly butt heads at some point about an issue relating to their differing backgrounds or traditions.
When I was in a similar situation to my friend, my partner would try by all means to prove that being with me didn’t make him any less of a Xhosa man. Any time we walked past a group of guys, they would “congratulate” my partner for being with me because I was “light-skinned”. I never understood why there was so much fuss about our different skin tones and the unnecessary attention made me really uncomfortable. We were in a terrible position and the giggles and stares of onlookers made me feel self-conscious and insecure a lot of the time.
The message I want to convey to you guys is that inter-cultured relationships are really challenging and what makes them harder are the stares and jeers from people outside the relationship. Everything we do and how we treat people has an impact – whether big or small – on their outlooks on life, so it’s really important that we try and be kind to all we meet. So the next time you think of calling an interracial couple “sell-outs” while they’re enjoying a lovely day at the beach or the movies, think about how your words will impact the rest of their day together. Your comments may even be the reason they decide to call it quits on their relationship.
South Africa is such a diverse nation, but because of the apartheid regime of yore and the systemic racialism it brought about, there are many unresolved issues surrounding racial equality in this beautiful land, which is one of the reasons people of different races loving one another is still seen as an act of defiance or “selling out”. But at the end of the day, I still feel like love – whether it’s between people of the same or different racial group – is beautiful and should be left to blossom without being tainted by outsiders.
Interracial partnerships are really interesting because people in them have a chance to learn about and embrace the cultures, traditions and even languages of their partners, which is a really beautiful thing. But with that comes another set of challenges, with judgements from society and even friends and family members having the ability to sour a loving union.
So if you spot an interracial couple walking giddily on a beach (or anywhere for that matter) or walking hand-in-hand, just smile and leave them to enjoy their little slice of happiness.
Does your family talk about difficult issues? Read about one writers experience with a culture of silence here.
Tell us: What do you think can be done to overcome the stigma of interracial relationships?