I was once standing in line at London cinema with a recently-married friend I had not seen since her return from honeymooning in her native South Africa. The African behind the counter was all smiles as my friend bought her ticket. Then he was hit by a bad and sudden case of constipation. Or maybe he found my attempt to offer him money in return for a cinema ticket offensive. I could not figure out what the problem was and so I took the ticket, shuffled into the cinema with my friend and enjoyed the movie. Afterwards I saw the same man looking at me, gossiping with his colleagues, and as my friend and I walked past them towards the exit I picked up the words ‘sell-out’. Only then did it occur to me that I was being judged because my friend, in case you had not guessed it by now, was white.
Interracial relationships can be sensitive things. Black women in particular have huge problems with the idea, regularly hurling abuse at black male Hollywood icons with spouses of any colour besides black. Whenever I ask for the reason for all the neck-snapping, I hear arguments along the lines of:
a) There being too many beautiful and intelligent black women around to justify seeing white women;
b) Diluting the strength of the black gene pool;
c) Black men feeling inferior about their race; and
d) Creating mixed-race children who will grow up to be confused about their identities
My girlfriend is Ghanaian with a dash of Dutch and a whole lot of African American thrown into the mix. I am very much in love with her and will one day… well you can probably guess the rest so I will spare you the details. The interracial thing got me thinking though: would I feel the same way towards my girlfriend if she was not African?
I am not a womanizer – I swear - but I have dated women of different races, colours, religions and nationalities in my time. My family still call me ‘Kofi Annan’ and the nickname has nothing at all to do with my diplomacy skills. I date whoever I connect with, whatever their colour, and it is with a straight face that I tell you that I had feelings for each girlfriend I ever had, black or otherwise. So here’s my cedis’s worth on each of the arguments above:
Too Many (Beautiful and Intelligent) Black Women
This is true. I DJ, a hobby that connects me new people all the time, several of whom are beautiful, black, female and really, really smart. To expect that beauty and intelligence are all it takes for two people to connect though would be like having your parents introduce you to some random person from up the street and think that you should bond because you share a street name in common. Race might give you some shared experiences but even that depends on where you come from and who you are.
I once went out with a Greek girl and I always felt conscious of people looking at us when we walked or sat down in public, hand in hand. Maybe it was my imagination. We had a lot in common but our relationship did not last very long. True: her mother did not like me, but in the end it boiled down to her wariness of black men. She felt that black men viewed white women as being easy. Try as I might to persuade her that I wanted her for more than her body, that insecurity festered in the back of her mind so persistently that I eventually gave up on the relationship. The issue was as much one of race as it was one of trust, something just as important in a relationship. Would such an issue have arisen if she had been black? Perhaps not. On the other hand though, all women have reason to be insecure that a guy is only interested in their bodies. In this instance my ex decided to shade her reasoning in race. For a black woman, it would might have been shaded in black male infidelity.
Inferiority and Diluting the Strength of the Black Gene Pool
The argument here is two-fold: the black gene is a dominant gene and by procreating with white women, black men are letting the race down and creating weaker children. Furthermore they date ‘away’ in the first place because they feel inferior about their race.
The ‘black’ gene is dominant in terms of colour but that’s about it. Black children are not automatically born stronger and taller. Some black people from some places are really tall, some are stronger or faster than the average Joe; some have rhythm, some can dance, some are well-hung… some are not and some cannot
Let us please not dignify the same kind of eugenic thinking as the Nazis did: Jesse Owens already disproved all of that. If anything racial ‘purity’ results in limited gene pools and inherited illnesses of the kind that plagued the royal families of Europe.
As for inferiority, I concede that there are some black men who have the bizarre tendency to think better of themselves because they are dating white women. That said I refuse to think that EVERY black man who goes out with a white woman is a victim of that. Maybe a black man who goes out with only white women, or a black man who dates white women but screams “Dolly-Anne!” or some other Country-and-Western-sounding name whenever he has lays down with his girlfriend (whose name is actually Akosua), but surely not every black man.
For some people blackness is the thing above all else by which they define themselves and so it would be hard for them to date someone who has not been through exactly the same experience: I dig that. However there are other black people for whom blackness is an important part of a whole that is defined by more than skin tone. Identity-wise I am African before I am black and black before I am British, and I would date a non-Ashanti Ghanaian girl, an African who is not black, a black girl who is not immediately African, and a British girl who is not black. It really depends on the girl and on what levels we click.
When black men in Britain marry English women, they are usually outnumbered by there being more members of her family being around than there are Africans. They sometimes begin kowtowing to her family and their way of life, leaving the children to be raised by the norms of a white society that will eventually label the children black. This can understandably cause the kids some confusion.
I know a Nigerian-English girl whose Nigerian father banned his English wife from taking their children with her to a group of English wives in Nigeria because he felt that in such a club, his children might think of themselves as something other than Nigerian. For him, it was important that his children learnt to understand and embrace their Nigerian side, if only because it would anchor them later when they encounter their English side. Take Tiger Woods. When asked about his ethnicity, he famously explained that he is not black, but rather he is both black and Asian. In doing so, he was acknowledging that his Asian mother, her family and her values also had a role in the development of his sense of identity. Barack Obama won the American presidency on a similar platform.
One thing against interracial dating is that a relationship is hard enough without adding further problems. Isn’t that the kind of thing we should fight if we want to see Martin Luther King’s ‘Dream’ come to more fruition beyond just Obama? People of different races who are genuinely into one another deserve our support, not our criticism.
So would I feel the same way towards my girlfriend if she wasn’t African? Probably not: if she had not been raised an African she would probably have gone through different experiences that would probably have resulted in her becoming a very different person.
Yet it is both naïve and depressing to assume that two people should have a better chance at a successful relationship simply because they are both black. In thinking that way, we are viewing ourselves exactly as those who hate us see us: as one indistinguishable mass of people who are all the same.
Clearly, we are not.