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AGAINST ALL ODDS

Making interracial relationships work

Couples contend with cultural differences, travel and residency complications and stereotypes on the motives of their union

In Summary

• Interracial couples are socialised differently, and sometimes this leads to conflict

• They face discrimination in society and red tape when visiting or settling abroad

An interracial couple show their wedding rings
An interracial couple show their wedding rings
Image: PEXELS

They have been together for three and a half years, married since 2018, but they still face stigma and discrimination when in public together.

Joan* (not her real name) is Kenyan and Luca*, Spanish. When they go on holiday, especially in East Africa, Joan says most people assume that a black woman with a white man is driven by monetary interest. 

 
 
 

"There have been instances where people have asked who I am, or in hotels where some staff have a hard time accepting us as a couple," she said. 

 

Though they sometimes ignore the assumptions people have, in some instances, they are forced to take action. 

"In some cases, we have acted by informing the hotel management in a case where we have been disrespected by staff. Also, we do make it known we are married at the get-go," she said. 

They had their wedding ceremony in Kenya but relocated for work purposes.

"As we get to know each other, we discover things we didn't know about the other person and different perceptions on things, and sometimes there is conflict on how to do things," she said. 

When this happens, instead of avoiding the conflicts, Joan and Luca maintain open communication and respect each other's opinions. 

"We discuss the differences and sometimes agree to disagree. Also, it helps to be comfortable with the differences as long as the end goal is the same," she said. 

 
 

DIFFERENT STROKES

 

For Joan, sometimes challenges arise from the cultural differences because of how they are socialised, making their perceptions of issues different.  

In making their marriage work, Joan and Luca agree that communication and respect are key. 

"Taking the time to listen to each other. Time also helps, more time begets greater understanding," she said. 

"And when you fight, know that you are fighting on the same side. Be patient with each other and know that each has their own weaknesses," Joan said. 

English-Kenyan pair, George and Aggie Salt, got married in 2018 at St James Church, Birdham, England. 

The couple, nicknamed ‘Gaggie’, has been together for eight years after meeting in Nairobi. 

The rains stopped for this moment. They had greeted us when we arrived for an open-top bus tour and punctuated our visit now and then. But when it was time for George and Aggie to take centre stage, the notorious British skies took a rain check. And we watched in awe as 'Gaggie' swapped personal pledges over and above the traditional church vows. Full story on: http://bit.ly/GaggieFest Please like, subscribe and share. #visitbritain #birdham #GaggieFest August 18, 2018

When it comes to navigating their diverse cultural backgrounds, Gaggie agrees that communication, patience and interest are important. 

"Luckily we're both freelancers so we've spent a lot of time in both countries. This has helped us understand each other's backgrounds better and helps especially in disagreements," Aggie said. 

Because of their different upbringings and cultural backgrounds, the couple agrees they will always see things differently. 

"...and that's ok. But it still takes patience to get to that understanding and time," she said. 

Issues with their visas and lack of residency permits in both countries still remain a challenge almost two years into their union. 

"We're managing fine with tourist/visit visas, while all the paperwork takes time to process," Aggie said. 

George and Aggie leave the church in Birdham, Chichester, after their wedding in August 2018
George and Aggie leave the church in Birdham, Chichester, after their wedding in August 2018
Image: WILLY MBOTELA

Though their families have been supportive from the get-go, there will occasionally be comments about them derived from the stereotype of the girl who got with a mzungu for money. 

"Mostly it's from strangers in places like Maasai Market or on the streets, when we're walking downtown. But we know these are people who don't know us and so we don't allow it to affect us. Plus we're used to it," she said. 

"But it doesn't happen that often. We live in a very multicultural neighbourhood in both countries, so I think that also massively helps."

Aggie adds interracial relationships are just like other relationships. 

"Being with a Mzungu doesn’t make him a god or a saint, he’s only human like all the rest. And I’m also human, not a blood-sucking leech, like some people would assume," she said.

"We’re just two people who met and found we have things in common and fell in love, and that’s that."

In addition, the couple adds that space is important. 

"We live and work together and sometimes it’s best to go off and do our own thing or find our own hobbies or hang out with our own friends (me with my girls, him with his boys type of thing). It helps to reconnect better when you allow that breathing space," she said. 

An interracial couple and their daughter
An interracial couple and their daughter
Image: COURTESY
Being with a Mzungu doesn’t make him a god or a saint, he’s only human. And I’m also human, not a blood-sucking leech, like some people would assume
Aggie

MARRIAGE VERIFICATION

Luca, who has both Spanish and French nationalities, has to apply for a visitor's visa every time he visits Kenya. 

"I got a five-year visa for free after our marriage was legalised by the French Embassy. Unfortunately, the same does not apply for him in Kenya. He has to apply for a visitor's visa every time he visits Kenya," Joan said. 

The couple had to go through the process of verifying their marriage in France. 

"We had to be taken through a lengthy interview so they could 'verify' that the marriage was authentic. They asked many personal questions, including our income status, mine and his," she said. 

"The interviews were done separately to ensure there was consistency. I am sure if we were both French, no such thing would have happened."

Passports of different nations
Passports of different nations
Image: COURTESY

THE DATA

In 2015, 17 per cent of US newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, according to a Pew Research Centre analysis of Census Bureau data.

The percentage is approximately a fivefold increase since 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving vs Virginia made interracial marriage legal.

"All told, more than 670,000 newlyweds in 2015 had recently entered into a marriage with someone of a different race or ethnicity," read the study.

"In comparison, in 1980, the first year for which detailed data is available, about 230,000 newlyweds had done so."

According to Psychology Today, demonstrating awareness of your partner's culture and making room for their cultural beliefs, practices and religions helps sustain the relationship. 

"Find ways to express appreciation for a partner’s culture, such as conveying admiration, learning their native language or cooking traditional cultural dishes," Holland Parker says. 

Parker, a psychologist, says it also helps couples if you treat your partner's unique cultural background as an exciting opportunity for discovery and learn more about it. 

Follow the journey your soapstone made to you!

Apart from racial differences, she adds, interracial couples face meaningful cultural differences from their unique backgrounds and the histories they’ve each inherited. They also contend with stigma and discrimination. 

"The fact that many interracial partners grapple with the stress of prejudice and discrimination definitely does not mean they shouldn’t be together," Parker said. 

"Social disapproval is the problem, not the relationship. In an ideal world, interracial couples would only ever be warmly embraced."

When faced with racism, she says, couples should stand up against it in a firm, effective and productive way. 

She encourages the use of humour to cope with the stress of prejudice and discrimination. Couples should fight the temptation to verbally attack when faced with such encounters. 

When facing difficulty with family, couples should allow those struggling with the relationship time to accept it. 

"... some room to reflect and come to a place of willingness, understanding, recognition and approval. Some people who’ve tried this strategy found that as their loved ones got to know their partners, bias towards their partner lessened," she said.

"Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that all family members and friends will change their minds, but it’s possible that some will."