“Just because it’s okay for you to date outside your race at home doesn’t mean it’s okay here. It’s weird, it’s not right, that’s not how I was f**king raised. You should be ashamed.” *Josh glared at me across the table, his toothy-grinned uncle nodded his head in agreement, and eventually, all eyes rested on me. Pause for reaction. The awkwardness was palpable. One moment I was sitting in a restaurant in Livingstone, amidst a cohort of international volunteers, chatting about our day, and the next I was being schooled on the fundamentals of interracial dating; The fundamentals being, don’t do it, and certainly don’t do it in Africa. What the hell was I supposed to say? Where do I start? My dinner fellows sat quietly in shock and I instinctively placed my hand on my Caucasian boyfriend’s knee to cease its restless shaking. We were done here, it was time to go.
I learned a valuable lesson that day – For individuals like Josh and his uncle, accepting an interracial couple was much like being forced to sip rancid vinegar, slowly. I’m not going to lie, I was furious, hurt, and worst of all, indignant. But as much as I wanted to jump on my soap box and publicly praise my tolerant Canadian upbringing, there was another story to contend with. Josh, was a 20-something year old White Zimbabwean who had a hate on for anyone not White, not male (and I don’t mean that in a sexual way), and not Rhodesian (Zimbabwean). Women were second class and Black women were worse.
He had experienced trauma during his short time on Earth. He’d seen his friends and neighbours beaten, murdered and forced off their farmsteads by Blacks during the “fast track land reform” initiative under President Mugabe. His family had sent him to live with his uncle in Zambia where it was safer for Whites. Unfortunately, Josh saw me as the enemy, my boyfriend as a Black sympathizer, and the world out to get him. Forgive the pun, but racism is never a Black and White issue, especially here in Africa.
So if you’re traveling as an interracial couple, how do you deal with discrimination?
1. Try Not to Don’t Get Indignant
I know, easier said than done right? One of the reasons I didn’t take Josh to task is because I couldn’t dismiss his own narrative. His experiences were real, his pain very real. It doesn’t mean that he had the right to dismiss my interracial relationship, but as a fellow human being, I chose empathy. He may never be okay with me dating a White man, but I’ll never be okay with one ethnic group murdering or oppressing another. My heart broke for Josh.
2. Research Cultural “Norms” Before You Travel
Half the fun of traveling is experiencing new cultures, but flying blind can cost you some heartache. Being in an interracial relationship probably wouldn’t stop me from traveling somewhere in particular, but knowing it wasn’t accepted and understanding the root of discrimination makes it easier to endure. Hit up travel blogs about traveling as an interracial couple, refresh your history on a particular region to get a lay of the land, and ask questions on travel forums. Knowledge is not only powerful, it can deescalate a future situation.
3. Don’t Generalize
Never, ever write a country, community, culture or ethnicity off because of one bad experience (or two, or three). We spent a couple of months in Africa and Josh’s reaction to us was most often the exception. Everyone has their own story, history, experiences, exchanges, all of which shape their perception of outsiders.
4. Don’t Proselytize
If you feel the need to hit people over the head with your differences when traveling abroad, especially when you’re an interracial couple, you’re asking for trouble. I once watched a mixed couple checking into a hotel in Thailand accuse the front desk of giving them a ‘look’ which they interpreted as discrimination. The more of an issue you make it out to be, the more attention you draw to yourself, and the more open you become for negative comments and discrimination.
5. Walk Away
Remember when your parents told you not to encourage a bully? Sometimes it’s just not worth engaging. As travel bloggers, we often describe the places we travel as if we’re perpetually looking through rose-coloured glasses, but as an interracial couple, shit can hit the proverbial fan at a moment’s notice. If making a point is going to potentially ruin your holiday, forget it. You have each other, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
I respect Josh’s privacy and have changed his name for the purposes of this story