From ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner’ to ‘Scandal’ and to real life, interracial relationships have somehow always managed to stir the proverbial pot.  Sifa Mtango-Zadarnowska tackles the grey, white, black and red (flags) that arise when  mixed relationships are thrust into the fore.

mixed race couples 2A couple of months ago in Australia, an episode aired on Insight (a current affairs programme, which has been known to engage in some of the country’s less politically-correct debates) that had me, a bunch of my girlfriends and the nation talking.

The topic: Interracial relationships.

Black-White. Asian-White. Black-White-Asian (Unfortunately, there were no representatives for the Latinos, which perhaps reflects the fluidity of our southern brothers and sisters, but it still left me wondering.)

I think everyone has a view on the topic, whether or not they are bold enough to go on national television to voice it. I personally found it a welcome subject, because it’s something I know a thing or two about, and it’s always amusing, enlightening and sometimes even horrifying to hear what people think about what it must be like walking in others’ shoes.

The main reason I found this to be an important topic to grace 50-odd minutes of prime-time television is because we often hear how oh-so-very multicultural Australia is, and it sometimes fees like a bit of lip service. Today, whether it’s because of work, adventure or war, more than a quarter of Australia’s resident population was born overseas.* But being a multicultural society should not just be about the statistics, we should really be more concerned about our performance, and how we are actually integrating non-Australians into the country.

Interracial marriage is perhaps one litmus test we can use to gauge how well we are tracking in our multiculturalism. I’m taking it a step beyond simply ‘dating outside your race’ because let’s be honest, we all know someone (or are that someone) who will date right across the colour spectrum, fully knowing that when it’s time to go home to introduce ‘the one’, it will be someone who perhaps won’t stand out in family portraits. Those people exist, and having lived amongst some very strict, culturally conservative societies, I understand why this is a reality. It’s not something I judge because unless you live with your spouse on a desert island, everyone marries into a family, and if that family would struggle to accept your chosen one on the basis of the colour of their skin, their religion, or their class, even in the name of the fiercest kind of love, that battle is simply not one that some choose to fight day in, day out. It is what it is.

Here, I am mostly referring to marriage (vowed or de facto), or at least the relationship on the road to marriage.

The Insight audience expressed some strong views about why they chose who they chose to love. What was a bit disturbing, though, were the opinions that perpetuated stereotypes that risk trivialising some people’s life choices. You know the ones. They usually start with phrases like, “[all] white men . . .” or “[all] black women . . .” In one fell swoop, an entire race or gender is cast in stone, and held accountable for the virtues or sins of their brothers and sisters. The danger isn’t so much in the stereotyping, because that also happens in other spheres of social constructs. But whereas blanket absurdities such as “all men cheat” or, “all women are sensitive” are more readily dismissed because we can all point to more than one example of someone who contradicts those stereotypes. But when one doesn’t encounter people of other races often enough to ‘know better’, being around people who perpetuate racial stereotypes can be dangerous, and risk others believing that the stereotypes are mostly fact.

INTERRACIAL-COUPLEMercifully, the majority of us don’t think that every tall, dark and handsome white man is a prince, or that pliant little Asian women will always do one’s bidding. So what is it that makes people venture towards ‘the other’ when history and cultural norms have preferred like uniting with like?

Love, naturally.

For many, it just happens, for others it’s a conscious choice. If you are wondering what it’s “like”, just think of any (serious) relationship you have been in, and whatever made you take that chance is probably on the list for many interracial attractions.

Aside from the usual suspects: physical appeal, common interests, even that clichéd sense of humour, like other relationships, at the core, it’s just about values. The intensity of whatever shade of black, brown or cream then becomes a non-event. What you do anchor yourself to are the morals, beliefs and standards in a prospective partner. Any long-term partnership must necessarily be founded on elements beyond one’s wrapping, but there may be cultural attributes of one’s ethnicity that facilitates that attraction.

Let me try to explain.

Your average Caucasian parents may be more inclined to encourage all-rounded achievements, inside and outside the classroom, rather than the Africans next door who lament the fact that Australian schools do not rank their students at the end of every term, or the Asian family that stress on excellence in the sciences, at the expense of literature and humanities. Stereotypes they may be, but if such experiences resonate with you in adulthood, you may seek those of similar upbringing, regardless of race, so that there is less explaining to be done.

So it’s probably not so much a race thing as it is a cultural one, and it’s our cultural values that transcend racial differences, laying down the bridges across borders.

Voilà, mystery solved.

_____________

* 27.7% as at 30 June 2013, says the Australian Bureau of Statistics (http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/3412.0Chapter12011-12%20and%202012-13)

About The Author

Sifa Mtango-Zadarnowska

Sifa is a Tanzanian nomad, who today calls Sydney, Australia home. A practising solicitor, Sifa has represented clients from various industries conducting legal disputes in New South Wales and the Federal Courts. Outside her day job, Sifa is passionate about international legal and social issues and as a student, she published articles on human rights topics. Today she continues to engage with community and professional groups on issues of significant social relevance, particularly concerning the African diaspora. As a mother of two, Sifa’s greatest joys are her family and friends. She enjoys music, theatre and reading – making time to indulge in these activities as often as the “real world” permits.

3 Responses

  1. Mel

    I came across this article while googling for an interacial families blog here in Australia. I’m of mixed anglo and European heritage and my Husband is Nigerian. we have 2 boys and our marriage has hit a low point due mainly to lack of family support and hostility toward my husband and rasicm in the general community where we live in SA. We’re trying to rebuild our family but are looking for a more tolerant city to live in. In searching for information and an online community I’ve discovered not one forum. There seems to be little or no community in Australia, online anyway.

    Reply
    • Afritorial
      Afritorial

      Hi there, So sorry to hear you’re not having a great interracial marriage experience. I’m in an interracial family in Australia (by husband is Kiwi and I’m Kenyan) but I haven’t come across any online resources for us, but to be honest, neither have I looked for them. I’ll put the word out there on our social pages and see what comes back. If I do hear of anything I’ll let you know. I hope everything goes OK with you and yours. Have faith; it will get better.

      Reply
      • frank

        In my opinion,Melbourne (victoria) is a much better city to live in than anywhere in Australia.There seem to to be a lot of interracial relationships around and of course very multicultural by a long margin.

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