Cultural differences and dating

Happy Saturday everyone! I hope you are all having a great weekend. My post today is a little different from the topics I usually write about. This topic is a lot more personal but still discusses important cultural and racial considerations. When I was growing up, it was encouraged that a good move would be to marry a foreigner. This is mainly due to a lot of colonial perceptions of importance which I have discussed in previous posts. Foreigners, white foreigners to be specific are portrayed as superior, in intellect and class and generally every facet you can think of. So it was indoctrinated in what seems to be my entire generation that marrying a (Western) foreigner meant you made a good choice in life.

So here I was, staring my first year of uni, expecting to get along with foreigners like a house on fire and potentially meeting my future husband. Now see, a huge naivety I had, (along with many other Zimbabweans) was undermining the significance of cultural differences. I have dated two people from this part of the world in my time at university, both of which I got along with really well. However, when I thought of taking them back home, I was filled with bucketloads of anxiety about how they would be received by my family and friends and what my partner would think about my family and friends. Being in the middle and considering both, I knew that each side would find the other somewhat weird.

However, this is is normal in all relationships; meeting someone’s family opens you up to an entirely different side of the person you are dating. But see, when you then come from entirely different cultures, these differences are exacerbated enormously.

The moment I realised this issue is a little bigger than I thought might seem like a very trivial moment but it was significant to me and my friend (who actually has always said she is marrying a Zimbabwean for these exact reasons). We were reminiscing on the last time we had been to a Zimbabwean wedding and through the nostalgia we ended up curating a wedding playlist. If you are Zimbabwean, or coloured, rather, you will recognise these songs as being the necessity of all good weddings. But if you are not, these songs will have zero significance to you and they may actually sound like quite bad songs to play at a wedding. This is when I started to realise that I would be deeply upset if my significant other did not understand the importance of these songs to my community. I mean sure, I could teach them and force feed them African music but what about the food and the colloquial language and the style and socialisation and the cultural norms? Truthfully, I know I do not have the patience to teach someone all of these things.

While I have an extremely loving and supportive family who would most likely embrace whoever I was dating, it is likely that they would feel the same barrier that I do. I imagine this person sitting at gathering surrounded by my somewhat loud family or friends who speak more-or-less English albeit with some unintelligible words such as “oan,” “it’s chando,” “Mensa” “Jorl,” “let’s go cabin,” “we’re cutting/landing.” In all of this, I would either have to be explaining each word as it came up or leaving this person to try and make sense of what was being said around them. Moreover, behaviour in general would make me feel very nervous. My partner would not understand the crass jokes being made. Nor would my family understand a lot of my partners culturally influenced behaviours like “going Dutch.”

Clearly the themes of culture and race in Zimbabwe are interwoven with themes of cultural significance, historical considerations and economic security. Our countries and people in them have struggled with economic stability for years and looking on countries where it seems like people are doing better in this aspect, it is assumed that life with a foreign partner would be more stable. Additionally, as I have explained in a previous post “get your passport out of here,” because Zimbabweans (and other ex-colonial countries) have been taught to see themselves as less and that everything in the West seems better; including the people. However, when I reflected on how much my culture is ingrained in me, I realised that I would never want to water it down. It is extraordinarily unique and I question why I ever looked down on it.

It isn’t new news that dating inter-culturally is difficult, without even considering long-term issues such as how each of you would want to raise your children. But my question is, why it is so encouraged to date outside of the community for superficial reasons or the the illusion of obtaining a better life with someone who was born in a ‘rich’ country. My point of all of this is that the reasons we have for forsaking each other as good matches really don’t make sense when you think about it. This is not to say that dating inter-culturally is impossible or that we (or I) shouldn’t do it, it is simply to highlight the fact that you already have a solid ground of understanding with the person you grew up next to and venturing out to search for “greener grass” is not always the best thing to do.

The Coloured Community

Los Angeles 2017:

Stranger: “Wow, you look so exotic, what are you?”
Me: “Coloured”
Stranger: [gasps] OMG, you can’t use that term!

Firstly, I was annoyed with being called “exotic” hence my blunt, one word answer and secondly, I was confused by how someone of a different race just told me how I should or should not refer to myself and my own race. After that, years of traveling around America and Europe taught me that “coloured” in Southern Africa meant something completely different compared to the rest of the world. Where I’m from coloured symbolises a community and a culture, whereas elsewhere it is a reminder of racist, derogatory terms used during slavery. So I got groomed into telling people that I am “mixed race” but I am not mixed race…

Both of my parents are coloured, which would mean that I am technically not a mixture of black and white, I am a coloured person made from two coloured people. Complicated…I know. However, my want and need to identify as coloured is not just about the technicalities of my racial makeup, it is about the meaning of coloured in my country. The history of our community is a sordid one which we have turned into a celebration of belonging. The beginning of coloured or mixed race people was a story of slaveowners raping their slaves and so came about mixed people. So we started from a violent and pessimistic story which then got worse over time. Because of how we came about, we were not accepted by either races. We were an embarrassment to both black and white and we fitted neither category. Even now, we are definitely not considered white but we are too diluted to be considered black either so where exactly does that leave us? It left us creating our own coloured community which is comprised of people who have never really belonged anywhere else.

We have our own neighbourhoods, our food, our accent and our own culture. You could go as far as saying we have our own language because when I use coloured slang no other person can understand me except a Southern African coloured person. What is more is that we relish in our culture, we are extremely proud of it despite its stereotypes and negative aspects. We cook our curries and have our braii’s wherever we go, our accent is strong and distinguishable and our party spirit (which is unmatched) follows us no matter where we are.

The top picture is my family members when they were younger (my mother’s generation). The picture on the left is my friends and I just last December and the picture on the right is my baby brother and I. As you can see, we are all different shades of brown but we all still identify as coming from the exact same community. We understand jokes that no one else will and we see life and each other in a different way. So, yes, I am proudly coloured and that word means more to us than people will ever understand.

Lately, however, coloured or mixed race people have become something of a trend which is both shocking and quite sad. Everyone suddenly wants little mixed babies with caramel brown skin and curly hair. So after we went from being the rejected race, we are now being fetishised into the ideal physical appearance. However, what is being done is what society does with everything; make the positive aspects of something trendy while never understanding the history or pain something carries with it. Yes being seen as beautiful in society is great but we found ourselves beautiful long before you did. What needed to come before the aesthetic appreciated of a mixed person was the understanding of how we have come to be and the struggles we have faced. The struggles of being called a ‘half-breed,’ ‘half-casts’ or as having no race at all. The struggle of being identified as drunkards, lazy, aggressive, school-drop-outs teen parents, incestous and a long list of negative stereotypes. While these stereotypes are not representative of us, we are far from perfect as a community but we are a proud community. We are thankful for each other and we will always stick by each other no matter the circumstances. So all of this is what you need to understand if you want to appreciate what it is to be coloured.