Traveling While Interracial

"Why are you moving to Boston? I would never live there. Boston is one of the most racist cities in America." -Anonymous church member from North Carolina

"There are black people in Boston?" -Anonymous friend from Maryland

While studying at UNC, I had the pleasure of meeting John Edgar Wideman while he was the Creative Writing Department's Morgan Writer-In-Residence. I enjoyed reading his New York Times op-ed on "riding while black" a couple of months ago which reminded me of a discussion my husband and I had about "traveling while interracial."

As a fellow public servant, I truly empathize with employees of the Transportation Security Administration.  Unlike people with a 9 to 5 desk job, these women and men work in high-stress, potentially high-risk, settings with little opportunity to just shoot the breeze by the water cooler or surf the web (heck, they get dirty looks for just looking at their cell phone while working).  I appreciate their service and their efforts to keep us safe while flying, but I need to call out some folks at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

While traveling back to Boston from Raleigh-Durham earlier this fall, my husband and I approached the TSA agent with our driver's licenses and boarding passes before putting our carry-on luggage through x-ray.  As most of the United States traveling public knows, generally, if you have more than one person in your party, you approach the agent as one group.  So you can imagine my surprise when I stepped up to the agent, my husband following right behind me, and the agent (I believe a black male) said to my husband: "Sir, please step back behind the line until you're called!"  At the time I thought it was kind of strange but I know travel rules change at whim, so I just assumed it was a heightened safety measure and thought nothing of it.  Well, it's my husband's turn and the TSA agent, after seeing my husband's information and realizing we have the same last name, says "Oh, I'm sorry.  I wouldn't have told you to step back if I realized you were married."

I'm sorry, but that's just ignorant.
You work for the Executive Branch of the United States Government.  The head of that branch is a BIRACIAL MAN.  He has an African daddy and a White momma.  And you didn't think that two members of the general public of different races could possibly be married?!

And lest you think I'm picking on the state of North Carolina, let me put Washington, DC out on front street.  As I was wrapping up a trip to the city for work, my husband came into town towards the end of the week to meet up before heading to Maryland to spend the weekend with my family.  After a week-long stay, the housekeeping staff recognized me pretty well, but apparently they didn't think I would married to a white man.  I called down to the front desk for an item (probably extra towels) and my husband answered the door while I briefly stepped away from the room.  The conversation went something like this:

Housekeeper: "Oh, I'm sorry.  I didn't realize the lady who was staying here checked out already."
My Husband: "Um, no she didn't."

(they stare at each other in awkward silence)


My Husband: "I'm her husband.  We're together."
Housekeeper: "Oh really?"

You know, for all of the unfounded allegations that Southerners make against Boston and New England as being racially hostile, I expect more from you DC and NC!  Come on people!

17 comments:

  1. Very interesting. I have experienced similar situations. I'd be really interested in hearing what you have experienced when travelling abroad?

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  2. Thanks for your comment Adoringblackwomen. That's actually a really good question. So, the only place we've traveled together outside of the United States is Aruba, for our belated honeymoon and a vacation. But most of the people staying at the resort were wearing Red Sox and Yankee caps so does that really count? Needless to say, we did not experience anyone questioning our marriage on the beaches of Aruba sipping cocktails. If anything, we were probably viewed as just two Americans on vacation. But it's my understanding that most of the Aruban population ethnically identifies as "mestizo" so maybe they're used to seeing different kind of people together.
    But we are discussing a trip to Nigeria and honestly, I'm a tad nervous. I usually go every 4 years so I'm way overdue for a trip and this will be my husband's first visit. While there are parts of me that are very Nigerian/Yoruba there are parts of me that are very American. Plus 1) I don't speak my parents' native language (Yoruba) which older Nigerians always heckle me about, and 2) I don't have a Nigerian accent (or as an anonymous Senator from Nevada might say, "I have no Negro dialect unless I wanted to have one").
    Now Britain "colonized" Nigeria and many international companies have a presence there, so seeing white people from time to time is nothing new, particularly in the larger cities. I always stay with family and almost all of them traveled from Nigeria to the States to be at our wedding and engagement ceremony. So I probably have nothing to be nervous about--my husband already has a Nigerian fan base so it should be a good time. You'll definitely see a post if we can make it happen!

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  3. We have never experienced this in the UK where we live nor whilst travelling abroad but I would be surprised that people are still so ignorant in these day and age.

    We are thinking of doing Nigeria this year and it would be my husband's first trip there. I go annually and can't imagine it being any more intense than the reception my mixed race daughter receives - lots of looking, point & calls of 'Oyinbo'. We have been known to be followed through markets & randoms trying to touch her hair.

    BTW, I came across your comment on your future post looking at mixed race children & salon experiences. Get in touch if you need some more voices on the subject.

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  4. @Milly
    Thanks for your comment. Yeah, I'd like to believe these were isolated incidents, but if they were then I wouldn't have a name for this website! I try to be gracious because I'm keenly aware of my own shortcomings and every human being has the capacity to make racially or culturally offensive remark, assumption, or sterotype at any given moment...not excusing the behavior though...
    Now about your daughter and her hair: are you sayin this happens when you're in Nigeria?! How do you respond? If that happened to my child I could just see the black-girl-from-PG-County rising up and it would be on and poppin'! I can just see the BBC headline now: "American Tourist Beats Nigerian Market Woman With Yam"; then I'd have to call Uncle Bunmi to bail me out of prision before I got deported, lol. But seriously, that's CRAZY. I wonder if people feel like they can "get away with it" because you are a woman. Meaning, I wonder if they would even dare attempt to touch your child if she was with her father or another relative who wasn't Nigerian or if her father was Nigerian. In a situation like that, maybe it's better that I know so little Yoruba or I might act on the temptation to curse somebody out...either that or I'd have to start packing some heat, just to scare folks of course :)
    Yeah, the "hair salon gentrification" (or maybe "amalgamation" is a better word?) has been an interesting phenomenon in my salon; moreso when a non-black/brown woman brings a child to a black salon. I've found that most of the other women at the shop are gawking at the mother, not the child.

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  6. *Hit a little snafoo posting Rod's comment. Reposted here (my bad Rod!):

    A female friend and I recently vacationed in South Africa (I am white, she is black) we had a great time! We spent almost 3 weeks between Cape Town and Johannesburg. We got the usual older white people stares not unlike what we get at home. But we got these looks of amazement and astonishment at times from the other South African races. After befriending a merchant we asked him about those stares and he said (his opinion, me paraphrasing) that some blacks look at us happily and see how far they have come since Apartheid. He said the stares were probably more prideful than anything. At times it seemed we were like celebrities. My friend went to a hair salon and when I went to get her the women wouldn't believe we were a couple until I paid the bill and we walked out together. A local Johannesburg magazine was having a party at a hotel which we got in easily and of all the people there, we weren't there 10 minutes and they were taking our picture. I looked at their website recently and there we were. We got a good laugh out of it! Especially for 2 nobodys from Alabama! We saw a few more interracial couples but not many.

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  7. @Rod
    Dang, you paid for your "friend" to get her hair done?! In another country?! Ya'll must be mighty good friends! Lol.
    Sounds like a great trip. Many of my friends and family friends have spent time in South Africa living, working, and going to school; so I've heard lot of wonderful things about the place and the people.
    Sometimes you never know the extent to which your life can impact someone else's just by liviing as your genuine, authentic self -- yes, even two "nobodies" from 'Bama! Nice.

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  8. lol, Tina, don't be impressed getting your hair done in most African country = getting your coffee. Its very affordable, in fact everything is affordable in Africa for those of us from the West or those with $$ (you don't need to be rich to live like one). I used to get my hair done in Nairobi while doing my internship.....and it only cost me $20-30. The most expensive salon will cost you $50.

    To answer your qs, Obama is really not the exception in America. Having a black father and white or non-black mothers is the accepted norm in most Americans mindset. What is unique and a growing norm is black women actually venturing out and seeking quality life partner beyond race.

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  9. @Huda
    My mom reads this so I must first clarify that it's "Tinu" not "Tina" lol. You don't know how many times people try to "correct" the spelling of my nickname.
    Yes, I do remember getting braids done the last time I was in Nigeria and almost passing out when I converted the price to US dollars. And then the women doing my hair almost passed out when I told them the going rates for braids in the US, lol.
    To your last comment, part of me thinks "there is nothing new under the sun." I think there many examples of women of all races throughout time who have looked beyond race in choosing a mate. I'm actually interested in reading up on black women who were active in the civil rights and women's liberation movement who "made statements" by choosing to marry men outside of their own race (women like Marian Wright Edelman and Alice Walker come to mind...)

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  10. sorry about misspelling your name Tinu, I know how annoying it is since mine isn't universal either.

    About women venturing out, black women in particular. Historically it happened, more so in a period between 1950s-70s, where many of the female stars married white men. However, the phenomenon suddenly went down hill for whatever reason. We don't have to get into the complexity and ugliness of American race relation, but rarely did black women find the safe and acceptable space to seek their own life mate without the 'black love' police among other things. After all stats show us otherwise when it comes to marrying and mating with non-black men for African American women.

    Women like Alice Walker was very blunt about the demise of the black community as a safe place for black women and their children....so yeah she was a brave woman in more ways than one.

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  11. @Huda
    No worries about the spelling. Happens all the time...

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  12. Hi Tinu,

    My name is Chi, I found your blog through Black Women Deserve Better and I love it! I know this post is really old, but I just had to comment.

    I am a Nigerian-American married to an Irish/Scottish-American man and we live on the East Coast too. Three years ago, during the holidays and right before he proposed, we took a trip to Nigeria to meet my extended family. It was a pleasant and fun trip, which I attest to my husband's willingness to learn and appreciate that huge part of my identity. We traveled with my father, who was instrumental to help navigate the craziness of Lagos and its airport, and for intra-country travel to and from Port Harcourt. Honestly, it wouldn't have been possible without him; after all, he was born and raised there, and I only spent my summers there growing up.

    Of course my boo-bear stood out-we got lots of stares, and some little children were actually frightened because they had never seen an actual White person before. But he became quite the celebrity pretty early on, as he quickly adapted eating gari and moi-moi, hitting it off with my uncles (lots of Guiness!) and playing soccer with my cousins. We were even seated next to some chiefs at a masquerade ceremony! There were some "haters" (some related to me, some not) who felt I should have at least brought home a black man, but they were horribly outnumbered. But what I found most fascinating was that during out 2.5 weeks there we saw 2 other BW/WM couples.

    We had such a good time and it meant the world to me that I found someone so sweet, so loving, so intelligent, and with a global viewpoint. We plan on going back again for the holidays this year, now that we're married.

    In short, I think you have nothing to worry about-you and your husband will have an amazing trip. I look forward to reading about it.

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  13. @Chi
    Never too late to comment! Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences.
    I'm glad your boo went to Nigeria BEFORE he proposed so he had full disclosure of what he was getting himself into, lol. We'll also be traveling with my parents, so it's good to hear your dad was so helpful.
    I think my husband's actually looking forward to being the center of attention for a couple of days! It helps that he met so many of my relatives during our wedding and I'm trying to prepare him without scaring him. Thanks for your encouraging words, we're definitely looking forward to it!

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  14. Great post once again. I wanted to respond to an earlier comment that you made on December 19th. My mother is from Aruba and interracial dating is not really seen as a big issue on the island. Even though racism does exist there (racism exist everywhere), people are pretty comfortable with seeing interracial couples. There are quite of few of interracial couples in Aruba, although no one would really view it that way because they have the same ethnicity. They probably saw you all as another American couple.
    I'll give you an example, I was dating a guy from Aruba and to our circle of friends and family we were just considered two Aruban people dating. It wasn't until we went out as a couple (we lived in Orlando)that people noticed a difference (I'm Aruban and Curacaoan and he was Aruban with an Asian grandparent). While he was holding me to keep me warm, a random guy came up to him startled and said "Oh, that's you playa?" as if we were of the Eighth Wonder of the World. I looked at the guy and said "yes, I'm his playa" and kept it moving.

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  15. @Krayzi
    Lol. Nice. I'm always amazed at the level of comfort people feel in some of questions or comments they make to strangers.
    Thanks for sharing about your background. That's definitely the vibe I got in Aruba, like it was no biggie.

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  16. I am a white man who only in the last year had the experience of dating a black woman. Living in LA, we never experienced anything like this... but I sympathize. I think the collective maturity of people around race is still very slow. Hopefully it will grow as time goes on. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  17. @White Dude
    You're welcome!

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