Things You Only Know If Your Boyfriend Is Black And You're Not
The Debrief: The nightmare of hailing a cab, the stares in restaurants and THOSE questions from friends
Kim Kardashian penned a blog post* on racism a couple months back and the world erupted in uproar. Partly because people love attacking pretty much anything she does, but mostly because she wrote that before she had North, aka a mixed race baby, she had never really given racism much thought.
I think what she probably meant was: I never experienced racism happening to someone I cared deeply about before Kanye and thus it didn’t really affect me all that much. And you know what, I relate.
According to reports, the UK has the highest rate of interracial relationships in the world, with 50% of black Brits said to be in mixed relationships. So it’s no wonder that a recent study suggests that under 25s believe racism is becoming a thing of the past. After all, it does seem to be; with a British Social Attitudes survey showing that 85% of the public is for marriage across ethnic lines. But I have a black boyfriend and can tell you racism does persist. Because I’ve been made privy to it. And it shocked me. Here's what I've learnt:
People (often older) still aren’t really used to the idea
‘You know he’s black, right?’ said my mum when I first showed her a picture of my boyfriend after incessant ‘I can’t stop thinking about yous’ lead me to believe that… yup, I guess this is probably going somewhere.
Telling my super old-fashioned grandfather was a minefield in itself. ‘She has a boyfriend, yes, it’s serious,’ my father told him. ‘This might be something you’re not used to… he’s black,’ he concluded.
To my grandfather’s credit, once he realised that my boyfriend treats me well (which is the priority for those who care about me), that was all that mattered.
But the fact my grandfather isn’t the only one who's been taken aback by such a union, proves a point.
It just goes to show that while racism in the old-fashion sense of the word has decreased – averaging data from the British Social Attitudes survey shows there’s been an overall drop in the last five years - a sort of habitual racism still resides. One not born from fear or dislike but from it being a (relatively) new idea.
Hailing a cab can be a nightmare
Negative perceptions still lie in the back of some people’s minds. Case in point: black cabs that often refuse to pick up young black men.
It’s something many have experienced, with MP Dianne Abbot tweeting her frustration a couple of years back: ‘Dubious of black people claiming they’ve never experienced racism. Ever tried hailing a taxi I always wonder?’
I’ve even seen it first hand. Unless I'm standing noticeably close to him, black cab drivers often don't pull over for my boyfriend, only to stop for someone else further down the road. And if he's wearing a baseball cap? Forget about it.
It’s something he thinks about often: ‘Every day I try and be an example to help combat these negative stereotypes,’ he says. This extends from how he dresses, the way he speaks to what he says.
It even extends to how he carries himself in public, careful, even when angered, insulted or looked down upon to handle himself with dignity and respect, an added pressure to make sure he dispels the racist stereotypes that some people think of him. It makes me really cross and really proud in equal measure.
Walking into some restaurants is sometimes complicated too
These negative stereotypes are way more apparent in nice (read: expensive) restaurants, posh (read: expensive) clubs and the like.
It’s not quite the school classroom experience of walking in to quickly hushed voices and furtive glances, but you can bet your ass people will look.
A good friend of mine who often went to the Nobus’ and Hakkassan’s with her black boyfriend said: ‘It was like they were trying to figure out if he was famous and, if not, how he could afford to go there or, if not, who is she and why is she with him?’
Welcome to negative stereotyping and casual racism 101.
Some friends can surprise you with their reaction
The fact that I'm with a black man is a disclaimer that has to be made to some of my friends (mostly back home in Egypt, a country where the law states that if two religions intermix the marriage is not valid ). Admittedly it's those in Egypt who were most scandalised by the union. When I first started dating my boyfriend I had friends who I've always believed to be open minded ask ‘but are you actually going to marry a black man, though?’ It used to drive me crazy, especially as my ex boyfriend, who I had dated for three years, was Arab, with a muslim background (like me) - but actually he brought out nothing but drama in me and my life. He might have made me cry into my pillow pretty much every night, but, at first, some friends would still have been more comfortable with the idea of me being with him rather than moving on to my current boyfriend.
Luckily (for the sake of our friendship) over the course of the four years of our relationship, they've seen what a better person I've become, how much more motivated I am, how I dare to dream and how actually lots of my dreams are coming or have come true. I guess they've seen how much he loves me, how his presence lights up any room and, luckily, that now seems to count more.
But this casual racism, or, racial profiling, if you like, extends to friends over in the UK too, where I've lived since I was eight years old, who with a *wink* *wink* *nudge* nudge* always used to ask if it's true what they about black men. Well, if you must ask… Is it really your business and would you have asked me such personal questions if he wasn't black? I dunno. Plus, this is 2014, let’s all get over it.
Black is not a bad word
But it’s a tricky subject to think, speak, write about. ‘Black’ is still used tentatively for fear of offending, voices lowered and expressions uncomfortable when used. But black is not a bad word and maybe if we stop tiptoeing around the subject it will further facilitate normalcy.
Living in a multicultural city like London, and an increasingly multicultural world, interracial relationships are becoming more common, coupled with the fact that it’s no longer acceptable for people to be racist and here’s hoping that racism – habitual or otherwise – will continue to decrease.
As cliché as it sounds, at the end of the day we are all humans, same heart, same dreams, same desire to love and be loved.
It’s hard enough to find someone whose pieces jot so perfectly into yours; whose smile births yours, passion ignites yours and life completes yours. Skin colour should never be a barrier to that.
Follow Alya on Twitter @moorizZLA
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating