Crossing boarders in relationships is one of the greater risk an African could take in his life. We have indeed been conditioned from childhood that Black women are made for black men, that Fulanis should marry with Fulanis, Muslims can only be happy with a Muslim born partner, Christians with Christians, Yorubas with Yorubas, etc. True or False? Right or Wrong? I don’t have the answer to that. All I can say is that I am fairly an open minded person but I must admit that I have personally never had a Caucasian date in my life! So as many of us I might be responding to some unconscious signals or it is just that it just never occurred, without any further over analyzing.
However, in spite of using computers enhanced with features such as MSN or skype , communicating with internet enabled mobile phones, traveling relentlessly around the world ,with more & more ease and rapidity, some issues stay unchanged & static resisting to time & technologies.
This topic started itching my mind after a discussion I had with a friend, a brilliant beautiful single Lady her late thirties, obviously in search of the Prince Charming. She called me and in the blab she mentioned that she met a friendly, handsome confident man in the plane from Lagos to Abuja . The next morning, she kindly agreed to a “face to face” breakfast with the “eligible potential Prince” at his Hotel …
Of course, with my feminine curiosity, I called her the same evening to get a full feedback report, rather inquisitively though: “how is he?”, “is he single?” etc. Gradually getting satisfactory answers to most of my questions, I could still feel unease in the end. So I decided to dig harder and asked: Anything I missed about the guy? Silence. Sigh. She then took a deep breath & concluded in a placid voice tone: “He is Igbo.” Without anymore comments. I burst out with laughter and ask:”Yes then?” is that a disease?”. As much as I love her I have to admit that this kind of tribal segregation has a sort of freezing effect on me. Her answer was implicit: he is not an eligible northerner and it is not suitable for her to date an Igbo man, before the eyes of her entourage, no matter how good a husband he could be. It was quite a shock for me, because in Senegal in spite of the castes taboo which was a big deal in the 70’s/80’s, I had seen members of my family marry people regardless of their countries and religions. And if I may recall that in the Holy Quran if a man converts to Islam whatever his race, he can marry a Muslim woman. So obviously religion was not at stake here but clearly the guy belonged to the wrong tribe.
My Grand Father Fulani grew into a progressive person in his time by allowing his daughters to marry outside the community – only after the failure of the family arranged weddings and the death of my dad in my mother’s case-.Now I have family basically on most continents married to all sorts of people with more or less successes. And for those who don’t know it Fulanis are among the most conservatives of the African Ethnic groups marrying among themselves and practicing endogamy. Through my extensive African trips, I noticed that in some tribes it is better to marry a foreigner than from another tribe. These situations are mostly motivated by some legends kept in mind with negative stories about such or such ethnic group. So in some areas it might be better to have a Japanese wife cooking sushi than a girl next door from the “cursed” tribe! A typical “African turn a myth into a weird reality” type of social behavior. In spite of the victim attitude we sport around the world, there is a harsh statement about our continent “Africa suffers from tribalism”. And it is has proven to be a deadly disease as we have all witnessed it several countries in the form of murderous civil wars.
The usual scenario is as follow: a man and a woman fall in love, they decide to get married and they go to their respective families with their project of one of them is against the marriage because they belong to different tribes! It sounds familiar to you right. The only condition for a non Muslim to marry a Muslim woman is to become a Muslim. Nowhere is it stated that only Yorubas could marry Yoruba or only Fulanis should marry Fulanis. We have a tendency to let our customs and traditions overlap with our religious beliefs. So what choice do they have? Either turn their back to the recalcitrant family or turn their back to LOVE. One of my close friends had to fight hard with her Moroccan Parents before they could accept her wedding with an Irish Guy. Puzzling isn’t it? Especially coming from very liberal Muslim parents. What we first suspected – wrongly-as racism was just a way to protect their daughter from Moroccan law who belittles & denies full rights to women marrying foreigners. Food for thought. What are the motives behind the parents’ mind when they stand against a “disharmonious” union? From my own experience (as a daughter), parents think that by preventing their children from marrying outside their tribe, clan or race, they act as protectors. Initially, Love is the driving force that pushes people from totally different background, race or tribe to get married. But what families try to preserve their children from is the cultural gap that might be stressed out negatively once love fades. The paradox being that tolerance –within the couple- is the key to a successful cross cultural relationship. If you are a man, your beloved from another tribe or country will have to adjust to your customs and usages -in Africa women always have to please their in laws- , cook your mother’s food and even sometimes learn your native tongue. It is a stated fact that any woman, who will not put effort into the previous, will either be out casted by their adopted family or her husband will end up marrying a second wife belonging to his inner family circle or even chosen by them –or at least vetted by them-. So Ladies it is at your risk, you either adjust or you get prepared to cry. Bitter truth!
On the other hand, Some of my friends would not date or have a relationship with men or women that would be non black. We love stigmatizing others of racism, but we are also very conservative when it comes to engaging oneself in an interracial relationship. Which I can understand because our sense of family, the thin barrier between a family member and a friend, our love for our smelly hot tasty soups, our colorful outfits worn in all season regardless of where we live, our loud dialects and all the details that makes us who we are Africans, African-Americans, West Indians, South Americans… Despite years out of Africa, the overall African Diaspora in the world share most of these common features. Sorry for the cliché but in some way or another, these traits forge our shared identity beside the skin color.
But let me correct myself here, I know for a fact that a majority of people who don’t date outside their communities are not racists, they were just not given the opportunity to. Now that the world is more Global interracial marriages have become a common thing. And like any other relationship, it can only be successful with the respect of each other differences.