Its funny how quickly the world changes,, and how those resisting the time often get lost in the rising tides. For example, 50 years ago, my existence as a mixed race child would have been seen as a taboo, and my parents’ marriage would have been illegal in most of the 50 states.
Both my mother and father were raised in societies where people of other races were not common; in my mother’s village in rural Kenya, the only whites for miles were the Catholic priests who ran a school and orphanage near the village , while my German father’s first memory of a black person relates to an African-American soldier in a tank distributing chocolate to bombed-out children in 1945. When asked about the specifics of the event, my father could only recall one other famous person of color; Jesse Owens, an athlete of my father’s time. So, how exactly, may you ask, did so different individuals end up together?
My father was born in Germany in 1938 to a father in the German military who served in the second world war, while my mother was born to Indian-Kenyan parents in 1962, two years before Kenya’s independence, in a small village named Laree near the town of Meru. Both my parents were born during intense periods of social and political change; for my father’s generation, the future seemed uncertain as they barely braved the state of their decimated country. For my mother’s generation, hope was inevitable as a future of self-determination seemed like the only way to go. No, while there were ups and down for my parents, they met in Nairobi in the 1990’s while working for the same computer firm. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In Kenya, where racism and segregation never took root as it did in countries like the United States, interracial marriages and relationships were not as uncommon as one may have thought. However, nothing compared to the attitudes my parents experienced when they moved to South Africa a year after getting married, in 1999. It had only been five years since the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the wounds of racial segregation were still fresh. My parents, who had not experienced much if any rejection for their decision to wed were faced with the harsh realities of South African society; while some South African openly expressed their opinions in in the street; that they were “glad to see black and white together at last”, my mother remarked that some of her fellow Africans said “that I should be ashamed, as she could not find a man from home”. My father, who claims that he was almost oblivious to the situation entirely, my mother claims that he was look at as if he was “possessed”. One incident in particular had my mother shopping for a handbag in a store that refused to serve her until they found out she was married to a white man.
In retrospect, attitudes all over the world have shifted when it comes to the issue of interracial marriage; in the United States, attitudes have shifted fast, with the near exponential change from 4% approval of black and white intermarrying in 1959 to nearly 90% of Americans approving of interracial marriages in 2013 according to a poll of more than four thousand Americans by Gallup in June of 2013. That’s a drastic change for less than a 60 year period. And that’s why it’s so interesting to see how far we as an increasingly international society, as all the progress has not been made entirely; in countries like Israel, it is still seen as a major taboo to marry a person of a differing faith or culture.
All in all, the issues interfaith and interracial lovers face today are less about the legitimacy of their love and their cultural differences, but about cultures that have not yet changed, but, if the trends are anything to show for, will soon enough, though maybe more slowly than some would prefer. And while interracial relations will not improve simply through interracial marriages, unions such as those of my father and mother can serve as an encouraging sign that things are changing.