Experiences of a Mixed Race Couple on the Road

in Couple

This is a subject of much debate, I often read posts that highlight some of the physical dangers, as well as the emotional toll, of being a racial outsider in certain societies.

Having travelled as much as possible with my wife, who is Indian, for the 20 years, I thought I'd take the time to share our experiences of being a mixed race couple in different parts of the world.

From the outset I will say that we have had it easy. We have experienced no physical abuse or threat of violence, and apart from a few choice words in a language that one of us has been able to understand, my feeling is that people we have met in the streets have been more interested in the colour of our money than our skin. Everywhere we have travelled, people ask Sam where she is from, and of course are never satisfied when the answer is Britain, and want to dig deeper. Even in India, we encountered far more polite curiosity than hostility. I do wonder how different it would be if I was a black/Asian male with a white woman. Others will be able to answer that, and I will leave it to them to share their stories here rather than speculate. Sincere thanks in advance to those who do.

Racism is there at some level in most societies, and the unwillingness to bring it out into the open has typically spared us awkward moments. I remember well a train trip I took alone through an undeveloped part of Poland in 1992. I was in a compartment with 6 people, including two sweet-looking old Polish ladies and a Nigerian student. We had been chatting away, me with the old ladies in my native Polish, and I also shared a few words with the student. The two women only looked at him with wide eyed curiosity, rather like a child seeing something for the first time. When he got off at his station, the women soon turned to each other and one said aloud with no hint of shame or humour "wasn't he black! just like the devil!" I looked at her with a look of feigned respect and exclaimed in surprise "so you've seen the devil!!" The conversation soon changed to another subject thankfully. Was this nasty racism, or was this ignorance that is still rife within a largely homogenous society (very much the case across the Slavic world)? While it was probably the latter, it still left me feeling quite sad.

As a couple, the worst abuse we have suffered has actually been in England, where gangs of Pakistani youths have screamed some pretty nasty stuff at Sam in Urdu (which she understood).

In other countries she has often passed as a native (in Romania she was mistaken for a Roma, in Peru for a Brazilian, in northern Canada for an indigenous Canadian and in Sri Lanka for a native). This has bred a friendly approach from people who have wanted to speak with her in another language.

My wife was reluctant to travel to the Middle East, and admittedly the amount of attention we received in the more remote parts of Syria was a little overwhelming (school kids crowding round, pointing and taking photos) but never unpleasant. While Syria is perfectly safe, I wouldn't dream of travelling as a mixed race couple to Saudi Arabia and certain other parts of the Arabian peninsula.

In short, it will be different for each couple - Asians will be treated differently to blacks in different countries, and whether the man or woman is non-white will also have a large bearing on the reception. It is reassuring however that in most of the world, whatever the colour of your skin, as long as you have dollars in your pocket and are spending them locally people will be quite adept at hiding any prejudices.

Others experiences in travelling as a mixed race couple will be very welcome.

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Andy Jarosz has 1 articles online

Andy Jarosz is a writer and avid traveller. He created and writes the highly popular 501 Places travel blog, and is often on the road reporting on unusual locations and experiences around the world for his clients.

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Experiences of a Mixed Race Couple on the Road

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This article was published on 2010/05/26
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