One of the realities of living overseas as an educated woman of color is a constant interaction with “other” men. This includes everyone from French in Senegal to Norwegians in Argentina. Walking through multiple lands as a woman of color I get unsolicited commentary about my hair, skin color, and choice of male companionship but no more so than when I am in my own country. Is it the interracial or the transcultural aspect of dating outside your ethnicity and nationality that generates the stink eye from your fellow Americans of African descent?
After college, I was doing the Eurotrip. When on the train from Irun to Algeciras, I bumped into a man who appeared to be Moroccan. It only took a few words to realize he did not speak French but Italian. Over the course of a very long train ride, we managed to converse in a hybrid French, Spanish, Italian language. When we went our separate ways we exchanged physical and email addresses. Over the next year, we kept in touch. His English improved as did my Italian, however, we could never seem to find a time when we would be in the same country at the same time.
Finally, one spring after breaking up with an Afroguyanan guy, I accepted Carlo’s invitation to join him in Rome. I had not seen him since the previous summer, but I remembered he was attractive. I had just completed an assignment in West Africa so I purchased an AirTrek voucher, called the 800-number, and as fate would have it found there was a flight leaving the next day to Rome. Feverishly, I searched through my journals and photo albums from the previous summer looking for a picture or a description of him. Nothing. I called my friend with whom I had been traveling and asked whether she remembered the Italian from the train. “Girl, it was a long time ago. I can’t recall your white boy,” she stated with all the enthusiasm of a mortician. I decided to try another tactic.
“Pronto,” the voice said.
“Hi, Carlo it’s Salihah. I have an odd question. Would you mind sending me a picture? I am embarrassed to admit this, but I don’t quite remember what you look like,” I sheepishly said.
“Of course, I will send when I go to my home.”
“Thanks love. You want me to send one too?”
“No, I remember you. See you soon. Ciao.” He was gone.
A few hours later, I checked my Yahoo! email and there they were. “Hot damn that man is fine!”
I yelled to no one in particular. In one picture, he was sitting cross-legged on a white sand beach in Thailand wearing sungas and nothing else. His complexion was darker than mine and his thick hair was cut close to his head. The other photo was a profile, taken at the beach near Rome. It looked like fall as he was wearing a light jacket and a woven cotton scarf jauntily wrapped around his neck. His Roman nose and chiseled jawline were on prominent display. Longish, his hair fell just above his emerald eyes. “Oh, this is going to be fun!” I said aloud as I saved the pictures.
That was the beginning of my first serious relationship with a caucasian man. We lived together in Rome and traveled together across Western Europe and the United States. When we were in Europe no one seemed to bat an eye. There, the issue was not so much about my color but my Americaness. Carlo’s friends and people we met along the way had an assumption (okay rightfully earned) that I would only speak English (wrong), be ignorant of local customs (some), geographically challenged (not at all), and lack overall class (not I). Our life was good there—we had the regular fights of a couple, but they were not race related.
Things abruptly changed the moment we landed in the States. Traveling from New York to Washington, DC and then on to New Orleans via Atlanta, the looks and commentary increased with each latitude. The eye-rolls and headshakes from other passengers as we held hands speaking in Italian waiting on our flight at Hartsfield were an ever present reminder of how other Black people viewed interracial relationships. He noticed. He didn’t understand it and honestly, I didn’t want to explain it. We broke up several months after returning from the States. It had nothing to do with the racial issues we encountered in America. To this day, we have remained friends. At one point he attempted dating a Black American woman from Tenessee. He quickly found that she was extremely “American” not open to blending cultural traditions and overly concerned with how people in her family perceived her dating not only a White guy but an Italian.
As I left my twenties and embraced my thirties I traveled further afar. I met and dated white European men in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. When traveling with these men in lands where they were the minority, I sometimes found myself questioning my idenity—was I a sellout? Did I have reverse jungle fever? Girlfriends in the States, desperately looking for a Black man who matched their intellect and dynamism would say, “I don’t know how you do it. I’d rather be alone than with one of them.” Black and Latino male friends in New York would make comments like “Leave it to Sali to move to Africa and date an ofe.” Then would come the African brothers who asked, “Why, you only like mzungu?”
I didn’t think I was consciously choosing, but maybe I was. I wanted to date men who had the same or greater education and earning potential as me. I wanted to explore my new country, go on vacations, and out to dinner. In many of the places I was living, the salary paid to locals was so depressed they couldn’t afford these things. The white men I dated were my co-workers and expat counterparts. While sometimes a bit of self-doubt would creep in never let it win. Why should I limit myself to a Black and American man, many of whom the only things we have in common are a nationality and a box on the census form? If I click with the 7-foot dark chocolate Sudanese in the white linen shirt or the golden brown Spaniard in the sandals, I am going to date who I choose.