'I’m coloured, he’s white – this is how we talk about race'

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Illustration photo by Getty Images
Illustration photo by Getty Images
  • Interracial relationships can be hard.
  • A coloured women explains that she is in a relationship with a white man who understands their differences.
  • She says she has had to tell him that society treats her differently to the way he is treated.

I've dated white men before, and some of them get that there are differences between us, that they have certain privileges and that the way the world looks at me is very different to the way it looks at him.

But there were some who didn't, and it was frustrating.

Luckily, I'm with a man who tries to empathise if he can't relate.

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I'm a 32-year-old coloured woman who grew up in the "hood", received a good education, and has a corporate job that comes with good benefits.

He's a 34-year-old white man who has a high school education and works in the security industry for a not-so-great salary.

We have had different struggles in our lives. He experienced near starvation and homelessness. I grew up in an abusive home where I experienced what it was like when my father lost his job, and our family struggled for a long time.

But he still has white male privilege.

We can both walk into a room, and people will immediately give him respect, and usually expect me to sound a certain way. When I open my mouth and they hear that I don't have an accent that's typically associated with a coloured person, they ask me things like: "Oh, did you go to a Model C school?"

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The first time we spoke about race, we had been dating for a month or so. He said he wished he had "…white privilege like these other rich white people" and I pointed out that he did but that he just wasn't rich.

I then explained that privilege wasn't just about having money, but about having a socio-economic and cultural advantage over other groups because of the colour of your skin and your sexuality. He's not part of a marginalised group – he's a white, cisgender, heterosexual male who has never had to justify his way of life or the people he loves – until now.

Luckily, he's an extremely open and accepting person who is aware of his own biases. Sometimes he'll say something problematic, such as popular sayings (like "me love you long time"), and I'll tell him why it's a problem. He actively listens and cares about my feelings about such issues and acknowledges when he's made a mistake.

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And although we've had similar experiences with poverty and struggle, we both know that we can never say "my struggle is worse than yours". We use empathy to talk about our differences and similarities.

While he isn't prejudiced against people who look like me, we have discussed that there are a lot of people out there who are, and that it's going to be subtle on some occasions and blatantly obvious on others. He would love to protect me from those instances, but it's part and parcel of being a person of colour and making space in white spaces.

His mother and stepfather are conservative, Afrikaans, Christian people, and we were nervous about what the first meeting would be like, but they seemed to have accepted me completely as his partner. I get sweet prayer messages every morning and night from his mother, and his stepfather laughs at all my jokes. But if I have to spend another hour listening to Robbie Wessels' Leeuloop, I am going to scream.

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My partner and I have a good understanding of our differences, including our races, but also beyond that. We know that communication is extremely important and that we can make fun of how Afrikaans he is because he wears shorts in the rain and drinks brannewyn (brandy), or joke that I'm going to walk to the corner shop in my fluffy gown and slippers. We also have to constantly be aware of how we navigate those differences.

We might be a rainbow nation, but there are still people who have an issue when it comes to interracial relationships and anything regarding race, in particular. On those days, I am glad we can go home to our cats and be safe with each other.

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