Mixing Bodies and Cultures: Love, Race and Prejudice

Mixing Bodies and Cultures: Love, Race and Prejudice

When it comes to marriage, I jumped off the cliff, I married a white woman. Not only did I marry a white woman, I also married beyond my intellectual station. When we met she was a PhD student and senior lecturer. At the time, I was an old-age student still only doing my undergraduate. Later, she inspired me to do my post-graduate studies. In essence, I crossed both the race and class divide in one fell swoop.

I must admit that my wife she hates being referred to as a white woman. She is nothing but a woman. I see her as my partner nothing more, and nothing less. Of course, it doesn’t help that she listens to Miriam Makeba, and Busi Mhlongo. She has a collection of the finest black South African jazz musicians including the late duo of Sipho Gumede, and Zim Ngqawana. There is definitely nothing white about dancing to the sweet melodies of Busi Mhlongo.

In early days of our courtship, I often asked myself, about the extent of her whiteness? If there are special behavioural traits of being white, well she showed none. To make matters worse, she had been a fervent anti-apartheid activist and a card-carrying member of the African National Congress (ANC) since unbanning. Was she on the trip to be black? Am I on the road to whiteness?

As for me, the onset of my romantic involvement with Professor D came as no surprise. In truth, I had imagined myself marrying across the colour line eight years before I met my current wife. There was nothing melodramatic or political about my imaginations. Eight years, before, I met my current wife I was entangled in an emotional affair with a white Afrikaans woman named Ria. Ria was the closest white girl to treat me like well – a human being – talk to me and be my friend and a comrade. Secretly, I was in love with her. The chemistry I had with Ria was pure and unemotional. We weren’t dating but our friendship planted the idea that black and white could in fact love and stay together side-by-side.

In marrying a white woman, I crossed the colour line consciously, and in the process mixed bodies and cultures. As a result, I came face-to-face with racial prejudice and racial discrimination.

“Therefore, I am a traitor. I will increase through birth another race different from mine – Coloureds.” So the line went. These hurtful words pierced through my heart everyday – they came from friends, foes and strangers alike. Most of these comments came from black people. In their racial thinking, I had committed the ultimate crime, a crime of passion across the colour line. I was effectively sleeping with the enemy, so they said. It is a pedantic detail that this event occurred way deep into the post-apartheid South Africa.

Thankfully, a sizable number of my comrades saw nothing wrong but a picturesque of the new South Africa – the Rainbow nation. When I first realised that I had fallen in love with Professor D, I sought political counsel from one of my close comrade, he said without a second thought, if you love her, “Go for it.”

Sadly, Durban wasn’t ready for an inter-racial couple walking the streets, chatting, kissing and holding hands with gay abandon. Many a time, we got cold stares, hostile stares and outright prejudice. I recall this one time, we walked into a restaurant holding hands, and we sat ourselves down. The fact that we had sat ourselves down should have been a sign, but we didn’t know better. Seconds, and minutes passed without a soul asking us any questions. Nobody brought us menus. Nobody took our drinks order. Nobody bordered to tell us that we were not welcomed. We had to figure it ourselves that we had touched a raw nerve of whiteness and its bedfellows prejudice and naked racism. Upon this realisation, we walked away and never set foot in that establishment again.

It has not been smooth sailing. The issue of cultural differences runs too deep. I am Zulu by birth. She is English. I am a carnivore. She is a vegetarian. I believe in sorceress and ancestors. She doesn’t. She is a non-practising Catholic. I am a practising atheist. These differences have far-reaching consequences.

Fore-instance, after our wedding, I suggested a traditional wedding where we were to slaughter a cow to report the new bride to the ancestors. I suggested this to appease my parents. My wife does not believe in animal slaughter as a principle. Obviously, she doesn’t want to be associated with the willy-nilly slaughter of animals in her name. She refused. The stalemate continues, as my parents continue to push for the traditional wedding, all in vain. I have decided to choose my wife over my parents. Despite this hiatus of a traditional wedding, my family has long accepted a white wife. I am fortunate that her family too also accepted me and my Zuluness. Have I forsaken my belief in my ancestors, the answer is no. I happily call myself a, “reluctant Zulu” and a, “part-time darkie.”

On the bright side, love lives in my house. Every-day, I wake up to the most beautiful woman on earth. She is blessed with a voice that mellows like an evening purple dome and her face when she smiles has those cute dimples. She is a petite plus size woman of medium height and fair complexion. I call her my original yellow-bone. The most importance part is of course her character and inner beauty. She is imbued with an abundance of kindness, and she has a heart of gold.

Twelve years ago, we were blessed with a beautiful daughter named Miss N. Two years, ago she told me she had resolved the issue of her racial identity – “Daddy, I am a suburban Zulu girl.” She would have nothing to do with the apartheid inspired political identity of mixed race South Africans of being Coloured. It is therefore my contention that we need re-imagine the tired concepts of apartheid fuelled race identity and racial profiling. We are human beings before the socially constructed notion of race. Let us love and let us live.

Writer: Bhekisisa Mncube