Last week, in the run-up to Black Love Day and Valentine’s Day, rumors surfaced that the queen of hip-hop soul (and my fellow Capricorn) Mary J. Blige may have found love in the motherland. Pictures surfaced on social media of her cozying up with Ghanaian businessman Kwame Bediako at a London awards show. You go girl!
Truth be told, relationships between black people of different nationalities and cultural backgrounds are nothing new. Actor Kofi Siriboe of Queen Sugar and rapper Wale are just two famous examples of children with African and African-American parents. Some years ago the movie Phat Girlz starring MoNique featured the somewhat popular notion that full-figured women can find love among African men, who allegedly don’t have the same hangups about body size as Americans of all races do.
There’s even a Facebook group devoted to African Diaspora Relationships. It runs the gamut of black folks from the USA, the UK, the Caribbean islands, Central and South America, or one of the motherland’s 50-plus nations.
Mary J’s story hit close to home for me because I just got back from Ghana, taking my son to meet his dad for the first time. In a week or so, we will celebrate three years together. I have quite a few African American friends who are either married to or in long-term relationships with men from Africa or the Caribbean as well, and my partner has several Ghanaian friends who are involved with African American women. While I was staying in Ghana a few years ago, we would joke about forming a support group for these intercultural couples because as the Ghanaians as put it, “It’s not easy o!”
I mean, it’s encouraging to see us broadening our horizons and making black love ring around this planet Earth. As most of us know, though, relationships are not all flowers and date nights and passionate sex. There’s serious work involved, from resolving conflicts to making sacrifices for our partner’s sake. Children, mingled finances, and our personal baggage further complicate the day-to-day realities of love. Partnering with someone from a different country is a whole ‘nother level. Here are a few things to consider if you decide to give cross-cultural relationships a try.
Cultural differences (including language). I agree with our master teacher John Henrik Clarke, who said, “The slave ships brought no West Indians, no Caribbeans, no Jamaicans or Trinidadians or Barbadians to this hemisphere. The slave ships brought only African people and most of us took the semblance of nationality from the places where slave ships dropped us off.” At the same time, that “semblance of nationality” has been drilled into our families for a few hundred years, and we should not underestimate its impact. If black folks act “a lil different” depending on whether we were raised on the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, or Dirty South, how much more will a different country impact us?
My advice: while you are getting to know the individual you’re dating, spend some serious time learning about the culture that raised them. Culture is so much more than food, music, hairstyles, and clothing. It’s the manners we were raised with. It’s the expectations we have for how women, men and children behave, and how families (nuclear and extended) function. Culture influences how people behave with their friends, how we view material possessions, and so much more.
Don’t assume anything is the same as what your culture taught you. Even though we are a subculture within America, a lot of our ways are very American, and most of the world does not act like we do. So observe, ask plenty of questions, and be prepared to share your cultural values and expectations too. This calls for plenty of self-reflection and asking yourself what you are willing to compromise on. Is your partner also willing to adjust to how your cultural training differs from his or her values? You might not feel very loving for very long if you’re doing all the bending.
Location and citizenship. Mary and her new beau are wealthy, so they will likely be able to travel at will to see each other when their busy schedule permits. For the rest of us, we have to think about where we will form a home with our international lover, if the relationship becomes serious. If you meet in the USA and your date or mate has already established permanent residence, this is not such an issue. If like me, you meet your love overseas and you haven’t relocated permanently, welcome to the mother of long distance relationships.
I’ve been in LDRs domestically, but they seem so simple by comparison – all you need is airfare or another means of travel. You don’t have to petition the government to let your partner enter the country – and risk being told no. If your relationship becomes serious enough to marry, you have to fulfill certain income requirements on top of paying costly visa application and green card fees so your mate can live in America with you. Not to mention you have to convince the government that your relationship is legitimate. The process takes several months even if you get it right the first time.
If you decide to move to your mate’s country instead, it may be easier than all the drama America puts immigrants through, regardless of what party controls the government. You will still have to go through a paperwork process, however, and you will also go through the adjustment of living in a different society with all the cultural and economic differences that go along with that. If your mate comes to the States, you will have to bear with him or her as those same adjustments take place. If you have a child or children together, this location issue may mean family separation for a period while the legalities are worked out. Again, it’s not impossible, but it’s definitely better to consider these hurdles before you actually have to jump them.
Other people’s opinions. Speaking of green cards… chances are at least one well-meaning friend will insinuate that your international lover is using you to gain access to America or your money, probably has a wife and kids back in their home country, or is otherwise running a scam. Opportunists do exist and so do scammers, especially in online dating. People in desperate circumstances will resort to desperate measures to better their lives. It’s not personal. So it’s important to take your time, get to know the person and their family to the best of your ability. But it’s also very important to keep people from poisoning your mind with doubts that are rooted in their own anti-African or anti-immigrant ideas. There are plenty of two-timers and con artists right here in the USA, but have you stopped dating Americans for that reason? If not, then please consider blending a keen attention to red flags with the benefit of the doubt.
Another hot topic is the cultural vibe I mentioned earlier. If you vent openly to friends and family about such misunderstandings, don’t be surprised if they discourage you from proceeding with the relationship. They want to protect you, after all. One of the best things I’ve found is a few close friends who are also in cross-cultural relationships. They can relate to my challenges without judgment and give me advice if I want it that is rooted in an awareness of how such relationships function.
That all sounds very doom and gloom, but I’m not here to discourage anyone from dating outside your culture. Rather, I hope these few observations of what to be aware of will set some of you up for success without so many bumps along the way. May love find you and bless you forever!