• Alice Mpofu-Coles

I am a black refugee, feminist and activist in the UK. He is a white Englishman. How does it work?

“This is not a true problem, since individuals marry, not races.” — Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

I thought that this was the most appropriate time to write this as I am black and a refugee. This week is Refugee Week (15-21st June) and the Black Lives Matter movement is at the forefront of the world. I am married to a wonderful English white man Wayne, and we have been together for 10 years.

Before I go any further, I would like to say that I did not get married to my husband because I needed a visa to live in the UK as I was already a British citizen. I have lived in the UK for 18 years. Yes, this is the first question ‘how did you meet?’ comes with an inquisitive voice from both white and black people, as if such inter-racial marriages always have ulterior motives.

I always knew when I was growing up in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe that I wanted to be involved in activism when I and my younger brother at the age of 14 years we go into the bus to go to a political rally. My old friends and family say now that it does not surprise them that I am involved in activism. So how do I manage activism, feminism, researching as a doctorate candidate, and being married to a white English man?

Today, the 20th of June is World Refugee Day. I have spent the past 17 years advocating for refugees and trying to bring the voice to the voiceless.

I got involved with the Reading Refugee Support Group (RRSG) when I arrived in the UK and became a volunteer. I never left the RRSG and became a trustee and a chair. I continue to volunteer and now I am a trustee of Reading City of Sanctuary which is under the City of Sanctuary an organisation that fosters welcoming places of safety for all and proud to offer sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution.

I have gone to protests in London and other places with my husband supporting me, sometimes he did not understand the nature of the demonstrations but came to learn.

“Love is blind despite the world's attempt to give it eyes.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo

Political conversations in the house have always been fascinating with my two black daughters who are activists, and my bonus daughter from Wayne's previous relationship. The recent conversation followed after the devastating death of George Floyd.

We were discussing when a black person died should racism be the first motive? The debate went from ‘colonialism’ (as I grew up during colonisation) to slavery and how systematic racism might make us feel that race is always the first thing we think of if a black person dies in those circumstances.

My daughters mentioned that race and gender come into mind in everything they do in the UK when they are not hired, lose their jobs even to the extent of deciding not to vote as nothing has changed.

Debates in our house on politics, race, colonisation, slavery, feminism can be very much heated, and I take my hat off to my husband for his patience and understanding. My daughters say, ‘you are our dad now, and we want to know you have our backs covered when racism affects us.’

My husband has always believed in the pursuit of equality for all people. He has always made the effort to expand his world visiting the USA and African countries spending time in places like Mbare in Zimbabwe. He has even openly expressed his discomfort visiting Cecil John Rhodes’ grave in Bulawayo, a hotspot for tourism in Zimbabwe. I had breast cancer before I met him. He loved me as I was with my scars and my two black daughters. He helped me published my biography ‘Dear God from Your Poached Egg Breast’ with a video that went viral with over 3 million views.

I noticed when we visit Africa, and he is respected and still gets white privilege so much that I just have to follow him to get access to my black people. When we are together in the UK going into restaurants etc., it is always a question of ‘are you together’ let alone the undertones that come with the service we get. When I say I am a Doctorate research candidate; his friends take it with a pinch of salt and go to LinkedIn. We laugh about him not wanting to eat any meat with bones and how he eats most of my cultural food sadza with a knife and fork.

Many people have asked me because they can’t relate to how I am a black feminist activist, and yet I am married to a white person. I recently cut my natural dreadlocks hair and have had them on and off in the past 20 years. I am not my skin colour or my hair or do you see aa refugee. I am just a human being, and love is all that matters. What is HOME, home is ME!

So how does my husband manage the relationship with a black feminist activist who is also a refugee?

Saying ‘we do’ in a mixed-race marriage: ‘It’s not all ‘black and white’

I’m white, very white. I know this because my black wife tells me so. I didn’t know that my colour, and actually it doesn’t, mattered until my love told me how her skin colour affects her life so.

They say ‘love is blind’, or in our case ‘colour blind’, but even that is not all ‘black and white.’ Going back to my childhood of the late 1970s and early 1980s, in rural Lincolnshire, there was no other ‘colour’ other than white unless you can count watching Mr. T from the A-Team on a black and white TV. See what I mean, not everything is ‘black and white.’

But I did know I was different (due to my lashings of red, ginger, or – as I was mostly called by the bullies – carrot top hair) and its that sense of difference that sowed the seeds for our love and marriage to flourish.

I also didn’t realise how white I am until I travelled to Kenya and Ghana alone for work – not that I experienced any racism or discrimination because I didn’t. In fact, in all my travels across Africa, I’ve never met a people so humble, happy and welcoming – which is no mean feat when faced with me as a potential ‘symbol’ of my white colonising ‘forefathers.’

I digress. My love for my wife (and subsequent marriage) grew and grows because beauty itself is more than skin deep. To ‘judge a book by its cover’, to use another cliché, is to miss out on all the fruits of the person, personality, and love’s own prize. You can’t tell she’s a refugee by looking at her but she can’t hide her ‘blackness’ and why should she? This is in part what she is but not who she is. Her essence is deeper than that.

I am privileged because I’m not treated with suspicion because of my colour, nor am I treated differently because of the pigmentation within my skin. For those reasons I see the daily battles, my wife faces fighting for justice because of the blindness and indignancy of those who fail to see the righteousness of every man, woman, and child.

We stand together, my wife and me, not just through love but through sameness and difference. It really wouldn’t be the same if we wore the same ‘clothes’ or liked the same grooves because what is really groovy and moving is the acceptance of one – where feeling matters and the veil, chains and rocks of oppression are mere mortals of history.

Our future is our love, marriage, humanity – today and tomorrow. We choose to move on and not live in the past.

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