by Janday Wilson
“Watch out for them Africans.” How does one say that in Kreyòl?
I need to know so that I can ask my boyfriend’s grandmother what she meant when she delivered that warning to her beloved grandson upon learning that I was of Liberian descent.
He is a first-generation American of Haitian descent. For the two-and-a-half years that we have been dating, I haven’t been concerned about the differences in our backgrounds. I mean, we are both black folks (if from different cultures).
Sure, I’ve imagined uncomfortable family scenes in which I’m sitting at a dinner table in silence as everyone around me speaks Kreyòl. But I’ve also fantasized about stunning his grandmother into silence once she finally meets “the African” and I say hello in perfect Kreyòl.
She may disapprove of my heritage, but that won’t stop my boyfriend and I from appreciating our cultural differences. There are way too many positive, inspiring experiences that come from intercultural dating for one to focus on the drawbacks.
And I cannot say I was shocked by her blanket statement. We all know intelligent, reasonable people who still make prejudiced assumptions about whole groups of people or cultures. Let’s be real.
We’ve all said, thought or heard something unfair about a group of people. White folks can’t dance. Asians are the best at math. Hipsters are (insert whatever negative opinion you have because I have no clue). That, of course, does not make it right, but it does make it predictable.
I nearly sabotaged my first college relationship by making a broad statement about Liberian men. My mom drilled the idea of the Liberian playboy into my head growing up. “Back home” many men were known to keep a woman in the city and a woman in the country, she told me. So I believed that the average Liberian man plays until he lies dead in his grave, although that didn’t stop me from dating them.
Once I jokingly called a Liberian boy I met in college a “Liberian playboy.” That was the first time a boy checked me so quickly. His jovial tone turned cold.
“Don’t call me that. We can end this conversation right now if that’s how you feel.”
He taught me a lesson, and cemented my respect.
Still, I thought about sharing my bogus theory of the Liberian playboy when a Jamaican girl I recently met proudly shared that she was dating a Liberian. At the very least it would have been a good retort to her exclaiming, “I heard Haitian men are crazy!” after I shared my boyfriend’s cultural background.
Instead, I stuttered as I asked for an explanation. Of course, she had no facts to back her up her prejudice. But, sadly, she isn’t alone in her “opinion.”
Ironically, I have Haitian friends who have distorted opinions about Haitian men, similar to my warped view of Liberian men. Haitian men, they say, are controlling. They cheat. They can be abusive. They are way too spoiled by their mothers.
“Haitians, like most island men, are charismatic as fuck. So, watch your back,” one such friend warned me.
Let’s get one thing clear. Men can be equal opportunity assholes, regardless of their background. And the same goes for women. For me, my boyfriend’s culture doesn’t indicate whether he will treat me badly or not. All I see is a nice bonus.
I love hearing him speak Kreyòl. As a former French student, I am completely enthralled by the way it sounds and by the fact that it pulls from French and West African languages. And I am proud of Haiti’s place in history as the world’s first free black republic. So much so that I’ve read several books on that topic. And the food? Soup joumou has saved my life before, I tell you!
And there is a lot he appreciates and knows about my culture. Whenever I play an African tune, his ears perk up, “That sounds JUST like Haitian music.” He often leaves my family doubled over with laughter when he imitates my mother’s accent. I love that he is never bothered by the fact that my grandmother will never be able to pronounce his name. He gorges himself on Liberian dishes whenever he visits me. I was shocked when he recognized check rice and gravy and torborgee (a dish made with meat and palm oil) bubbling in the pots.
But even though my family has embraced him, I have one aunt, who — despite always asking after my boyfriend’s well being — conspired to set me up with the Liberian engineer I met and briefly chatted with at my cousin’s wedding.
When my cousin reminded them about my boyfriend, my aunt’s reaction was, “Oh, that Haitian man?” Of course his heritage comes into play when an eligible Liberian bachelor pops up.
I don’t lose sleep over these cultural differences of opinion. But my mother is a bit uneasy about the African warning my boyfriend received from his grandmother.
“He may not have any issues with intercultural dating, but if his family does it will hold a cloud over the whole relationship. One party may or may not be ready to take on the whole family in defense of the relationship — [You may need] a serious inquiry into whether it’s worth the constant battle,” my mother advised.
Thankfully, there haven’t been any battles. So I’m not going to dig any deeper about the “Watch out for them Africans” comment. I should probably just let it go, right?
After all, I know other members of his family love me and I am sure she will have no choice but to feel the same way. God gave me dimples for a reason. And the power these babies have aren’t exclusive to any one nationality.