We haven’t done an interview since July, but they are always our most popular features and our race series got such popular reviews, I thought for the last in this series, we’d chat with an interracial couple that had met abroad, lived in the States, is overseas and will eventually return to the States!
Just in case you missed the first two articles in this series, you can check them out here. My Personal Race Journey; Navigating Race as an Intercultural Couple.
I’d like to introduce you to Gil and Kate. Gil and Kate met in 2003 in Kampala, Uganda, when Kate was volunteering at a chimpanzee sanctuary (too cool!) and Gil was on the national Ugandan rugby
team. Kate was in Uganda for two years; towards the end of her time there, Gil went to England to study and eventually settle as a highways engineer. In the meantime, Kate, who was a family therapist came back to the U.S. Eventually, the two realized they didn’t want to be apart and got married and settled in England and then Turkey, with Kate moving to a self-employed real estate business. When Kate joined the Foreign Service in 2013, the two moved back to the States, with their first daughter and had to discover living in the U.S. for the longest time until that point in their relationship.
Nextpat: How was your adjustment to the U.S. and what challenges, if any, did you face as an interracial couple in the States?
Kate: The only time we’ve lived together in the U.S. was from 2013 to 2014, for one year, in DC. I was really busy and also tired, between language training and being pregnant, so we didn't go out a lot. I would say though, that I'd feel nervous when we were leaving the DC area to go to more remote areas in Virginia or Maryland. I always worried about something happening. Thankfully, nothing did.
Gil: I don't think we faced any particular struggles but then again we've never lived there together for very long. Our longest stay was 13 months in 2013-2014. I also think I was a little naive about the problems in the U.S. Having come from a majority black country, and then from England where racism is more covert, I just wasn't as aware of the magnitude of the racial problems black Americans face.
Nextpat: How did you expect that to change with the move?
Gil: I didn't think much about it at the time. We were moving to Burundi, which is very close to Uganda, so I was excited to be back amongst my people as I hadn't lived in Uganda in 10+ years.
Nextpat: With your overseas tours, what has been the most challenging for host nation citizens to adjust to with your family? What has been rewarding for you about your time overseas?
Kate: Our first tour was in Burundi, a small, very poor country in East Africa. We had a good experience there overall. Gil did get turned away when he tried to go to the duty free shop though. He was with a couple of white men and none of them had their passports. They let the two white guys in but not Gil. I was much more worried about Cyprus, our second post, since it's a white (well, Mediterranean) country. Gil never did find a job there, although I can't say for sure that that was due to his race. When he went to register our nanny at the civil office, the woman there yelled at him "ARE YOU A REFUGEE?" and refused to help him until the Embassy called and told her he was with the mission. Once, a guy in a car next to us started making like monkey noises or something I guess, and pretended like he was going to throw a banana at us. We're now in Senegal now and recently had an issue with the guards at our apartment building not letting my husband in a couple of times. In both African countries, there's also always this issue of white people being wealthy and black people being poor, just this really extreme power differential that favors white people IN a black country. I remember my first week on the job in Burundi, another officer saying to me "The first few days are tiring. Just meet everyone, and wave to the local staff" and the welcome handbook saying something like "get out and meet Americans or other expats." The gist was always that Burundians weren’t
equal, weren't worth knowing, couldn't be friends. Another colleague had been in the country a year and yet had never taken her kids to the really great kids playgrounds just minutes from their home. Her kids barely left the house. I see some of the same things here in Senegal. I grew up in a blue area of California, and I've always been very liberal and I think fairly "woke" ;) so I was aware of racism and privilege. It brought it to a new level being with Gil though, in that it is, and has to be, always on my mind. Despite the issues we've faced though, I think life is easier for a person of color in Burundi or Senegal than it is in the states.
Gil: I have had some rough patches here and there. There were times I felt slighted in Burundi, like when I wasn't treated as well as my white counterparts. Cyprus is a very homogeneous country so there were a few issues there as they see very few black people, unless they're domestics or students. There have been a few problems in Senegal too, such as when the new guards wouldn't let me into our building. I think overall though, things are easier, at least here in Senegal, because my family looks like a lot of other families here and we blend in.
Nextpat: What are you preparing for in returning to the States? How have your overseas experiences shaped how you perceive you will be received back in the U.S.?
Kate: I think returning to the U.S. will be an adjustment in a lot of ways, just re-familiarizing ourselves with the culture, but I think the biggest thing for me right now will be my heightened anxiety. I have two kids now, who are amazing, and I don't want to put them at risk or expose them to something that's going to scar them psychologically and, from afar, the states look really scary for people of color right now. These concerns are not unfounded. In the past few years, we’ve had several friends who’ve experienced some serious overt racism, stuff they’d never experienced previously. Several have had racial slurs hurled at them in public, one had one written on her car.
Gil: I've learned a lot about American history and culture over the last few years and I worry that between that and the political climate in the U.S. right now, things will be more tense and difficult. I haven't prepared myself but I do worry about what is going on in the states right now. As a black man with black daughters, I worry about my and their safety.
I'd love to hear your thoughts - have you experienced being in a different situation - either moving from being part of a majority to a minority or vice versa? What did it make you think about, realize, understand? How have you translated that upon your return? What lessons can others take?
Nextpat is happy to chat through it to. Understanding an intercultural identity can be difficult, especially if you return to a place with fewer people who understand it. If you're struggling with alignment in your identity, let's chat and see what Nextpat can help you reflect on.
The opinions attributed to Kate and Gil in this article are direct transcriptions and their point of view. The views they expressed were cleared through them prior to publication and can be attributed to them. Nextpat does not make political statements nor supports or detracts from any political position. Articles that have a point of view are geared towards audiences that are concerned about particular issues and are not intended to advocate for a particular political position.
**This article was edited on 5 November 2019 after initial publication on 21 October 2019, due to concerns expressed by Kate. Edits are hers to respect her privacy and those of the people she engages with.