Tuesday 20 February 2018

So what's life really like for mixed-race couples in Ireland 2011?

Miss Ireland may have faced abuse over her relationship with a Nigerian, but some couples have a different experience, says Deirdre Reynolds

It's more than four decades since the groundbreaking movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner tackled the topic of mixed-race romance.

But for some of Ireland's increasing number of colour-blind couples, incredibly it seems some things still haven't changed.

When in a recent Late Late Show interview Philomena Lynott -- mum of Thin Lizzy legend Phil Lynott -- described how she was called a "n*****-lover" for having a black son in 1950s Dublin, viewers just assumed it was an anachronistic throwback to a less-enlightened era in Ireland.

Not according to Miss Ireland Emma Waldron, who recently revealed she's been subjected to similar abuse over her relationship with Nigerian web designer Manners Oshafi. The Kildare beauty queen (21) has come out fighting after internet bullies branded her "disgusting" for dating a black man.

"I have experienced negative comments on nights out and on social networking sites," she says. "But I am strong and have dealt with it. I will never let someone's ignorance affect my love for Manners. He is the most amazing person I have ever met."

Between immigration (and emigration), internet dating and Skype, Cupid has gone global like never before -- matchmaking singletons of every race, religion and language. But even today, some interracial lovers may find themselves battling bigotry just like in the 1967 movie.

"What happened to Emma and Manners is shocking," says psychologist Allison Keating of bWell.ie.

"Basically, they're saying 'It's not okay to be in a relationship with someone because of their skin colour' -- and that's the very definition of prejudice.

"However, a mixed-race couple is being naive if they think they're not going to face any challenges," she adds, "both within the relationship itself and from external sources.

"Setting aside skin colour, when two people from different backgrounds come together, inevitably there are going to be culture clashes.

"For instance, if one partner is from a patriarchal society and the other is from a more matriarchal one, they may have opposing ideas of what's considered 'the norm' in a marriage."

"I think it would be very naive to say that there is no racism in Ireland," agrees Miss Ireland Emma. "Unfortunately there is. [But] if you socialise with people from different races and cultures you are less likely to show hatred towards them.

"My grandmother is Swedish and my dad is part-Italian, so as a family we have always been open. Nothing like this will ever affect us -- we don't need others' approval."

So, like veteran couple David Bowie and Iman, can mixed-race lovebirds overcome all the obstacles to go the distance?

"In a word, yes," says psychologist Allison. "The core thing is being aware of those cultural differences and respecting them. Create a love contract -- an outline of the type of relationship you want to have, keeping in mind the challenges you might face.

"But be realistic -- you and your partner mightn't have a problem with being in a mixed-race relationship, but your friends might."

And as for the haters?

"We all have stereotypes," adds Allison. "The important thing is to know what they are and challenge where they came from. No one likes to admit they're wrong, so they hold on to racist beliefs -- really it's just ignorance and fear."

Irish Independent

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