Is the Southern United States a 'bad area' for a mixed-race couple to travel?
February 16, 2005 1:18 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend (white, both parents English) and I (dark-skinned, both parents from Sri Lanka) met an American couple in a bar (here in Australia). They seemed very adventurous, educated and intelligent but became very VERY serious when we said we planned to travel in the Southern States of the U.S., suggesting that - after dark at least - the whole area is still (and I quote) "maybe a bad idea for a mixed-race couple." Are they right?
posted by bunglin jones to Society & Culture (61 answers total)
 
Some European friends back from usa told me that a lot of things are different if you're clearly identified as
" tourist ",
I'm not sure that this advice is limited to the southern state or the us unfortunately...
posted by luis huiton at 2:34 AM on February 16, 2005


Did this couple say where they were from? Each state has its own "rules", and within each state, each city can choose to follow the "rules" of the state. It is misleading to suggest that the entire collection of states below a certain latitude think the same way about whether it's "okay" for light-skinned folk to be seen in the company of dark-skinned folk.

You could come to Austin TX, and no one would say shit to you.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:42 AM on February 16, 2005


I don't think you'd run into any problems here (southwest Virginia)...
posted by ubernostrum at 3:22 AM on February 16, 2005


I don't see this being a problem in big cities at all. Never experienced this before though, so I am somewhat reluctant to comment. There are small backwards places in the south, though, where you wouldn't want to be non-white, period, let alone part of an interracial couple.
posted by grouse at 3:29 AM on February 16, 2005


What 23skidoo said. Just like what David Cross says, the redneck voice isn't just a southern thing. it's all over the country. Here's an old MeFi post with an extraordinary story just to illustrate the point and maybe to scare you.
posted by sammich at 3:33 AM on February 16, 2005


aargh. as a north carolinian living in iowa for the past several years, i have heard similiar comments about the south all too often. of course, it will be 'different' from australia. the problem comes when people make sense of 'differences' by arraying them across a unified continuum of value. this is why people think about difference in terms of good/bad, more/less, better/worse. this also sucks all people who live within those places of difference and treats them as somehow complicit in enforcing the 'difference', either good ('liberals in san francisco') or bad ('the south'). i know it seems like it, but i'm not trying to suggest that merely 'thinking this way makes it so', but it may provide some assurance as you are contemplating your trip. people are people. enjoy your visit!
posted by jmccw at 4:16 AM on February 16, 2005


You'll probably know what to do when you get to each place and get a feel for it. Anywhere people are unused to seeing dark and light people mixing together is potentially a difficult place. And, of course, potentially a great place. As 23skidoo mentions, better places would just treat you like folks. Just remember, when you're driving, wear a chauffeur's cap and have her sit in the back. No, no, no.

But if I were you and I wanted to try to avoid attracting the unwanted attentions of dolts, I might stick to the more cosmopolitan areas or I might contrive to appear as if we were not romantically involved. It's the same sort of advice I'd give gay couples. I know that might sound cringing, but if there are only the two of you against the town dolts (and a town only needs a couple of dolts to cause mischief), sometimes it's better to be inconspicuous, assuming you would prefer to avoid confrontation.

You might want to try asking a group of people who have had direct experience with this. Here, for example, is some sort of support group for interracial couples. I have no idea whether they're any good with advice, but if they don't know, who does?
posted by pracowity at 4:37 AM on February 16, 2005


I would say they're showing their own ignorance more than anything else. Don't worry about it. Be polite to people and they'll be polite back. They may assume you're classically African-American and then they may ask you where you're from when you speak, but that's it.
posted by pomegranate at 4:39 AM on February 16, 2005


The couple were from Boston, if that helps any. I have travelled (alone) through West Virginia, Louisiana and Texas without any hassles at all - but, for some reason (cos I'm older?) this couple kind of spooked me a little... apart from reassurances, I'd also be interested in hearing from people who've been in that situation.
posted by bunglin jones at 4:40 AM on February 16, 2005


My best friend is Korean-American and when she travels with her white husband to visit his parents in Kentucky, they get odd looks, but no one says anything or acts aggressively towards them. Like others have mentioned, it will just be different. I doubt you would want to stay in a lot of very small towns, and the larger towns/cities have evolved into more culturally friendly places than others would lead you to believe.

My friend has also lived in Ann Arbor (which has a very large asian population) her entire life, so that may also jade my friend's view as to what an "odd look" really means. It may be curiosity, not disapproval.
posted by blackkar at 4:52 AM on February 16, 2005


I can't say that I've been in that situation, jones, but I have lived in rural Texas and Oklahoma during my childhood. I could be wrong but my guess is that the worst that will happen is that you'll receive strange looks at some of the more out-of-the-way places. Most of the southern U.S. is full of those of African-American descent and even in the smallest Texas towns there is the occasional mixed-race couple. In nearly all of the cases that I've seen, it's the female who is white.

My advice is to not fear them, however, use good judgement and avoid potentially bad situations such as visiting the local redneck bar on a Friday night.
posted by melt away at 4:53 AM on February 16, 2005


Like grouse said. I lived in Atlanta all the time I was growing up and in Houston through college -- I can imagine there being problems in rural areas, but not in big cities. Doesn't surprise me that Bostonites would think that about the South, though, in my experience Northerners tend to ave some funny ideas about what goes on south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Bottom line: don't worry about it.
posted by jacobm at 4:59 AM on February 16, 2005


Born in the south, lived for a while in Boston.

I think the couple in question would be more hassled for being from "Taaaxatoosits" than being mixed race. I used to get pulled over by the police all the time when I would come down to visit my relatives. The cops would do their little "Looky here!" routine, which would quickly turn into "Have a safe drive, now, y'here?" as soon as they learned I wasn't a tourist.

Mixed race couples are kinda dime-a-dozen these days in the south and midwest, even in more rural areas. That's not to say you shouldn't avoid Klan rallies and hick bars miles away from civilization, but you needn't be completely paranoid.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:30 AM on February 16, 2005


I grew up in Atlanta and I did have a few times when a black male friend and I, a white female, were hassled for being together. This happened once when some drunk people were giving us a hard time one night at a cheap diner, once in a somewhat redneck bar, and once when a few of my friend's neighbors came by to ask him why some white woman kept coming over to his house. All of these incidents happened about 10 years ago.

On each occasion, the hassling never when beyond verbal harrassment, and just taking a non-escalating, soothing tone with the people in question, plus leaving the situation immediately where possible, diffused the tensions each time.

Most of the time when hanging out with black male friends we were just fine and had no problems. But to say it won't ever happen is, in my experience, naive.
posted by hazyjane at 5:31 AM on February 16, 2005


I live in Virginia, and have been in the South a lot, and I doubt you'll have any problems. Bear in mind that the couple in question was not from the south, and therefore may have had some stereotypes. I'm not saying there are no racists in the South, but there aren't as many as you'd think, and I really don't think you're going to have any real problems.
posted by unreason at 5:33 AM on February 16, 2005


Uh, yeah, I live and grew up in the Atlanta area, my parents live in redneckville-usa and I went to school in Charlotte. Really, I think you'll be fine. I mean, I wouldn't be travelling in the back-woods trying to find the most isolated, most redneckified place possible, but in the metropolitan areas, people are way more worried about traffic than they are about whether or not white girls and dark boys are having fun together. Pretend to be a Republican.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:35 AM on February 16, 2005


The couple were from Boston, if that helps any.

Arrrrrrgggg. That's it, now I have to comment.

I'm part of an interracial couple, and my experience has matched up pretty well with what others have been saying - sticking to the more urban areas will get you fewer stares/problems/discomfort. Yet, I have to say that of all the cities I've been to with my fiance, NONE, including every major city in Texas, have been more uncomfortable than Boston.

We would get so many stares in that town, not from college students, but from the older residents. I've never experienced anything like it in any other city. To make it even more odd, the rural parts of New England were consistently friendly, and we never felt uncomfortable there.

I grew up in Houston, and my experience in that town is a complete 180 from Boston. I didn't expect this to be true, but after living in both places, I can say that the percentage of interracial couples is much higher in Houston. As a result, Houstonians are used to it, and couldn't care less.

Having not lived in any other major southern cities, I can't say that they are all the same, but my educated guess is that you wouldn't have many problems.

I honestly believe your worst experiences would come if you found yourself in the suburbs or ex-urbs. Some (but not all or even most) of the people there are stereotypical white-flighters and have serious race issues. If there is anyplace where someone might actually say something to you, this is the place. (This, however, I think is true for any city in the country.)

As for the rural areas, people tend to mind their own business. You will get stared at, but I've never experienced outright hostility towards me and my fiance. Also, two things will help you: 1) Your girlfriend's English accent (if any). If they think your tourists, they will definitely leave you alone. 2) You're not black. I've noticed that some people who can deal with interracial couples draw the line at white-black relationships, as iv violates the traditional southern taboo.
posted by thewittyname at 5:45 AM on February 16, 2005


I make no generalizations, I just want to share a few stories: My husband & I are both white. In a New Orleans bar, during a moment of beery good-fellowship, the bartender (also white) leaned over the bar and said jovially, "Hell, I bet you're just like me--you'd shoot a nigger in a heartbeat!" This came out of the clear blue sky. I don't remember what we had been talking about beforehand, but the topic most certainly was not white supremacy. Also, north of Slidell, Louisiana, in the countryside, we saw a ranch gate that held a flagpole. And what flag flew proudly in the breeze? A Nazi flag, of course.
posted by scratch at 6:50 AM on February 16, 2005


I'm with thewittyname: You would be better served avoiding Boston townies than most of the South.
posted by majick at 6:52 AM on February 16, 2005


Gah, now I have to speak up about Boston. I've never gotten any crap there for being in an interracial relationship. Moral: there are dicks everywhere and you may or may not run into them.
posted by dame at 6:59 AM on February 16, 2005


I'll second what's been said here. It's possible that you could get into an uncomfortable situation, but as long as you steer clear of backwaters like Tulia and Vidor (not that you'd have any reason to go), you shouldn't have any real trouble.

As a point of comparison: when I was in high school in the early 80s in Chicago, I dated a girl of mixed race for a little while (I'm white). For the most part this was a non-issue, but I once went with her to a movie theater in a nearby suburb and got the hairy eyeball from everyone. You don't need to go far to see a swing in reactions.
posted by adamrice at 7:00 AM on February 16, 2005


People have said most of this in different forms, but:

The couple who told you this are dingbats, for a host of reasons. Possibly they're just echoing their own prejudices.

One, even if you were to face a "problem" when you stopped for gas in a small town in Alabama or went out drinking somewhere, the worst thing that could reasonably happen would be that someone would call you a rude name. While this is not likely, it is a real possibility. The odds of anything worse happening compare to the odds of being struck by lightning or the odds of having your moving car struck by a meteor.

Two, interracial couples are actually common (or at least not-uncommon) in the south and not typically a matter of any concern. If, while you are traveling, you stop at a Wal-Mart, you will find more than a few white women pushing shopping carts with brown-skinned babies. Not that there's any good reason to stop at Wally World.

Three, you're not black in the US. Black in the US is not the same as black in the UK or ex-Empire; it means solely people of black-African extraction and can have little to do with skin color. Halle Berry is black, even if her mom isn't, but you're not. "Interracial" in the context of American racism means almost exclusively a couple that is black -- as in descended from Africans -- and anglo.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:00 AM on February 16, 2005


Living in Florida, I know first hand that parts of the state seem to look at my wife (white, both parents English) and I (dark skinned, both parent Thai) a little strangely. We've never been hassled, but if looks could kill...damn...

The south east part of the state (Miami, and such) is such a multi-cultural society that no one seems to mind at all.
posted by icontemplate at 7:01 AM on February 16, 2005


Scratch, I'm not sure where you're from, and the bartender may just be a racist, but sometimes people in New Orleans say things just to play "Get the Tourist." Lots of tourist Yankees say really ignorant things about how things are down south and then provoke locals into saying something racist or whatever. Certainly he was being an ass but he may have just been a sarcastic ass.
posted by pomegranate at 7:02 AM on February 16, 2005


No. They were likely from the north, and likely both white. I've taken my (white) girlfriend all over the south (Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Northern Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana) with no ill adventures. My parents had problems as a mixed couple in Kansas City, but that was 25 years ago.

My semi-rascist comment is this: If you get hassled by white folks, go hang out with the black folks. They have more fun (and better food) anyhow.
posted by Eideteker at 7:08 AM on February 16, 2005 [1 favorite]


Yet, I have to say that of all the cities I've been to with my fiance, NONE, including every major city in Texas, have been more uncomfortable than Boston.

Did you hang out in the Southie projects or something? The predominate stereotype about New Englanders is that you have to light a fire to even get them to acknowledge you. The people who brought you the term "Boston Marriage" don't give a shit if you're sleeping an irishman, a black man, or the Boston Celtics.

The only reason people get stares in this town is because they're loud.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:09 AM on February 16, 2005


i (a white woman) have traveled all over texas (yes, including through vidor) with a black man (just a friend but we were often alone together), parts of DC and parts of chicago and never been hassled.

i'm just going to echo what dame said "there are jerks everywhere. you may run into them; you may not." we actually ran into more jerks in the cities than the small towns.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:11 AM on February 16, 2005


Scratch, I'm not sure where you're from, and the bartender may just be a racist, but sometimes people in New Orleans say things just to play "Get the Tourist." Lots of tourist Yankees say really ignorant things about how things are down south and then provoke locals into saying something racist or whatever. Certainly he was being an ass but he may have just been a sarcastic ass.

IMHO if you say something racist, you are a racist. QED.
posted by scratch at 7:14 AM on February 16, 2005


I don't see any mention of east Tennessee; in the late 80s, I had a really cool circle of friends at college. One time while at the mall, two of them (black guy, white girl) decided to hold hands as a pop sociological experiment. They received the predicted bunch of stares. Today, in the same mall, you'll see any number of white grandparents pushing their mixed-race grandchildren around in baby strollers. I'm thinking a lot of people have come a long way in the last nearly 20 years....
posted by kimota at 7:17 AM on February 16, 2005


I live in redneck panhandle florida. I see mixed race couples fairly often in my neighborhood. No one minds so far as I've seen.
posted by u.n. owen at 7:36 AM on February 16, 2005


Houston here -- you won't have a problem. Mixed race couples are really common, and even the "old guard" people here will generally let their friendliness override any lingering reservations about interracial relationships. As other people have commented, you might have more issues in small towns, but I think that's true regardless of latitude. My husband and I are of different races, although generally not noticably to people who don't know us, but we've never had any issues at all even from people who know or guessed. Actually, the fact that we're different religions gets a lot more comments than anything.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:37 AM on February 16, 2005


I'm from North Carolina. While I'm sure that there are rural areas where people might frown on you, that's probably the worst you'll encounter. It sounds like they were suggesting that you might actually get lynched or something -- and that's bullocks, quite frankly.

Had this couple even been to South or were they just expressing their own prejudices? Quite frankly, if they visited the South and they got any crap, it's probably because they came across as arrogant, holier-than-thou Yankees. Southerners hate that more than anything.
posted by casu marzu at 7:44 AM on February 16, 2005


On preview: exactly what casa marzu said.

I'm sure your Sri Lankan accent will do more to amuse / confuse / and weird out the hicks than your dark skin and english girlfriend.

If some fool calls you a nigger, and you speak up, you'll maybe be called a sand nigger. This is a newly-minted racial epithet for middle eastern and south asian folks, getting popular after 9/11. Most hicks (and, in fact, most Americans) couldn't pick out Sri Lanka on a map to save their lives, of course, so they'll probably ask about camels and saudi arabia.

I think your chances of getting weird looks in a hick bar are 10% or less. I think your chances of being spoken too or verbally hassled about it are 1%. And your chances of getting run out of town or lynched are infinitesimal.

(I'm a Jewish white kid who grew up in Augusta Georgia)
posted by zpousman at 7:47 AM on February 16, 2005


A friend of mine from Trinidad lives in Houston, TX with her white husband with no problems. However, they did a road trip through rural Texas and at one point had to flee for their lives from some rednecks at a gas station.

So yes, that couple is right.

To All The Southerners on this thread Defending The South: I just got back from visiting my folks in Dallas, TX. As my mom was driving me to the airport, she was telling me that people in The South were really quite nice. While she was telling me this there was a car in front of us with two bumperstickers, one saying "Fight 'em There Not Here." The other one started "To All You Assholes", assholes in this case being people who dared to question the actions of America.

Yes, The South does have a lot going for it (The Food!) but don't let your regional prejudices blind you to the facts: The South can be a violent, reactionary, racist place. Yes, more so than The North due to the forces of history: slavery, civil war, etc. And for those of you who doubt the power of the long shadow of the civil war, just ask someone in Atlanta about Sherman sometime.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:00 AM on February 16, 2005


Yes, the South is more openly racist than much of the North, but it's also more polite than much of the North. I think the two pretty much balance each other out. I would suspect that someone like the New Orleans bartender mentioned above would never had said that to a black patron, because it would be rude. Which doesn't make his racism OK, but I don't think the poster and his girlfriend would get the same comment, which is really all we're talking about here.

And as someone who moved to Boston from Atlanta, I will second the folks saying many Bostonians have a skewed view of the South. I got a lot "Aren't you glad you're out of that racist, backward hellhole?"-type comments in Boston, and a lot of people really do assume, without realizing it's a prejudice rather than fact, that Southern=stupid.

Really, I think you're much more likely to be harassed (in a generally friendly way) about your accents.
posted by occhiblu at 8:17 AM on February 16, 2005


Fuzzy Monster: you're more likely to be mugged in New York City. So what? There is a small minority of violent people in every community.

The funny thing about this is that, of all of the east coast cities I have lived in, Boston is by far the most segregated.
posted by casu marzu at 8:21 AM on February 16, 2005


Warmongering bumperstickers on one car in Dallas doesn't do much to prove that people in the South aren't nice. One life-threatening situation in rural Texas doesn't do much to prove that the entire South is dangerously racist.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:27 AM on February 16, 2005


Fuzzy Monster, there are jerks everywhere. There are rednecks everywhere. There are bumperstickers that say "Fight 'em There Not Here" all over the country. For crissakes, we managed to re-elect Dear Leader -- and somehow you want us to beleive that the South has a monopoly on jerks, racists, and warmongers?
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:29 AM on February 16, 2005


Having lived all up and down the east coast from Charleston to Boston and back (currently in the NC mountains) I think you'd be completely fine anywhere except possibly the Maryland countryside, which is the only place I have ever encountered really hardcore redneck assholes, and even there, as soon as you open your mouths and speak with that accent, they'll be disarmed and charmed. I agree with what (almost) everyone is saying: it's unlikely you will even raise any eyebrows.

fuzzymonster, I'm sorry you had a bad bumpersticker experience, but I would ask you not to judge an entire, large, geographic area by the actions of one or two jerks. As for Sherman, I don't like him either (burn, rape and pillage doesn't make you popular) and I will happily talk about the War of Northern Aggression, but I don't think that makes me a racist.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:31 AM on February 16, 2005


I travel in the South all the time.

I see black-white interracial couples far more often on the street and in the convenience stores, etc., down there than I do in the New York metro area, or out in California. Far too common for anyone to get exercised about it.

This isn't to say that there's not bias around these relationships in the south. From what I've seen, however, it's actually a class bias, not a race thing. Whites and blacks alike in the South seem to view interracial relationships as an underclass (poor, uneducated) phenomenon. This is a sharp contrast to the north and east, where I think there's rather the opposite assumption, that they are kind of enlightened and likely to be entered into by educated people from good families.
posted by MattD at 8:39 AM on February 16, 2005



I'm sure your Sri Lankan accent will do more to amuse / confuse / and weird out the hicks than your dark skin and english girlfriend.

posted by zpousman at 7:47 AM PST on February 16


A bit presumptious to assume he has a Sri Lankan accent isn't it?
posted by sid at 8:44 AM on February 16, 2005


casu marzu: let me run what I said by you one more time: "The South can be a violent, reactionary, racist place. Yes, more so than The North due to the forces of history: slavery, civil war, etc."

You are definitely right, there is a small minority of violent people in every community. But that's not my point, and it doesn't help bunglin jones with his question. My point was that due to the forces of history, there are indeed people in The South who might be racially violent toward a mixed-race couple.

And you're right: Boston is very segregated. To borrow your line, so what? The question was about mixed-race saftey in The South.

on preview: okay, calm down, my Southern friends.

23skidoo: "One life-threatening situation in rural Texas doesn't do much to prove that the entire South is dangerously racist."

No, it doesn't. The entire South is not dangerously racist at all. The entire South, as you know, is a big, big place full of all kinds of people. However, I recounted this incident because I believed it would help bunglin jones with his question.

Medieval Maven: "and somehow you want us to believe that the South has a monopoly on jerks, racists, and warmongers?"

Not at all. Truly, there are jerks, racists and warmongers all over the world. I told the story of the bumper sticker because a) it was ironic that the sticker was Right In Front of us while my mom was telling me how nice Southerners are
and
b) it serves to illustrate to bunglin jones some (not all! SOME!) of the attitudes he'd be facing during his Southern travels.

mygothlaundry: "I will happily talk about the War of Northern Aggression, but I don't think that makes me a racist."

I'm happy you're not a racist, mygothlaundry, and believe me, no one here is calling you one. My point about the civil war is that some people in The South are still screwy about race and are still fighting the civil war. Ever see anyone flying a Confederate flag? I've seen 'em in front of houses and flying on the grills of trucks.

To recap: I'm not against The Entire South, and everyone who lives in The South is not a racist.

Some people are, though, and bunglin jones and his girlfriend should be careful.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:48 AM on February 16, 2005


Fuzzy Monster: again, these incidents are extremely isolated. You're more likely to be killed by a Salvadorean gang member than a racist in Northern Virginia. You're making the threat out to be much greater than it actually is, and you are not answering the question, which was whether the whole area is a bad idea for a mixed-race couple. It is most emphatically not. I had friends who learned about "The War of Northern Agression" in high school. They thought it was hooey, and they grew up to be well-adjusted, non-racist adults.

It really depends on where they are planning to go.

Where are you planning to go, bunglin jones?
posted by casu marzu at 9:00 AM on February 16, 2005


My husband is of a mixed European and Native American background. Because of this, although he doesn't look how most people believe Natives look, he doesn't look particularly white, either. While traveling in the South it was the first, and only, time I've noticed people muttering comments as we walked by.

He was more amused by it than anything else, as not a single person managed to pick a proper racial slur for his background, but they seemed to hit damn near everything else.

It was always directed at him as an individual, not us as a couple. It didn't happen frequently, and it wasn't overt or confrontational (my husband is a pretty big guy), but it did happen. And it came from both white and African-American people, who seemed be nastiest when they thought he was Middle Eastern.

YMMV, though, as I can count on one hand the number of times I've been in the south.
posted by Kellydamnit at 9:05 AM on February 16, 2005


The ignorance of some people amazes me. I see interracial couples every day here in South Carolina. Even in the rural areas, I see old black dudes and old white dudes driving around in pickup trucks together. Hell, the only time I've heard someone use the "N" word in anger was in Boston (and the guy was definitely a local).

Nah, I'd say you'll find more racism in areas that don't have a lot of black people, in rural areas anywhere in the US, and in certain upper-class neighborhoods.

PS, Fuzzy Monster, I've known people from Buffalo, NY, who flew the Confederate Flag, so don't go there. Yes, there racist ignorant pricks down here, but they're everywhere, and most people down South are tired of the whole thing, and particularly tired of being called racists without provocation.
posted by socratic at 9:06 AM on February 16, 2005


The entire South is not dangerously racist at all. The entire South, as you know, is a big, big place full of all kinds of people. However, I recounted this incident because I believed it would help bunglin jones with his question.

The question asked if the whole area of the South (after dark at least) was a bad idea for a mixed-race couple. People who have said "No, the whole area of the South is not a bad idea for a mixed-race couple" are not suggesting that the South is completely free of racism.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:07 AM on February 16, 2005


I hate to stray from this discussion back to the topic at hand, but I'm Indian, which is as close to looking Sri Lankan as you can get, pretty much. And I've travelled all over the U.S. with various white friends and significant others.

Most likely, almost anywhere you go, you won't face any kind of physical intimidation or threats. The places where those things happen (like the small towns near where I grew up) don't really have any tourist value.

Most likely, you *will* get people giving you hard looks or making comments. It may only be one person your entire trip, but it will happen. If you just ignore it, or call public attention to it, they'll stop, and it shouldn't affect your trip.

The South does have great food and a higher percentage of people who are racist. Boston is the most racist city in the northeast. Southern food is good. I like puppies. Most of those facts aren't really pertinent to deciding whether it's worth it to travel around the U.S.

The couple you met who advised you probably hadn't travelled in a mixed-race group in the South, so you might want to take their advice with a grain of salt. Americans who would be overseas are much more likely to be liberals, and the majority of people who make sweeping generalizations about the South are liberals. I know, 'cause I am one.
posted by anildash at 9:10 AM on February 16, 2005


I would just add, in response to Mayor Curley, that you don't need to be loud to be stared at in Boston for being in an interracial couple - all you have to do is to go to places like Arlington, Lexington and Belmont. They are full of old white people that used to give us the worst looks.

My fiance and I actually left a supermarket in Arlington because the hostiliy was so bad.
posted by thewittyname at 9:16 AM on February 16, 2005


Boston is by far the most segregated.
Raleigh, North Carolina here.
My personal experience is it is a class thing. In Southern California in the upperclass neighborhoods, we had only white and Asian neighbors and there were only 2 black children in my daughter's elementary school. The hispanics and blacks all lived and shopped else where.

Now I live in the South in a working class neighborhood. Half my neighbors are white, half black. The stores I shop in, same thing, with hispanics added into the mix. And since we are living cheek-by-jowl, there is naturally some cross over. White mom, black babies in the grocery store? Pretty much an everyday occurrence.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:21 AM on February 16, 2005


Dame pretty much nailed it.

My brother (white) and his ex-wife (Korean) lived in Atlanta a while back. He said they were hassled several times. However, my brother is a wee bit confrontational, so y'all might want to take that with a grain of salt. Not saying it didn't happen, just saying he might have aggravated the situation.

Kinda/sorta related: my husband is obviously older than I am (he's been taken to be my father once or twice). We get odd looks and head shakes all the time. The point is that some people will be offended about anything and everything. Don't let it stop you from enjoying life.
posted by deborah at 9:23 AM on February 16, 2005


Entirely dependent on where you are at but, generally speaking, sounds like bullshit. That being said, I wouldn't stop off at a honky tonk in a little town to hang out & drink 'til closing, as the hometown locals may have different ideas. Of course I wouldn't probably do that anyway, 'cause a lot of shit goes down in such places.
posted by Pressed Rat at 9:27 AM on February 16, 2005


The question asked if the whole area of the South (after dark at least) was a bad idea for a mixed-race couple. People who have said "No, the whole area of the South is not a bad idea for a mixed-race couple" are not suggesting that the South is completely free of racism.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:07 AM PST on February 16



Maybe I'm wrong, but I took the question to mean this:
will my girlfriend and I be safe if we travel through The South?

In general, yes. Go, spend money, have a great time. But be aware there can be racial tensions and there have been isolated incidences of racial violence, which can happen anywhere.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:46 AM on February 16, 2005


PS, Fuzzy Monster, I've known people from Buffalo, NY, who flew the Confederate Flag, so don't go there. Yes, there racist ignorant pricks down here, but they're everywhere, and most people down South are tired of the whole thing, and particularly tired of being called racists without provocation.
posted by socratic at 9:06 AM PST on February 16


It's totally understandable to be upset with being called a racist without provocation. But that's not at all what I said (and that definitely is not a charge I'd level lightly.)

Once again, what I actually said was "The South can be a violent, reactionary, racist place. Yes, more so than The North due to the forces of history: slavery, civil war, etc."

The South can be violent, reactionary and racist, due to the actions of a small (and hopefully growing smaller) group of small-minded people. Once again, NOT EVERYONE!

You gotta understand, Southerners-- I'm one of you. I'm from The South-- born and raised in Dallas, Texas-- my parents are from The South, my Grandparents were from The South. We are not cartoon stereotypes (think Wealthy Texan on The Simpsons) and we are not racists.

And a Confederate Flag flying in Buffalo might mean the same thing as a Confederate Flag flying in The South, but I guarantee the reactions in The South would be a little different. Remember the flap about the Georgia state flag from a few years back?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:01 AM on February 16, 2005


Did you hang out in the Southie projects or something? The predominate stereotype about New Englanders is that you have to light a fire to even get them to acknowledge you. The people who brought you the term "Boston Marriage" don't give a shit if you're sleeping an irishman, a black man, or the Boston Celtics.

Mmmmm -- I have to disagree (it's 'predominant', btw). I'm a native Texan who went to high school in New Jersey and has lived as an adult in Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Connecticut, and now New Hampshire.

I can honestly say that nowhere have I witnessed more tacit racism and de facto segregation than here in New England. New Englanders presume they have a monopoly on knowledge and sophistication in this country, and they have very mistaken impressions about the South. These seem to be formed on their general ideas about class inferiority and the cultural stereotype of the redneck, and often have been formed through TV, movies, and maybe the memory of the Freedom Rides, without benefit of having visited the South at all.

Somehow, by denigrating the South, New Englanders seem to try to buy themselves the freedom not to change, not to examine the entrenched institutional and social racism that exists here. They can point to another region and say "oh my -- see how bad it is down there. We're so above that." I wonder how much time the couple you've met have actually spent in the South?

I'm certain that the number of New Englanders who have never personally seen or talked to a nonwhite person would vastly exceed the number of Southerners in the same category. I've met many myself. Such a thing is virtually impossible in the South.

So are there racists in the North? Yes. In fact, as a white person, I am sometimes utterly, jaw-droppingly shocked at the things white New Englanders will say in a room full of only other whites -- without any compunction or awareness that their generalizations could offend someone there. Many New Englanders feel that they're among like-minded people when they're surrounded by whites, and they'll let fly with things that can startle a Texas girl.

Are there racists in the South? Yes. Is everyone racist? No. There are a lot of black people in the South! Many more, proportionally, than in the North. There are black-owned businesses, historically black institutions such as colleges, hospitals, and churches, and vibrant black communities. Those people are not shuffling down the street all the time with their heads down, being pelted by epithets, for heaven's sake. Can a mixed-race couple travel safely there? Yes, reasonably so. Should you go? Absolutely! If you avoid the South, you're going to miss some of the best of what American culture has to offer. Delta blues. The Austin music scene (and the bats). New Orleans. Spanish Moss. Shrimp. The Civil Rights Museum (and the Stax Records Museum!) Lookout Mountain. Asheville, NC. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Barbecue. Charleston. The history of slavery and the black experience in the south. The puzzle of the Civil War. Great beaches. Incredible food. Nice weather. Honeyed accents.
posted by Miko at 10:07 AM on February 16, 2005 [1 favorite]


Southern food is good. I like puppies. Most of those facts aren't really pertinent to deciding whether it's worth it to travel around the U.S.

I'd say knowing that Southern food is good is indeed pertinent to the decision to travel to The South. Hell, that's why I go back (that, and to see my folks).

As to your puppy comment...
you are definitely right, not pertinent.

Okay, that's it for me. bunglin jones, I hope some of this helps. Enjoy your trip, and stay safe.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:09 AM on February 16, 2005


I suppose I could make a comment about Hawaii being as south and you can get, and then noting that interracial couples (and multiracial kids) are pretty much the norm here... but that's not answering the question.

I found this to be a fascinating thread. The individual anecdotes don't prove anything, but are definitely a neat survey of experiences of race and perception.

I'm an asian male, my wife is a caucasian female. When we visited her family in central Florida, we got funny looks everywhere, but didn't get harassed. I thought it was more funny than anything. Someone asked if I knew kung fu. I think she was serious.

The only weird incidents I've had here in Hawaii are people who thought I was my wife's dad. One, we're not the same color. Two, she's older than I am!
posted by pzarquon at 11:20 AM on February 16, 2005


You didn't say what year this story is from... (sorry, couldn't resist). Add me to the pile that the warning is unfounded.
posted by Dick Paris at 12:30 PM on February 16, 2005


Personal experience: Born and raised in New York, Indian parents, white husband. I have met many a Southerner who comments on my brown skin and/or makes some remark assuming I'm a foreigner. And then I prepare for some racial comment, and it always turns out to be something like, "We had an exchange student from Bombay at our school; is your family from there?"

My take is that Southerners tend to be more open about acknowledging racial differences, and Northerners tend to want to pretend they don't exist. But you'll be fine most anywhere.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:53 PM on February 16, 2005


As someone who's been in interracial relationships, I second what others have said: there are racist assholes everywhere. Pay them no mind.

My favorite advice with regards to the South was from a college roommate from Alabama: "If you're ever south of the Mason-Dixon line, and you're thrown in jail, they're gonna know you're from California, so be sure to say you're from Bakersfield."

"Why?"

"'Cause that's where Merle Haggard is from."
posted by fandango_matt at 1:28 PM on February 16, 2005


Traveled all over the High Point/Greensboro/Lexington North Carolina area over 10 days (Including late night driving through small towns) with my ex-girlfriend who was from Cuba. Never had a problem. I think we received more "looks" when we were back in the Fairfield County, CT area.
posted by mlis at 1:59 PM on February 16, 2005


Thanks, all. (And, for the record, years living in London and an elocution teacher for a mother mean that I have a much more "English" accent than my girlfriend does)
posted by bunglin jones at 6:19 PM on February 16, 2005


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