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Scrolling online through Southern getaways as newlyweds is always a fun experience.
But a portion of our travel planning includes digging into the history and demographics of the town during the antebellum or Civil Rights eras and not because we are history buffs. As an interracial couple, this type of research is for our own comfort and safety.
Trust me. It stung to click away from that awesome deal on a fabulous bed and breakfast in a tiny Georgia town, because its only memorable historical moment was a public lynching.
I was thinking, "DANG, that place sounds awesome." But. Yeah.
As a black woman married to a white man in Alabama, these kinds of precautions are automatic. We expect restaurant hosts and hotel staff to not assume we are together, even when we walk in together. We put up with the confused or hostile stares, inappropriate comments or inconsistent customer service.
We laugh about it. There was that one time a cross-dressing guy was shaking his head at us as we took engagement photos here in Bama. (Really, dude? You should have our back.)
We sometimes vent, but mostly we just try to enjoy ourselves. It sucks that most of the time, I just don't make eye contact with anyone when we're out in public. It seems silly even typing that. But some days I am wearied by ridiculous disapproval from strangers.
And sometimes I wish the staring would at least come with paparazzi and a celebrity-sized paycheck, but I guess for now we'll just take the extra attention. (Note to self: Add teeth whitening strips to shopping list. I should at least have a pearly white smile if I'm gonna get side-eye.)
So when we're planning a vacation in the South, we have to adjust accordingly. While I'd like to always assume the stares are because we are devastatingly gorgeous or affectionate, I know most of the time people are surprised, baffled, or even upset.
Sadly, this kind of behavior happens everywhere, not just in the South. As a S.C. native, this pervasive attitude still makes me sad and a bit angry, but that's the way it is.
I've talked about our experiences so much, I'm perilously close to being blue in the face. I wonder if that would reduce the staring or just make it worse? We just want to blend in, and we can't.
Here are some ways to cope when planning weekend travel in the South (or anywhere, really) as a mixed couple.
1) Select well-populated cities.
Even if you still feel outnumbered, it's much more comfortable to hang out in a big city around tons of other people versus a small town.
I know it sounds crazy, but I'd probably feel comfier on the streets of New York than in some quaint, quiet town in Tennessee. Admittedly, I'm a city girl, but that's just a teensy detail.
2) Get referrals from other interracial couples.
Dig around online. If you simply Google "interracial couples travel," you'll find out which restaurants, hotels and hot spots aren't friendly to mixed couples. Be sure to put those places at the bottom of the list. This is a good tip if you're traveling internationally as well.
3) Spend quality time alone.
Sometimes the staring can be overwhelming. Take time to map out activities where you can enjoy the comfort of being a pair. Reserve a private room at a restaurant, a VIP museum tour or hotel room service.
4) Use common sense.
Earlier this year, a pair of black actors were stopped by police alongside a small South Carolina road onto a cotton field. Stops and detours may seem fun, but no matter what your skin color, locals will not take kindly to anyone they feel is trespassing, particularly unfamiliar people in out-of-state cars. If they don't know you, they don't trust you.
Many of the fabulous, best-on-the-planet beaches of the South require travel through small country towns. Obey the speed limits and restrict unnecessary stops by taking food and bathroom breaks in more populated areas. Use your head.
5) Grow thick skin together.
It's much easier to handle the stress and annoyances of intolerant people as a couple. If you haven't had what I'm now calling "The Swirl Chat," have a conversation about how you will respond in certain situations.
Most importantly, keep reminding each other to have fun despite the people around you.
I'm a Southern gal through and through. So proud of it, and we'll probably stay in the South until we're old and grey (and, by default, distrustful of strangers). I'll always stand by the fact that most people you encounter really are warm with Southern hospitality.
Be expectant of that, and you should have a blast. Hopefully these tips will make your vacation experience a bit better or at least show you aren't alone.
One of these days, I'm going to book that Georgia B&B. I'm too much of a travel bug to ignore it because of its past.
Let me hear from you. We haven't traveled up north or west as a couple yet. Tell us what to expect.