Marrying within.

Author:Muhammad, Tahira
Position:Mohamed Dagash & Keilani Abdullah; Aquila Coulibaly & Ibrahim Coulibaly; and Hurjah Wahhaj & Ali Moumouni - Interview

There is much talk about black people marrying those of other races and the challenges faced by such couples, but what about black people marrying within the black diaspora? Being married to a Ghanaian herself, for six years, Tahira Muhammad, an African-American woman, has had her own challenges and joys. She sought the views of three other couple--African men and their African-American wives (all three couples are Muslims)--about their experiences and whether inter-diasporan marriages had broadened their definition of love and blackness. Here are excerpts from her fascinating interviews.

THE FIRST COUPLE I INTERVIEWED was Keilani Abdullah, an African-American woman, and her husband Mohamed Dagash, a Sudanese who grew up in the United Arab Emirates. I first asked Keilani if marrying a continental African had changed her definition of blackness?


She replied: "Being in an African diasporan marriage has taught me the true diversity of the African people. We have many cultural differences, and being married to an African has enabled me to experience a different culture, such as language, music, and food. And these have become part of my lifestyle too. Sometimes in our arrogance as Americans, African-Americans have some pretty fixed rules about what being 'black' is. Well, being married to a continental African has taught me that many African-American cultural traits are born out of our unique experience, and you really have to get ready for a whole set of other attitudes and ways of seeing and dealing with the world with an African husband."

Does she teach her children to embrace both sides of their culture and define themselves as "New African", I asked her.

She replied: "Our children must see themselves as both African and a part of the African diaspora. Having bicultural children means you have to really focus on helping the children to build a healthy selfidentity. This is particularly challenging because usually it is not an experience that either you or your spouse has. As a mother, you may have to make a special effort to learn and use the father's language in the home, and involve the children in the father's cultural experience as well as your own. In our home, I remind my husband to speak in his language to the kids; I cook some of my husband's national dishes, and as the children get older I will do what I can to make sure they visit their father's country, learn both African-American and Sudanese history, and explore their own experience as bicultural Africans."

I asked her again if there were challenges and blessings in bicultural marriages?

She responded: "The challenges come up when our unique cultural perspectives on issues or ways of doing things collide. Family as a unit means more than one person for Africans, whereas Americans value the individual. So when your husband's family's opinion enters into the decision-making of the relationship, a lot of American women feel disrespected-they think a couple's decision about issues is a private matter. This is when you both have to make compromises. Sometimes you have to do things in a way that you never imagined.


"Another challenge is the family rejecting the spouse. People like their own and either disapprove or at least arc disappointed when their son or daughter marries someone out of the culture. This takes patience on the part of the 'newcomer' and also learning how the other culture looks at relationships. You may have to seek the advice of a relative or community leader, you may have to postpone the marriage, whatever it takes for the family's acceptance, so that entry into your spouse's family is easier and more acceptable.

The blessings are often a real growth in character, you become a better person from the experience. Because you have to learn so much about another culture, and you experience different behaviours, ideas, and expectations you are not accustomed to, it gives you a new perspective about the world and adds to your ability to...

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