Kenny D’Cruz shares how his honeymoon took an unexpected turn when he was racially abused in front of his new wife.
“Did I call you a liar? At least I’m not a ni**er and I work for a living!” was my Italian wife’s first real racist ‘attack’, behind my back, from the car rental man in a deserted Santorini Airport as we arrived around midnight for our honeymoon.
Here’s what I learned from this:
1. I will not allow my wife to be abused, threatened or insulted. As a child I allowed racial abuse to cut me, break my spirit, embarrass me – and I let it go. I was told that ‘if the people of the town that we had moved to (as Goan, Ugandan refugees) didn’t like us, then we’d have to move and we have no where else to go’. So best turn the other cheek like a good Catholic boy and understand their need to try out some of the hilarious racist material that was commonplace in ‘70s media; and that those who felt that they were the lowest in society might need somewhere to pass on the abuse and feel better about themselves.
2. I can’t truly protect my wife, or anyone else from abuse, pain, fear, the things that I don’t wish them to feel. I’m an old-fashioned man who likes to protect and provide. I’m a modern-day man who shows up with an open heart. I cried in the bathroom as my wife slept in our honeymoon bed, realising that I’d married her into a life of racism and potential danger. I don’t bottle things up as much as I used to, I now have more space for love.
3. I will stand up for my wife, my self and what I believe is right, meeting what I believe needs changing head-on. Neither my wife or I were brought up in families who quite knew how to stand up for ourselves and it has cost us all dearly. This is where our limiting family habits stops and the family curse is broken. So I didn’t make my wife’s backhanded racist abuse okay by brushing it under the carpet, as some suggested.
My wife and I don’t want the man punished, sacked or harmed in any way. We want him to be accountable for what he said and educated around the consequences of bullying, abuse, and what might be best said out of the public ear. The fact that he said this to my wife, behind my back, felt to me like an adult who would physically abuse someone vulnerable like a child or an elder without leaving marks as evidence.
4. In some cultures use of ‘the n word’ is still acceptable. All it took in school was for someone to call me a ni**er and I was shut up in an instant with no comeback. For some it was hilarious! So I played small, played safe and lived in fear of it, laughing it off the few times it pierced my spirit.
I was astounded when the rental firm initially said that my wife must have misheard and he might have said “At least I’m not a ‘beggar’.” Then they came back with ‘he was referring to himself, “…working like a ni**er’.”
5. The nicest people can have bad days, leaky shadows, snap at the final straw and lose control as ‘the red mist’ takes over. I am sure that ‘Grandpa’ who ‘served’ us is a lovely old man who delights at spreading holiday happiness and joy. He badgered my wife for an extra 50 euros as she tried to explain that she’d paid an excess fee before boarding the plane. He wanted his extra money and I stopped his insistence asking “Are you calling my wife a liar?” and that’s when the red mist fell. For an eternity we fiercely stared each other out to near breaking point. I know, from childhood experience, how the red mist can take a person over.
6. I learned to step back, allow breathing space and put someone else’s needs before my fight for justice. He finally showed us a document with 25 euros in red, which was true. I thought it best for me to step back and let my wife deal with the admin avoiding things turning nasty. He asked my wife “Did I call you a liar? At least I’m not a ni**er and I work for a living!” shocking and scary. She didn’t tell me what he’d said until we were in the car. I knew she wanted to just leave and feel safe again.
7. People, corporations, bullies, etc. will get away with whatever they can without admitting liability. I wonder whether the car rental firm were obliged to avoid admitting what happened and therefore any liability? We never got to hear Grandpa’s version of what happened and feel like we’ve been sent from pillar to post by the firm without anyone really taking this on and dealing with it until my Rottweiler persistence and ten weeks later, when our car hire fee was refunded ‘as a gesture of good will’. This incident took over our honeymoon, my 50th birthday celebrations, our thoughts and emotions. My wife spent our honeymoon dreading coming face-to-face with her abuser again. I don’t feel the good will.
8. My pain is my choice and it’s something that others might find uncomfortable. As do I, as I learn and grow from it. I wanted to sit in the reality of what had ruined our feelings of safety in this foreign country, even though other people were very nice to us in Santorini. Were they just pretending? What were they really thinking? Are my wife and I safe? I was grateful for this fearful space that my new wife and I could get real in, rather than brush under the carpet to fester and follow us around, occasionally rearing its ugly head for us to look in the eye and eventually face. We sat with this with gratitude that it had come up now, as we look to buy our first property together, to be aware of neighbours and neighbourhoods. I felt that if we didn’t take the opportunity to lay a boundary on how we will be treated now, then we will surely have to do it later. So as we laid the boundary and have set ourselves up for a life of love and safety.
9. The sooner pain is named, the sooner pain can be released. Half way through my email exchanges with the firm, my wife took over, as she was ready to deal with it herself: after all the offending words were said to her while she was alone and vulnerable. This honeymoon parasite was released as she named it, allowing the story to separate from us.
I always tell the men in my men’s groups and my private clients that the way I organize my priorities is to do whatever relieves the most pressure first. Easy to say, but that might be where the most fear, pain, avoidance, trauma or even liberation lies. Who would I be without my story? My wife needed her time to be ready to write it down and out of her and move things on, as I am doing now. When it’s time – it’s time. What a relief!
10. I learned that the experiences and stories from my past can still haunt me, if the nerve is touched. As I name them, l let them go and make space for more goodness in my life.I was raised in a small, Catholic, Portuguese-influenced bubble that was happily lost in time until Idi Amin so shockingly popped it. I’ve probably been called a ni**er more than I’ve been called anything else. I’m ‘officially’ not black enough to claim that hallowed title and was certainly not black enough for Idi Amin!
Post refugee camps we were brought up in a small town in West Wales with wonderful neighbours in a generally accepting community – we were the only coloured family there for a long time. We fled Amin’s Secret Service losing everything, including my father for nine months.
One day a man showed up at our house with a load of furniture, old toys, books, all sorts of things including a very old set of encyclopedias where I found a section on how black natives were more like animals than civilized white people and how they should be treated. I wondered what the people in our community really thought about us. Some local children thought that my father might eat them if they behaved badly, others thought we were ‘red Indians’ and searched behind and under our furniture for hidden bows and arrows.
I remember Alex Haley’s book ‘Roots’ taking the screens by storm in the 1970s and I could see the noose hanging from the tree in my minds eye as I cried in our bathroom in Greece. (Totally illogical, but try explaining that to the traumatised little boy inside of me). That hanging noose has always scared me and I remember not telling my family about what I saw in the encyclopedia and fretting about how I would protect them if the locals got ideas and turned on us. How will I protect my wife?
I was physically attacked in the changing rooms on my first day of secondary school and another boy – who was used to fighting and didn’t risk expulsion from the community – took the attacker on and nothing more was said of it by the teachers or other kids. Changing rooms were humiliating and I felt like Joseph Merrick ‘The Elephant Man’ because of distant examination and perfectly innocent, though embarrassing questioning.
I missed out on normal boyhood fun and games. I’ve caught up in my later years and I’ve turned into the healthy, self-respecting man that I feel that I now am, happily married and loving my London life, transforming the shadows of my psyche into the gold of walking a conscious path, with my wife by my side. Shame it cost our honeymoon, but good thing we rented that car!
Article first published on 14th November, 2014 on InsideMan