Loving across racial lines…what isn’t spoken

This fall will mark 20 years that I have been partnered with my husband, we’ve been together 20 years and married for 17 of those years. We met in our 20’s, when we were young and idealistic and even though my previous partner had been white, I had no idea that race on the cusp of the 21st century would still be an issue. I assumed that love was all that we would need but the truth is that for people who love across the color line in America, you need more than love. You need courage, strength and resiliency to deal with a world that is often hostile to those whose love crosses color lines.

We started to grasp the enormity of what our life together would entail early in our marriage, when a simple traffic stop in Chicago became a moment of horror and shame that we would rarely speak of because the ugliness was too much to bear. Yet in light of a story that broke this weekend, it seems fitting to share my own moment of shame; perhaps if more of us share these uncomfortable moments, people will truly start to grasp how little has truly changed when it comes to race in America.

Several months into our marriage, we attended the wedding of a mutual friend in the suburbs of Chicago. The type of event that many couples do, nothing out of the ordinary yet for me, that night would forever live in a place within me to serve as a reminder that my humanity could be taken from me at any moment, not because of my actions but because of the color of my skin.

Traveling back home from a northwestern suburb of Chicago, we came across a DUI check, the type of checks that happen in countless cities across America. A check you have no reason to fear if you haven’t been imbibing. My husband being the designated driver had abstained from drinking at the reception, so when the cops signaled to us to pull over, we had no reason to fear or so we thought.

The officer walked up to the window and it became immediately clear to us though we were in shock that we had been pulled over because my husband was a white man and I was a Black woman. The officer instead of asking had my husband been drinking, asked him about me…who was I? My husband said that I was his wife, the officer looked incredulous and without getting into the nasty details pretty much stated he didn’t believe him and that he thought that I was a prostitute. We ended up being briefly detained while the officers debated whether or not to believe our story, never at any time was my husband given a breathalyzer or any other type of test. After running our plates, they apparently decided we really were a married couple or else the most skilled set of liars who happened to have the same last name and a set of wedding bands.

We drove home silent and in tears as the horror and enormity of what happened weighed on us. Chicago being a big city, I later realized that without a badge number at that time, filing a complaint was futile. We weren’t harmed physically but psychically that encounter laid the foundation for the rest of our lives. Traffic stops over the years have become moments of fear for us and while other cops in other cities have also asked our relationship to one another, none have been as open in their assumptions that I must be a prostitute and my husband a “john”.

I wish I could say encounters with police officers are the only places where loving across racial lines has been troubling. There are few areas of our outside lives where we are not reminded that we are different, even in medical emergency situations when I have had to explain to harried medical personnel that yes, he is my husband. Yes, the worried white man is not my caseworker, a good samaritan or my neighbor, he is my partner and my legal spouse.

As my husband has learned in recent years, even simple encounters with other parents on the playground can become awkward moments. Several years ago, another parent made a casual reference to “niggers” and my husband had to quietly explain that his wife (me) is Black to which the other parent said he wasn’t referring to Blacks like me. As my husband has learned when he is not physically with me, many whites particularly white men will thinking nothing of saying careless and questionable things. Of course, in his quest to speak up, he has pretty much ensured that he will have few friends. The price he pays for daring to love outside of his race. Recently we hit a rough patch and bandied around the big D word for a while, it was interesting to learn how quickly whiteness took over for the few people he shared our situation with, then again I wasn’t surprised because I had already lived through him losing most of his friends when we got together almost two decades ago.

There are some interracial couples who are spared these indignities but more often than not, couples reach a place where the wear and tear of love with the added battles of dealing with race become too much to handle. As we approach 20 years in the battlefield of love, I look around and realize other interracial couples we have known have lost the battle. Marriage is hard work, no matter who you are but living in a world where the legitimacy of your union is constantly questioned and the partner of color is often dehumanized starts to wear on the soul. Nevermind the intricacies of dealing with family and inlaws across racial lines and when you add kids into the mix, the complications grow.

While the story of African-American actress Daniele Watts being detained after the cops assumed her to be a prostitute and her white husband to be her “john” has sparked outrage and shock across the internet, for me it’s a feeling of how much longer must we endure this shit? I am not shocked, I am sad, sad that yet another couple has to live this life and this shame for daring to love. I am sad that we keep repeating the lie that race relationships have improved based off a few victories in the racial arena when really very little has changed. We are still sitting on the same raggedy couch which simply has been draped with a new cover and rather than facing reality, we shift our position, looking for the comfortable spot instead of working towards a brand new couch.

14 thoughts on “Loving across racial lines…what isn’t spoken

  1. Thank you for sharing yet another great post! Being in an interracial relationship for almost 10 years we have been through many of these same issues. Every time I have ever been pulled over by the cops the immediate question is who are we to each other. I have even had police ask if I was okay and ask me to step out and ask me if I really knew this man. At one point my boyfriend drove my car to a friend’s house (he was on our policy but the car was in my name, he has his own set of keys etc…) and got into a fender bender. I received a call from the police telling me my car had been stolen and involved in an accident. I was in complete shock since I knew my boyfriend had taken the car to go to a friend’s and wondered how it was stolen. Well to my amazement they had my boyfriend in handcuffs and refused to let me talk with him after explaining I knew him. They kept saying over and over “it’s okay if he stole your car you aren’t at fault for the accident”. I repeated over and over he was on the policy he is my boyfriend he has full access to the car etc… I was with my boyfriend’s friend who drove me up and they accused him of intimidating me and telling me to say he was my boyfriend. Turns out they didn’t even look at the insurance card with his name on it.

    Anyways, as you have said marriages/relationships are tough enough but interracial relationships make it that much more difficult. I hope we can stand the test of time!

  2. A Deep Divide: Comments

    WhitePrivilege • 3 days ago

    Still singing the same old race song, Shay? I’d think you’d be tired of the tune by now. We certainly are. Please move from Maine, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

    1

    Reply

    Share ›

    Avatar
    Chris WhitePrivilege • 3 days ago

    Good one, WP! She’s like a one-note black bird: “Same song, different day.” With one of them in office, they should shut the f**k up.
    1

    Reply

    Share ›
    Avatar
    Anonymous Chris • 2 days ago

    And take your traitor, honky husband with you.
    1

    Reply

    Share ›

    • You are under no obligation to read anything that I write, so if my words offend, feel free to pass me by. If you reach out again, I will assume you mean me harm and will notify the authorities.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story & giving encouragement to interracial couples everywhere. Your voice is valued, appreciated, and needed more than ever.

    To all the people that feel the need to spew hateful comments about someone else’s marriage, love & experiences – look in the mirror as to why you feel the need to be hateful. Her comments are just her experience – you don’t have to understand them to appreciate that they are real, valid and needed. Her voice is one that is not often found in the dominate narrative of main stream media.

    Thank you blackgirlinmaine

  4. Thank-you for speaking Shay. Your words need to be said over and over. Your truth is absolute and people need to open their eyes. Sadly we are often trapped in the role of Cassandra by some. Doesn’t matter what they above commenter thinks or says because he will never become compassionate or aware. But, it’s not him you are speaking to and not him who’s mind you are awakening. What you do is important.

  5. The hateful things white ppl say when they think they are among their like-minded kind has cost me a lot of “friends” I don’t need. And the ignorant opinions of even the well intentioned ones have so tried my patience that many of those I have managed to keep see me as a very angry person. I don’t regret leaving Maine, but have found things no better in Los Angeles in this regard.

  6. This sort of thing is par for the course in the good ole US of A. The ignorant response that was posted here from a commenter is also. The privileged folk like that poster will always blame the person insulted for their own misadventures. The get-over-it mentality. I am of that Me generation who was going to do so much to erase this type of ignorance. Unfortunately, the Me generation discoed, snorted and erased their sceptums and brains away instead. Post-racial America? Yeah, right. I’d prefer to have a Post-racist one.

  7. DTO and his/her type actually provide a service…albeit a perverse and twisted service. Simply because they awaken me, in my shameful naïveté, to a reality that nearly makes me physically ill. Keep on writing, Ms Shay, and thank you.

  8. Keep saying what you’re saying, Shay! DTO and friends, I am White and I want to hear what Shay is saying! It reflects my personal experience as a member of multi-racial family and I wish Maine and all of our states had more people like Shay.

    Shay, because I’m White and my husband is Black, I’ve had more experiences in line with Hannah than with what you’ve experienced. One of the more striking memories is of the nurses at the hospital not wanting to let my husband leave with our son when it was time to go home after I gave birth. And this is in a major metro area in a hospital full of all different ethnicities – patients and employees. Anti-Black bias goes DEEP.

  9. Also, I think it’s worth noting, for any visitors here who might be cheering DTO and his folks earlier, the reason my wife sings the “same old race song” is because, as those comments show, we still live in a world where I am called a traitor for marrying a black woman. That would….uh…be…here goes: racism.

  10. Thank you for sharing your experiences. A cousin of mine shared the news story of Danielle Watts being arrested, and I commented that it legitimately scared me, a black young woman who finds white men attractive. I look up this kind of stuff so I know what to expect if dates turn into relationships, and maybe even marriage and children. This kind of shit is definitely ridiculous, to say the least, and it’s frightening to think that I can’t love a white man without having the assumption that I’m his prostitute, or he my caseworker. To me, coming from a mixed background (even if I didn’t!), it’s completely atrocious and despicable! I wish you and your family many more years of happiness and blessings, keep it together! 🙂 You’re a sign of hope for someone like me who isn’t afraid to step outside of racial boundaries in terms of romance.

Comments are closed.