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.

 

I often forget that for many Black women dating and loving across racial lines does not come easy, then again for the last 21 years I have been involved with white men. Husband number one, while the marriage was short lived, did create a child who is now a 20 year old man and husband number 2 who I’ve spent 17 years with. So getting that out the way, one might think I was a perfect fit to review Swirling: How to Date, Mate, and Relate Mixing Race, Culture and Creed a new release by blogger and writer Christelyn D. Karazin and co-author Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn.

I admit I had been curious about what this book would be and when I received an offer for a review copy, I jumped at it. After all there are few books that really talk openly about dating across racial and cultural lines written from the perspective of a Black woman.

For starters, Christelyn and Janice have a way with words, reading this book at times reminded me of a talk with girlfriends on a Friday night. In the early chapters, they give some good advice, that to enter cross racial and cultural dating world; you will need to clean your slate about some assumptions you may hold against men of different backgrounds.

Swirling is funny and provides some good food for thought if one is just starting to consider dating across color lines, though I am not sure referring to men as rainbeaus is a great idea. I say that because in reading this book, I read parts out loud to my own partner (a white guy) who thought rainbeaus while meant to sound cutesy actually seemed like it was fetishizing non-Black men. The personal vignettes were a great touch especially Christelyn’s own meeting with her future in-laws, she’s a champ!

This book is heavy on providing great tidbits and laughs for how to swirl; this book is light on reality and data. Divorce rates are actually higher for mixed race couples especially Black-White pairings and the author’s suggestions about getting around the real issues that any mixed race couple in America faces especially Black-White pairings don’t seem rooted at times in reality. To be frank I would have liked to have seen more research and not just tidbits collected from Christelyn’s blog Beyond Black & White as evidenced by the fact that I am quoted on page 191 of this book and other blogs judging from the resource list at the back of the book.

All in all, it’s not a bad read and again for a Black woman seriously thinking of crossing racial/ethnic lines when it comes to dating, there is useful information to be gleaned. I think though that it falls short in the mating and relating long term section, then again it may be a chance for the authors to write a sequel.

Disclosure: In keeping with FTC rules, while I was not paid for this post, I did receive a review copy of Swirling.

Many times over the past few years I have had well-meaning friends and acquaintances question me on the wisdom of raising a child of color in a predominantly white area and often times I have acknowledged yes it may be rough but today the reality of that task punched me in my soul.

Look, I went to predominantly white schools in Chicago in the 1970’s and 1980’s which many times were no walk in the park. In fact I learned early on that girls like me often were simply not seen due to the permanent tans we sported. Yet as awkward as school was at times, I went home to a family where we were all various shades of brown and the weekends were spent with various relatives who also were of the darker hue. In some ways now that I am old enough to look back I can see that those times with my family helped fortify me to go back into a world where no one looked like me. I always knew there were spaces and places where I did not stand out.

My eldest was born in Chicago and until the age of 6 was a full time resident of Chicago where he got to know my family and start building deep connections, some that still hold to this day. Despite the fact he left Chicago at 6 only to return 35% of the year until I made the decision to move to Maine. Now at 19 and after having spent a few years in the Midwest, he sees Maine and New England as his home but it seems the foundation that was laid when he was a young lad built stability. My son while he admits it is lonely at times being one of just a handful of people of color at a very white, conservative private college in WI he is secure in his brownness

However it’s mini me, my youngest, my precious girl that I worry about and lately am wondering if it may be time to blow this pop stand. It started with Barbie and Ken several days ago when during play time she told me that white Ken can’t have brown Barbie as his lady love. I brushed it off but today I finally asked her where was this aversion to white Ken being with brown Barbie coming from…after all, her own Mama aka yours truly has her own real life Ken know as father of mini me and he happens to be white.

It seems at the tender age of six, my girl has noticed that there are no other families like ours, yes her bestie is a precious girl with two Papas, one who is not white but overall she sees a world where parents and units only come in one shade…that shade being white. Turns out that makes her sad that we don’t fit in and that she wonders if there something wrong with us. To hear my baby utter those words brought tears to my eyes. I questioned her to make sure no one had said anything to her that put ideas in her head but it seems she is an inquisitive kid who pays attention the world around her.

In an ideal world we could back up and leave but in these tough economic times, that is not possible since most larger cities cost way more cash that we have though we are toying with some ideas though the reality is we are at least eighteen months away from being able to pack up and go. Though we don’t really want to go anyplace else; sure we like the idea of big city living but the reality? Hell no. However we are starting to wonder if a larger city in the area where most of the diversity is might be preferable to our current town.

Funny thing is how often white parents put off talking about race but once again I am reminded that for children of color difference is noticed early on… and when they do while Ken can love Ted, Ken cannot love brown Barbie.

The White Man Can’t Save You

I swear people must think Black women are some of the most pathetic creatures on the planet. Every where I turn I am bombarded with media images that seem to say we are sad and lonely or else we are sex crazed hoes who are thinking with our vaginas and not our brains and thus contributing to the planet’s overpopulation problem. I guess the only happy Black women on the planet are First Lady Michelle Obama and the queen of daytime talk Oprah Winfrey. Actually  there are plenty of happy well adjusted Black women, but if we focused our images on these happy Black women I guess nobody could earn any cash exploiting those of us with fears and insecurities.

The newest self help remedy for college educated Black women is apparently to get a white man. In the last year or so it seems there has been an increase in the number of writers and self help folks suggesting that for the lonely Black woman waiting for her Black knight in shining armor that what she really needs is a White knight in shining armor…frankly its starting to annoy me.

Now I know there are some who may say, wait a damn minute the name of this blog is Black Girl in Maine? A name like that pretty much might be a tip off to the fact that since I live in very white state, there is a good chance that I have a white partner. Yep, I do. I have been married to the resident white man going on 13 years so many might ask how dare I talk shit about Black chicks hooking up with white men. Truth is anyone who has read my blog any length of time knows that I am not a cheerleader for interracial pairings. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband, our kids and my life but the truth is interracial relationships require a lot of work. Frankly all relationships require work but when merging two ethnicities together to create a family, especially when those two groups bring great historical baggage it is not something to do lightly.

I am all for relationships that happen naturally, in my case. I had sworn off white men after a brief marriage in my late teens to a white man that produced my son and one of the most acrimonious divorces ever. Yet God and the universe decided to play a joke on me since I said I was done with white men, my current husband was brought into my life 15 years ago. We were co-workers who often chatted at the water cooler, and the truth is I didn’t see him as anything but a work buddy. In fact when he asked me out on a date, I said hell fucking naw. Only saving grace for the Spousal Unit was the fact my mom said hey why not? So I said, why not?, I didn’t have any plans that weekend besides the man did ask me out in a beautifully written letter (my hubby is a writer) and included a pound of coffee beans. (He knew my passion and vice was good coffee) So I said why not and the rest is history. No, we did not fall head over heels in love but we are both children of the working class and have personalities that are complimentary.

I am sure a few of you are saying well that sounds good, why shouldn’t another sista have that? The fact is despite how good we are together, the nastiest arguments we have ever had to the point of threatening our relationship and our family have almost always centered around issues of race. Early in our relationship, he lost people he had considered friends and while our families have more or less accepted the other it was still an adjustment. It’s often the day to day shit that causes problems. Racism is a fact of life and there are times here in Maine and back in Chicago when I come home after encountering shit and he just can’t get it. There have been times in raising our daughter when things have come up and he had to work very hard to get it.

One of the degrees I hold is in African American studies and there were times many years ago that the deeper I went into my research that it took a lot not to get pissed at the Spousal Unit. I wanted to become a professor of African American studies but for the sake of our family I had to let it go. Maybe I am an asshole but I could not study what I was studying and come home and sleep next to a white man without giving him the side eye.

I just read this piece that gave what I considered rather superficial reasons for dating white men, in many ways white men have far more advantages than Black and other minority men there is no denying that. On the other hand those advantages came at the expense of others. To put it plainly, white men got a head start in this society. Hell, even my husband who hails from working class roots acknowledges that. Our fathers were both blue collar workers yet my father in law thanks to his union supporting him and a few other breaks that white guys get was able to create wealth in the form of real estate whereas my father who at one point was a teamster got jack and was always the last guy hired, first guy to be let go.

It is my opinion that interracial relations can work but they require both partners to have the willingness to get emotionally raggedy when it comes to issues of race and be willing to do the heavy lifting. I have known more than a few white folks who frankly are not willing to acknowledge their own privilege and for the Black partner in those cases they simply must become a white person in Black skin lest they threaten the relationship.

Look, at the end of the day, date whoever you want to date and love who you want to love. But to seek out a specific group because we see them as the cure for all that ails us is well frankly silly. Yes, that white man may not have any baby mamas, a jail record and is gainfully employed but you need to enter such relationships with your eyes wide open.

If I were to give dating/love advice to a single Black woman I would say love yourself, find happiness within you and generally when we are happy things happen.

Honesty and Race..how honest can we be?

Today’s post is inspired by a local buddy of mine, who had a Facebook status update that said “Most white people are too scared of appearing racist to be honest”. I must admit this has stuck with me since reading it and I thought maybe it would make for a good discussion on race. By the way to the friend whose status update inspired this, I hope you don’t mind that I stole your thought as inspiration for this post.

Now I must admit I am of mixed feelings when I think about this because the truth is as a society I don’t think we are mature enough overall to have true dialogues on race. Yet the bigger question is how do we get there? Personally I can say that being part of an interracial marriage for over a decade has inspired many discussions on race. For me there is no way to be married to a white man without discussing race. Is it a stumbling block for us? Yes and no. There are times when we clearly bring who we are to an issue, and have to sometimes agree to disagree. Though many times the Spousal Unit will admit, that in being partnered to me and part of raising biracial kids that he has had to leave the comfort of his white male privilege to really get an issue. I also can say that sometimes I am inspired to put down my own assumptions about whites and understand his perspective.

I think for me when it comes to racial discussions, especially those that occur between whites and blacks in the United States, that too many times the white perspective is seen as right and the black perspective is not viewed as valid. One only has to look around in the blogosphere to see examples of this, hell Beer Gate this summer with the Cambridge cop and Professor Gates showed how differently we view the world. For many whites, Gates was either a pompous ass professor or the victim of unfortunate circumstances, with a fair number of whites not seeing the situation as that big of a deal.

Yet on the Black side, we saw it as a huge deal, just one more example of the systematic bullshit that happens when you are Black in America. If you think I am kidding, ask yourself why a sitting president of the United States felt compelled to speak up? Because while Barack Obama may be the president he has spent enough years as a Black man in America to understand that what happened to Gates is just routine business as usual and all the degrees and money don’t stop you from feeling the weight of oppression and bullshit when you are Black.

I think that by and large honesty is a good thing but I think in order to get honest, whites need to be willing to temporarily relinquish their privilege at least mentally and attempt to have empathy. If that does not happen, then you are not going to have a real discussion.

My viewpoint for me is supported by the fact that personally the best interactions I have with white people tend to be with working class, lower class and blue collar whites. Those that the only privilege they often have is white skin, I could go on and one with anecdotal stories about connecting with whites who initially I am nervous around because they look scary to me, in many cases I admit and its my bias that white men with shaved heads that look like skinheads or bikers scare me. Yet just last night I was out and came across such a man at a local eatery and ended up having a delightful conversation.

I admit that sometimes such folks can be scary but I also think that for some of these folks they are aware they don’t have much privilege aside from white skin and in some cases its easier to make a connection.

For Blacks I have to say if we want to engage in an honest dialogue that we too may need to put aside some of our bias and assumptions when it comes to whites though I admit it can be hard.

Yet I will say that in the quest to be honest with one another, it’s also important to be respectful. Take the age old issue of Black hair, yes my hair is different and its ok if we are friends to ask about it but remember I am a human and that maybe being singled out does not make me feel comfortable.

So while honesty is a possibility and there are plenty of whites and black engaging in honest and real discussions, we need to enter them being thoughtful before they can proceed.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue!

Everything but Black

One of the subjects that I rarely ever write about on this blog is the fact that I am married inter-racially, yes the Spousal Unit is white and I am Black. I think part of the reason is that there are many far more competent bloggers who write on the subject and also that I have been married so long that we are just an old married couple as far as I am concerned. Back when I was young, I sort of got caught up in the whole we are interracial thing and honestly at this point, it just is, sort of like the way I wear my hair naturally specifically I have dreadlocks and its just a part of me. No need to dissect it…it just is.

I also raise my kids so that while they know their Pops is white, the fact is that they will be viewed as Black most likely, back in the summer and fall I wrote at one point about how elder boy who is now 17, refers to himself as an Half-frican. Yeah, that’s what he calls himself and frankly I got no beef with it. He’s old enough to know that white privilege does not extend itself to him just because his Pops is white….sorry, it just doesn’t.

That said and I will admit maybe its because I am suffering from PMS (sorry for revealing that but its my reality and I am old enough that I don’t feel the need to hide it) but it just rubs me the wrong way when I stumble across other Black women many who are partnered to white men who decide to breakdown their racial makeup.

Look, what Black person in America ain’t mixed with something? Shit, we (collective Black Americans) have not been purely Black since we were brought to this country. Otherwise how the fuck do you think we come in so many different shades? Look, we run the gamut from Whoopi Goldberg to Vanessa Williams and everything else.

Yet sometimes I encounter especially online, women of color who many might be called Black, who feel the need to tell you they are 1/4 crawfoot native, 1/8 this, 1/16 that…..look, its cool to know where we come from, in fact I wish I knew more about my own background. But I sometimes think some of these folks do that shit, to deflect from being plain old Black, after all its not exotic enough to just be Black. I know, because when I was a young woman, I did that same shit, claiming native this and that. Yeah, there is some Native American, Cherokee to be specific in my family as well as Mexican but those numbers are so small that really when I thought about it, I realized I was doing it more at that time because I was not proud to be who I am which is a Black America. Thankfully I am over that shit now. Now you ask me what I am, and I am going to tell you, I am Black. Plain and simple.

The other part of this that rubs me wrong is that many of these same folks will marry inter-racially and then have kids and tell you little Jonas is this and that, which may be true but it seems they are trying to avoid calling their kids Black in any way. Yes indeed, I have seen this too. Problem is you see the kid and even though little Jonas may be fair, half the time you can tell little Jonas is not pure white. Nope, you got Mama bringing her color issues to the kid. I’m sorry that is just wrong.

Obviously, I got no beef with interracial pairings, I truly believe love knows no color but at the same time, I think we do our kids and partners a disservice when we lack self love and instead latch onto whiteness because we are uncomfortable with blackness. For too long whiteness was the only standard of what was good and beautiful and times are changing but too many of us have not gotten the memo. Instead we choose to live withoutdated notions instead of changing the standards. I think its one of the reasons so many Black women love Michelle Obama, now that America has a Black first lady and the world stage knows she is a gorgeous we are willing to publicly acknowledge that Black is beautiful, thing is Black has always been beautiful.

Love in Black and White

Being the Internet junkie I am, I spend a lot of time avoiding client work by hanging out on discussion boards and reading blogs. During the past few months, I have started reading more and more blogs by Black women who are interested in or are involved in interracial relationships. Now I enjoy reading them since after all, my very beloved spousal unit happens to be white, even my no longer beloved ex-spousal unit is white. Yet as I like to joke the fact that when I married a second time, I married yet another white man was the universe’s way of telling me don’t ever say never..

See, when the not so beloved ex and I split up, I swore up and  down, I was done with white men and I meant that from the bottom of my heart. In fact to prove my point I immediately hooked up with a Black man in what became a roller coaster of an emotional ride. That relationship was probably the most passionate that I have ever been involved in, the highs were high and the lows were low but in the end, despite giving 250%, the relationship crashed and burned after it was learned that brotha man was not as faithful as I expect my man to be. All I will say is that his Blackness probably saved him from some of the evil shit I have done in the past to white partners that have wronged me. (I used to be a real crazy broad, like I joke I am 1/8 Mexican and handy with a blade, I will cut a motha who wrongs me).

No, I did not run back to white men after getting done wrong by brotha man, but just figured that again if I ever took that long walk down the short aisle it would be with a man who shared my cultural makeup. However fate intervened and the hubster walked into my life and despite my desire for a man of my own hue, meeting a man who shared the qualities and values that I find critical in a mate, I decided to overlook that one pesky trait he lacked and that I desired…a high melanin content.

We have been married 11 years this fall, together 13 years and its been a ride. We love each other, we don’t argue much and considering that he puts up with my perimenopausal ass without much fuss does make him a keeper. Plus any man that can change shitty diapers without being asked gets a gold star.

However race does matter and it matters even more to me as I get older and no, I am not getting rid of him anytime soon. But when I hear sistas clamor to connect with white men because they think they will have better relationships, I must admit a part of me gets sad. Then when I hear sistas bash Black men, I must admit I actually get mad. See having done this marriage thing for a long time now, I know that a man is just a man and yes white boys may initially have a few more advantages over the brothas but at the end of the day, a white man is just a man. They can break your heart in a million pieces just like a Black man and sometime say shit that will hurt you more than anything a Black man can do.

When I see young sistas catagorically reject Black men, it makes me wonder how do they feel about their fathers? Brothers? Uncles? My dad was the first man I loved and my brother the second, so if I were to say all Black men are shit, what would I be saying about my own Pops? Catch my drift?

No, its ok to want to date across the racial spectrum but at the end of the day, I say fall in love with a person for who they are inside, not because you think a certain type of man is better than another. Living in Maine, I see plenty of white women wishing they had a decent man so I know all women are looking for Mister Right.

Yet when we say no to people who look like us, I think that speaks volumes for who we are deep down. Truth is we live in a society that pretty much does not value Black women, its for us to claim our space in this place and value ourselves but if valuing ourselves means tearing down our brothas, I say fuck that shit. Thing is even when you partner with a white man and have his babies, them children will still share your Black DNA and as a sista friend and I were discussing its important that biracial kids know who they are because we live in a world that despite the lip-service we give to embracing diversity as my son can tell you, them kids are considered Black.

So love who you want sistas, just don’t forget where we come from in the process.