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.

Swirling and it’s not just for ice cream anymore…a review


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.

White Ken cannot love Brown Barbie but he does dig on Ted!

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.