I am white. My husband is black. Our daughter is…well…she’s like that great flavor of “World Class Chocolate” at Baskin-Robbins, which is a sweet, delectable combination of white and dark chocolate, blended to perfection. When the grocery store checker, or the dentist, or our insurance salesman, or the shoe store clerk, or one of my college students who sees her picture in my office asks where she gets her curly hair or if she’s “mixed,” I usually reply, “Yes, she’s biracial,” (for I’ve always thought “mixed” to be used only for dogs and cocktails). I answer this question three or four times a day and often wonder if I should just stick a sign on her that reads “Yes, my father is black.”
The journey to my interracial family has been both horrifying and humorous. One thing I’m sure of is that opposition to my modern marriage is nothing like the venom I faced as a dating teenager in rural Oklahoma. I had a few boyfriends (one of them Latino, another Spanish and French), but only the “Black” one resulted in humiliation and, in one instance, physical violence. The townsfolk whispered, some friends abandoned me, and my father disowned me.
When I moved to Mississippi for graduate school and began dating my husband, I expected to find the same kind of rejection. Some of it was still there. We found “For Rent” houses to be suspiciously already rented when we arrived for a tour. Every now and then, someone would tell us to “stick to your own kind,” followed by the obligatory tobacco-spit. But generally speaking, we got by without incident.
When my husband and I finally decided to take the plunge after dating for four years, we eloped. I think deep down we were worried about the “if anyone here can show just cause” part. My father’s side of the family was horrified, my mother’s tolerant, but not overjoyed. When my grandmother showed our wedding photo to a family member, they asked, “What nationality is he?” Perhaps they were hoping she would respond with the more exotic-sounding “Nigerian” or “Haitian.” Nope. Just plain ol’ African-American.
When my husband and I moved to Missouri, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We live in a suburb of Kansas City, and while I have the great fortune to work among some very warm, open-minded colleagues, my experiences in middle-America suburbia have not always been positive. I’ve become keenly aware that as a white person, other white people feel perfectly comfortable revealing their prejudices to me, unaware of my family situation. Not long ago, a new neighbor moved in across the street. My husband was away, and, being the good neighbor I am, I went to greet him.
As we talked, I asked what prompted his move to our neighborhood. “Well,” he replied, “there just got to be too many blacks on our block and we figured it was time to get out.”
My reply? “Well, er, um….how ‘bout those Chiefs!”
My silence, however, made “the reveal” that much sweeter. Imagine the look of astonishment on my neighbor’s face the next day when my husband and I drove by, smiling and waving. The rebellious side of me was thinking about that sweet revenge, but the Oklahoma teenager in me was afraid of the fallout.
Fortunately, the only fallout was in the form of an awkward apology to me (not my husband) from that neighbor. In fact, he’s become somewhat of a friend and we’ve managed to bridge whatever gaps he thought existed in his old neighborhood. But I can’t offer the same happy ending when it comes to my family. My marriage and the subsequent birth of my daughter solidified my father’s “disownership” of me.
All of this is not to whine about the opposition I’ve faced for marrying the person I married. It’s nothing compared to the discrimination racial minorities face everyday in America. But when my white students, for example, joyously remark that “racism is a thing of the past,” I ask them to consider how their own parents would react if they brought home a black person to marry. A flash of awareness comes across their faces…and I already know their answer.