Thursday, September 03, 2009

Equally Yoked, Part 2

We lived at 3939-C Montague Street at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, when I was in fifth grade in 1969. Another black family, the Davises, lived next door at 3939-D, and for a few months their household included Sgt. and Mrs. Davis’s four-year-old granddaughter. She was the first person to say to me with resignation, “You’ll probably marry a white woman.” The second person was my black girlfriend when I was a teenager.

Popular opinion on interracial relationships has certainly shifted in the past few decades since 1967, when the federal Loving case struck down state laws against interracial marriage. Still there is no universal consensus; in fact everyone seems to have an opinion about the issue.

In the late 1970s at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, whenever my friends and I discussed interracial marriage, the most common comment was, “I think it’s okay except for one thing: what about the children?” The concern always amused me. My thinking was that (and I hope my biracial friends will set me straight), while biracial children would certainly have an upbringing different from other people, it is not likely that it would be more difficult than the experience of most black people.
Before Laura, I had only two “official” girlfriends—one black and one white. And, while in 18 years of single adulthood I had dated only black or white women, my “interests” came in many hues and ethnicities. That’s why the question of why some black men “prefer” white women always seemed strange to me.

In 1992, when Laura and I were dating, Ebony Man magazine published the article, “Interracial Dating: What Black Men Say About It.” They didn’t ask me, but I responded with this letter to the editor, dated March 24, 1992:
“Dear EM,
I was glad to see that someone is finally asking black men about interracial relationships. But if you had asked this black man, you would have gotten an answer that was not covered in your article. I am involved with a white woman because I love that woman. I did not search for a white woman. I did not
choose white WOMEN over black WOMEN. I chose this woman over all other women of any race. My involvement with this woman does not diminish my love and respect for my black mother, my black grandmothers or black sisters everywhere. The woman I love is strong, has come through hard times, is loving and selfless—just like my mother.
At the same time that you say Ebony Man does not endorse or condemn the choices black men make in women, you state that black men should “hurry home.” You are missing the point of relationships. I do not choose a mate to make a political statement. My home is with a woman I can love and who loves me. My home is with a woman whom I can love for a lifetime. There are women of every race who might fit that description. The woman in my life is white—not because I prefer white women but because I prefer THIS woman.
I am proud to be a black man. But if building up black people means that I cannot love people of other races, then I’ll settle for just building up the human race. And I won’t be counting on Ebony Man or popular opinion to tell me whom I should love.
So thanks for running the article; but as far as my interracial relationship is concerned, Ebony Man, like most everyone in the media, has missed the point.”
Years later in 2005 I expressed similar sentiments in a blog post, saying,
"Let me make clear that Laura and I did not marry to make a point. It was (and is) pure love, but it was a hard-fought decision, trying to anticipate possible problems for us and our children. In the end, hard-fought (not mushy) love won out. The hard-fighting hasn’t ended, though I think we’d both say it is mostly internal, along the lines of the theological tension mentioned above. The love of God and one another, and the shared mission to follow Jesus have sustained us."
A commenter graciously replied with a series of provocative questions. The beginning of his comment:
    “Grace2U, and Peace.
    You obviously made a decision, and I assume that you grew up during the 60's, that you had some wrestlings with. I do have a question or two, though, and I hope that you don't mind...

    I grew up in Gary, IN AKA Choklit City. My wife grew up in Pomona, CA and Leavenworth, KS. We are both African Americans. Because of the complex issues relating to romantic relationships between blacks and whites, particularly the issue of the desirability of white women, I have always said that I would not disrespect a sista by rejecting her for a white woman.
    My wife was formerly married to a black man who left her and her (at that time) 1 year old for a white woman. As you can well imagine, she views mixed race relationships somewhat differently than you and your wife do.
    I believe you when you say that you married her out of love, but was there ever an element of “I married up” for you?”
When I read the comment to Laura, she laughed out loud. If we’re going to take seriously all of those ridiculous on-paper measures (race, income, education, family of origin, life experiences) of “marrying up” or “marrying down,” Laura’s assessment is that I got the short end of the stick. She does suffer from runaway humility, but the commenter’s question demonstrates why we have no business looking from the outside at someone else’s relationship and trying to determine how it happened or what it means.

Like I said: everyone has an opinion. Only a few weeks ago, Laura was having one of her regular breakfasts with Miss Emma, a seventy-something white woman. A mixed-race couple walked into the restaurant. Miss Emma leaned over and said sweetly to Laura, “I don’t know how you feel about this, Dear, I just don’t think that, you know, that people should mix like that.” Laura leaned over and whispered just as sweetly, “Miss Emma, I don’t have a problem with it. I’m married to a black man.”

1 comment:

Gean Bell said...

I...LOVE...this. And you. Thanks for sharing!!!