A few weeks ago I attended a wedding. My fiancé was a bridesmaid and sat at the head table for dinner. This placed me in general population, with a group of people I had never met. The bride and groom were both Caucasian, as were 99% of the people in attendance. I sat at a table with an elderly white couple, their middle aged daughter, let’s call her Karen and high school age child, let’s call her Christina. We exchanged pleasantries, talked about our backgrounds, colleges and occupations. Normal small talk. Nothing occurred during the conversation giving me cause to pause. We listened to best man and maid of honor speeches, commented on the meal and analyzed the first dance. At the conclusion of dinner, my fiancé came over and informed me she knew this family. She took a seat at the table and said hello to Christina. Having nothing to add to the conversation, I excused myself to get us drinks. A few minutes later I returned and heard a not so uncommon story when we spoke again. Christina confided in my fiancé, she has a boyfriend, he's black, and her family would kill her if they found out about the relationship.
When my fiancé filled me in, my immediate reaction was to smile. This occurred for two reasons. One, that sentiment is so common, much more common than people would feel comfortable admitting. And two, I have been that black boyfriend.
My fiancé and I met in college, like all couples who become veterans together, we had to endure a lot to make it this far, as is the case for most people in any long term relationship. Finding a partner, and building a bond that lasts a lifetime is difficult enough on its own. Compounding that with the stress of being with someone of a different race, and you turn into a tightrope walker in a hurricane. Ok maybe not that serious.
When we met I was a junior, a Cleveland kid, raised in the inner city, she was a sophomore, born and raised in a rural town near Columbus, fields and cattle kind of place. We met through a mutual friend one cold winter night, when she appeared in a dorm I was hanging out in. You know those love stories that go like, “I saw her walking toward me, the sun caressing her skin, the wind blowing her hair, dressed like a goddess, the perfect balance of beauty, style and grace.” Yeah this isn’t one of them. We sat around, sweatpants and slides, watching Jersey Shore or some ish like that. We barely talked that night, maybe a few words outside of the normal pleasantries as we’re both pretty shy. There was nothing special about our first encounter, but as time went on there was just something about this girl. I couldn’t get her out of my head. We ended up exchanging phone numbers just before the start of winter break. Shortly after Christmas, we exchanged text messages which I guess counts as our first conversations. When classes resumed, we began to spend time together, a lot of time. Before class, after class, nights and weekends, lunches and dinners, within a few weeks we were pretty much inseparable. As the days went by our feelings intensified and things started to get more serious. But, before I knew it, the semester ended and our first test was upon us. Distance. I went home to Cleveland, she went back to Johnstown. 150 miles away and as I would soon learn, the distance wasn’t just physical.
We didn’t stop thinking about each other just because school was out. As time went by, the wheels started turning in my head, what is my next move? How do I want to play this? I really like her, our time together is amazing, we can literally sit around doing nothing and have an amazing time. That’s special….right? I’ve gotta make a move. Never one to act on a whim, I talked through my feelings with her best friend. I told her my plan. I would drive down to Columbus, we’d spend some time together, and then I would pop the question. She told me she thought it was a solid plan, I should definitely do it, and report back to let her know how it went. She was nearly as excited as I was.
The weekend rolled around and I made my way to Columbus. We spent some time catching up, walked around the mall and just enjoyed being in each others company. We had a meal and a great conversation over dinner. After dinner, on our way to our cars, the voice in my head started getting antsy, “it’s time” so I breathed in deep as we strolled along the sidewalk, working up the courage to ask the big question. “Will you be my girlfriend?” I muttered through my manufactured smile. My brain went on autopilot. See one thing about me, I am risk averse. I’m not that guy pulling up from Steph Curry range hoping his long shot pays off. I don’t take risks. I take assurance. I knew the answer to the question before I even asked it. Or so I thought. She paused….fellas know it’s never good anytime a girl pauses. A strange look washed over her face, “wait a minute…is she about to? No way” was all I could think. Finally she spoke…"no." No? No? Seriously? How is this possible? But what about the 18 straight hours we spent in my dorm room talking, laughing and watching movies? What about the nights out with friends and the time we spent hanging out when I should’ve been studying? You can’t say no, you already said yes…well you did in my head at least. I was the walking embodiment of the Mr. Krabs meme. Dazed, confused and embarrassed I did what any immature young college kid would do. Get pissed. I angrily spoke my piece, hopped in my car and hightailed it back to Cleveland. How did this happen? I questioned. There is no way I misinterpreted all the signs, what could’ve made her say no? I text her best friend, “she turned me down”. Mortified and clutching her pearls (I assume) she responded “I’m so sorry." Yeah, you and me both I thought. Soon after my phone rang. Guess who. I didn’t want to answer, I was still reeling from the Mike Tyson in his prime blow my pride took, but it’s a 2 ½ hour ride, I had nothing else to do.
Sobbing, she tried to explain herself to me. She didn’t want to say no, I hadn’t misinterpreted all the time we spent together. But she couldn’t say yes. Why? It seems pretty straightforward to me, you meet someone, you spend some time with them, you like them, they like you, boom…simple. Except when you’re white and he’s black. Then you just might have a problem on your hands. See I went to college in 2007, really the boom of the Facebook era. And when you start going to parties, and games, and meals with a black guy, and you post pictures from parties, games, and meals with a black guy on Facebook, word gets around and mommy and daddy more often than not will not like what they see.
And so it had been decreed, bringing home a black boyfriend is an offense punishable by expulsion from the clan. Do you realize how dumb that sounds? But sadly it is a very common reaction. Back against the wall, she did what she thought she had to do. I had never encountered this type of racism in my life. I didn't know how to feel. People really think like this? How could you feel this way about someone you’ve never even met? What could cause this reaction? These were all questions I contemplated.
News reached home in Cleveland and it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows on my end either. There was murmuring from various family members. I didn’t have to deal with catching it from my parents, both having deep roots in the church and being strong believers in the love of Christ, it would be hypocritical of them. But the challenges with black people more often than not comes from the older family members. The ones who lived through segregation, Jim Crow and “separate but equal." My grandfather and I had countless conversations around raising an interracial child, and the difficulties being mixed would present.
In my daytime job, I’m an auditor. If you are not familiar with this field, we examine whether people are conducting their duties within the guidelines…that’s the simple version. When we conduct an audit, and find a problem, we want to assess root cause, because if you do not assess the root cause, you can never truly solve the problem.
So if we were to “audit” the reasons for negative reactions to interracial dating we find the root is - Racism, birthed out of slavery. A book I’ve been reading – Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome addresses this root cause. Sidebar – if you have not read this book PLEASE check it out, it’s illuminating, and one of the best books I’ve ever read. In it, author Dr. Joy DeGruy explains, the belief of whites being superior was first permeated by Carl Von Linnaeus, a biological scientist in the 18th century. Linnaeus was one of, if not the prominent scientist of the 1600’s. You may have heard of him before, he created the taxonomic system used to classify life. You know kingdom, phylum, class, order etc. An example - panthers and tigers are felines, felines are mammals, that system of classification. The system was very helpful, as it helped establish order for things found in nature. Except when he took it too far. Dr. DeGruy explains, his classification system was built wholly on physical characteristics. Basically he would observe, and based solely on what he saw, he would assign characteristics and class. See Linnaeus didn’t stop with animals and trees, he took his views to humans. He saw blacks, and assessed them as overaggressive, lazy, unlearned and incapable. And whites as blue eyed, gentle and governed by laws. Based upon exactly ZERO facts, blacks became less than whites. No science. Just observation. As mentioned earlier, this was a highly respected biologist, and people took his word as the God breathed gospel. Linnaeus factually untrue OPINION laid the foundation for “scientist” who would follow, and build upon is beliefs. Fast forward to the formation of the constitution and you have America’s founding fathers saying things like, “blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments of body and mind,” that quote is from good ol’ Thomas Jefferson. Joining in you also had James Madison, who played a huge part in constructing the Constitution, labeling slaves as three-fifths of a man. Why three-fifths? The south wanted credit for slaves because it increased their population and gave them a bigger influence in terms of representatives. You know the rest, 200 plus years of slavery followed by Jim Crow, black codes, “convict” leasing, countless black men lynched for looking, or allegedly looking at a white woman among other things. Additionally, interracial marriage was made illegal, regardless of the fact hundreds of thousands of interracial children were birthed through rape during the slavery era. Racism was concretized.
Now, I am not saying that my fiancé's parents agreed with this line of thinking. I also do not think they were racists. But, here is a fact. I believe their views, and the views of many others in similar positions are a product of bad information, factually untrue information that is rooted in the line of thinking articulated by men like Jefferson and Madison. Beliefs based on hearsay, and stereotypes pushed by the mainstream media, soaked in fear of what others might think or say. In other words, reaching a conclusion on a race of people using zero facts, like Linnaeus.
Bringing it back to dating, a black man in this position, who has his image misconstrued by stereotypes wants you to do one thing. Take a chance. Get to actually know someone before you judge them, investigate for yourself. Listen, learn, don't take the garbage handed out by the media and use that as your lens to view people. Because when you do buy into the stereotypes that leads to fear, that fear then turns into anger if your child brings home someone of another race because you've spent too much time listening to the news. How many kids have had to put ridiculous bias ahead of love? Is that the way anyone should decide who they will and wont be with?
In my personal situation, I've developed a great relationship with both of her parents. It didn't happen overnight, it took time to build rapport. But the important thing I want to note is this relationship was able to grow because they were willing to do what many others are afraid of, give it a chance. They got to know me as a person and peeled off that unearned label. Today, we watch games together, eat together, go to events together. Her father is a great man, one that I have immense respect for. Her mother a great woman, the type of person that if she cares about you, she will go to war for you no matter what. I have a bond with these people, because they were willing to listen, and give it a chance.
My advice to anyone who may find themselves in this situation is don't give in to fear. Not your own, not your parents, or anyone else around you. If someone truly loves you, and truly cares about you, they will not put their own fears before your joy and happiness. A person who lives a life influenced by fear does not live at all. Don't listen to the people are screaming “traitor!” on both sides. Don't put up with people telling you how being with “Becky” means you think black women aren't good enough. If people think they can play God, know your heart, and tell you exactly who you should be with and how they should look, tell them you have a bridge you would like to sell them.
At the end of the day it does not matter if you are black, white, or any other color, love is love. As the Bible says, love is patient, love is kind, love is not easily angered. Let’s not judge, let’s not tear each other down. Let’s accept that forever does not have to be with someone of the same race.
#LearnTogether #GrowTogether #BuildTogether