Monday, October 6, 2008

The Times That Haven't Changed

I recently had a long conversation with a friend about relationships, specifically interracial ones. This friend is a young white man who’s in a long-term relationship with a woman of color. They’re bizarrely compatible, totally in love, and now planning to get married. Suddenly, a flock of doubters have emerged out of the woodwork – his family and friends, advising him against taking this particular plunge.

It continues to surprise me that in this time and place it is still so hard for some people to accept interracial marriages. My parents have spoken about various encounters they had in the 1970s, when their relationship began. Back then, it was still unusual to see a black man and a white woman walking hand in hand. Somehow, I had come to believe that times had changed.

My friend said his family claimed to be worried about the struggles he, his wife and their (hypothetical) biracial children might face in the future. They thought he was setting himself up for an unnecessarily difficult life. Devastated by their lack of support, my friend called me, looking for me to tell him that it would all be okay. He asked if I thought his engagement was a bad idea, and if I felt my life had been made more difficult because I am biracial.

It hurts me a little that these questions have to be asked, though I understand why they are. I answered in the only way I could. Being biracial has certainly affected me and shaped my life into what it is today. It’s impossible to list the ways it has made me different, because I’ve never experienced the world from within any other skin. But I don’t believe that any of those differences are bad, or something to be avoided.

Every relationship has challenges. This we know for sure. So why are the challenges faced by interracial couples perceived to be worse than those of any other couple? Why are they perceived to be avoidable? What is the supposed solution: just marry someone else? It is hard enough to find one person to love and be loved by.

I hope that as a society, someday we will be able to value each other’s happiness over our own fears, and to affirm love, in whatever form it may come, over prejudice.

What would you have said, if a friend called you with these questions?


sally said...

Being in an interracial relationship myself, I know that these issues are still very real. Frankly, I'm almost surprised that it hasn't been an issue for your friend before now.

Really, I just tell people to drop it. I've gotten increasingly tired of trying to talk to people who aren't open-minded or who just don't respect my decision & judgment. If it's my family, I tell them that I appreciate their concern, but it isn't going to change my mind. I'm aware of what problems might arise and when the cultural differences might come up, and I don't need another problem on top of it.

That's not a very happy response, I know, but there's really little you can do to change that perception other than prove them wrong.

Daisy Deadhead said...

Back in the day, whenever famous people got married (notably, Prince Charles and Diana) my ex used to say: "But what about the children? Should they have children?"--his way of reminding people that we never ask this question about anyone else's marriage, even when we should.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that an easy answer to any concerns that a bi-racial child might face overwhelming problems from society is to point out that the likely next President of the US is bi-racial. That's a little hard to top, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

To the family I guess I'd say it's their exact attitude that makes life harder for the couple in question.

And hell, nobody's life is easy.
I'm biracial too, and I guess it hasn't made my life easier exactly. But there are certainly other things that have played a greater role in making it harder.

And aside from that: the only way to ever fully get over racism is to race mix until nobody knows what's what anymore. So go ahead, by all means.

Pauline Karakat said...

Recently, one of my oldest friends married the perfect guy for her. She just happens to be Nigerian, and he is Italian American. She never needed my advice about her relationship, but I have told her that I fully support them, because they are completely right for each other.

People should not give up on each other just because of race. If there is a real and abiding love between two people, it should be enough to build on. In terms of race relations, it will also continue to help chip away at the racial barriers that are deeply rooted in many people's minds.

Family disapproval is a tricky situation, but if the bond between an interracial couple is strong enough, then there is always hope that some (if not all) of the family members on both sides will eventually accept the relationship. Those who won't get over it are probably not the type of people you want in your life anyway.

Ol Cranky said...

When I was in college (back in the 80's) I was surprised and very disappointed when my roommate's mother vocalized her discomfort any time she saw an inter-racial couple. I never understood how someone so loving and supportive could be so small-minded about something like that - I expected it only from people who were overly racist.

I'm even more shocked that non-racist people assume children of an inter-racial couple will somehow be adversely affected by being bi-racial. Not only are there so many mixed families these day but there is also an abundance of families that adopt and have children that are a completely different race (mostly Asian) than the parents. In short it's commonplace and shouldn't be any concern.

Kekla Magoon said...

Yes, I suspect what really bothers me about this situation was that these "concerned" comments were coming from people who I thought were more open minded. Why, after several years, is this relationship only now an issue for my friend's family? They're basically saying to him that "interracial dating is a nice place to visit, but ya wouldn't want to live there..."

I find this attitude retroactively hurtful. I've known this family for a long time, and I've never had any sense that they might have been judging me on this basis. I can deal with overt racism. I can also deal with honest questions from curious and open-minded people. This seems more insidious somehow. said...

It boggles my mind that these sorts of issues still come up, yet of course I know they do. I'm also biracial and my parents have also shared stories from the years the dated and when they eventually married in the 1970s. But, you know, I don't think it ever occurred to them not to date because they were an interracial couple. And I personally believe that one shouldn't give in to that kind of societal, or even familial, pressure. You should be with whomever you love regardless or race, sex or creed.

When I was still a baby, my parents took me on a road trip across the country. My mother was terrified when they stopped for the night in a rural RV campsite in Mississippi -- a white man, a black woman and a little mixed baby surrounded by a campsite full of white southerners. She was sure they were going to be lynched. But my father dragged her out of the camper that evening and they went for a walk. Contrary to her fears, everyone was friendly and waved hello, everyone was polite, and though a few people stared after them curiously, no one gave them a hard time or seemed upset by their presence.

Maybe my parents were just lucky, but I often think about this story when I'm thinking about prejudice. Because it works two ways. There's real prejudice, which is still very much an issue (and not something I'm trying to downplay in the least), and then there's the prejudices we build up in our heads when we assume people will discriminate and don't give them a chance to prove otherwise. I think that by not marrying someone you love because of the potential for discrimination, you're in essence discriminating against yourself.

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