It may be 2016, but marriages like mine are still under attack
Racist acts and discussions of racism are often in the news, and every time it happens, countless people flock to express just how genuinely flabbergasted they are by the overt racism. “This is 2016!” they say. “How is this still happening?”
To the genuinely flabbergasted, welcome to my life. One in which I experience racism: for the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, because I choose to speak out about racism and because I am in an interracial relationship.
I am a black woman, and my husband is a white man. Historically (until the Loving v. Virginia decision in 1967), our marriage would have been illegal. Then, even after it was legalized, it was viewed as "just not right" (not unlike gay marriage is today). And though now interracial marriage is legal, the negative opinions still persist, and often spill over into racist words and actions.
The offenses range from obviously racist to more covert. I’ve had someone ask my husband, Brad, if his parents have an issue with our relationship because I’m black.
I’ve had someone tell me our children, if we ever have them, will be mistakes, because all biracial people are. These are as obviously racist as a KKK membership card, but the more undercover things are every bit as damaging.
One particular act of covert racism happens whenever we go out to eat at a restaurant. We have both (independently) realized that people think we aren’t together, and assume our checks are separate. When I’ve been out with my sister, my brother, my parents or any combination of my family members, this has literally never happened — they always just bring one check without asking or assuming any different. But of course, my family members and I are all the same color, so they assume we are together. However, when it’s a party of two, just my husband and me, they assume we are not.
I'm not alone in this. A few years ago, a white man in Virginia was suspected of kidnapping because the security thought he and his biracial daughters "did not match." It took the police following him alone, meeting his black wife of 10 years, and viewing their marriage certificates for them to recognize that they absolutely matched.
It seems that though interracial marriages are more approved of than they have ever been in history, people still do not readily recognize them. Or worse yet, there are the racists waiting to troll, like the trolls on Twitter proclaiming that Old Navy “hates white babies,” because the company shared an advertisement featuring an interracial couple and their child. Mimicking the Old Navy trolls, more racists showed themselves and their hateful views when Macy’s released its own advertisement featuring an interracial bride and groom. The negative responses to something as simple as love range from not recognizing it to folks calling it "bestiality" because they do not count black women as people.
Some of us are always thinking about racial inequality, either because we are victims of individual and systemic racism, or are close with those who are. I have recognized that because I routinely experience racism, I am not surprised when it rears its ugly head, manifesting in such a way that many seem to think died with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This familiarity I have with racism does not mean that I see it in places that it isn’t, but rather, it makes it so that racism is always a lingering question in the back of my mind. Did the store associate ignore me and rush past me to the other (white) customers because I’m black? When I go out to eat with Brad and his family, are the people that stare at us with confusion wondering, “Why is that black woman with that family?”
To their credit, Brad’s family has never made me feel like the odd one out in any way. However, when we went to his grandmother’s funeral last year in a small, rural North Carolina town, for the first time in our entire relationship, I felt awkward. I felt uncomfortable. I was the only black person to attend the event who did not work on the grounds or nearby, and I wondered if people stared because I was unfamiliar, or because I was black.
I wondered if they were silently questioning why I was there. Fortunately, my interactions with people were mostly fine, save a great-uncle (or someone) related to Brad who had an entire conversation with “us” but did not look at or directly speak to me, despite the continuous insistence of Brad to keep referring to me when he answered (bless him).
When the racism is probable but cannot be objectively found, as in the aforementioned experiences, the fact that I cannot be sure why I am being treated in a certain way is as uncomfortable as the overt words and actions.
Consider that if you find racism genuinely surprising, that you are fortunate enough to not have it touch your life every day. And consider that racism continues to thrive in part because it does not touch everyone — and because those it doesn’t touch seemingly forget about the real-life effects racism has on real people until the next viral sensation.