With Valentine’s Day right around the corner and in honor of Black History month I thought I would share some things we have learned about love + race over our 20 year marriage.
In her book, Marriage Across the Color Line, Cloyte Larsson stated that “Interracial marriage is one of the most provocative words in the English language.” Her quote made me curious particularly because of her use of the word provocative. The word provocative means “causing annoyance, anger, or another strong reaction, especially deliberately.” Wow! Could this be true that my marriage produces anger and annoyance to those around us? This lead me to do research and pray.
Today, more than 11 million Americans are married outside their racial box, and yet somehow our nation stands more divided than ever. For those of us in multiracial families, we wonder how we manage to navigate our complex world that seems more and more divided everyday.
Scripture says we are image bearers of the creator. I wholeheartedly believe that our culture prefers to put people, families, and marriages in boxes rather than see we are uniquely created for a purpose. In her study, But will it Last, Jennifer Batter indicated that contrary to same race marriages “Black wife/White husband marriages are 44% less likely to end in divorce than White wife/White husband couples over 10 year period.” This got me thinking about provocative marriages like mine that are resilient. I would like to think that our resilience is embedded in deep love and facing adversity in a world that often doesn’t honor you as a couple or family. That kind of life experience seals you together.
Conversations with my Husband
So let's get it all on the table. Heath and I don’t always agree on matters of race, culture and the current state of the world. What we do agree on is that we love each other deeply and it's that love that leads us to understand we will stand in the gap for each other.
With that shift came some real tough moments for mi blanco (my white boy) and I. Over the course of our 20-year marriage we have faced many racially motivated challenges. What we can both agree on is that micro aggressions were (and are) everywhere. From being given separate checks at restaurants while on a date, to people in the community thanking my husband for “working with needy youth” while he was having lunch with our son (who is bi-racial), we knew that many parts of the world, especially in the southern region of America, didn’t necessarily see us or fully accept us as ‘family.’
Typically, Heath is the one who can pick up on microaggressions long before I even see them. At his request, he and I have left many a restaurant where he believed we were treated poorly because of being together. In the same way, I will not tolerate anyone making blanket statements of how “ALL” white men navigate this world. Why? because it's not my experience with the man who protects and cares for me every day. I believe that if we really want to get to a space in our culture where all people matter, here we must learn to love all people.
What the current American culture has sparked for us is that we are now more intentional about conversations regarding race, our family and how we raise an interracial child to navigate this complex world. For the record, my husband and I do not embrace a colorblind philosophy. Living in a world where color and race are part of my everyday life I can tell you that a colorblind approach is a form of racism in itself. To us, there is no melting pot. “The melting pot concept is most commonly used to describe the assimilation of immigrants to the United States, though can be used in any context where a new culture comes to co-exist with another.”
Our experience is that there are beautiful people from all walks of life with different lenses on what ethnicity, culture and race mean to them. We should embrace that and look to understand. In our home, everyone’s opinion matters and has influence. Do we always agree on race issues? No. We weren't created to see eye to eye but to learn from each other and define life for us that welcomes open dialogue. We’ve come to learn that it's ok to give each other grace when it comes to tough conversations.
In our 20 years of marriage, we have learned the following valuable lessons about our multiracial experiences:
1. Remember who you are- We were all created with a purpose. Ours is to teach our son to love all of God’s creation, turn the other cheek and embrace people who don’t look like you. Heath is Caucasian, and he navigates this world with that lens. He also sees the world from the lens I have introduced him too (he has done the same for me). We have developed together. I have learned so much about his family and how they see the world. He has learned that my people love hard and have their own real issues with race and colorism. We have not tried to change the other. Why? Because that is not realistic. We love each other as we were made. Him White, and me Afro-Latina.
2. Parenting in today's race-fueled culture sucks- The first time our son was called a nigger it grieved us. We were more grieved because the child who did it was 4 years old. Let that sink in for a moment...4 years old. The world will never change if all we do is pour fear and ignorance into our children rather than love. Additionally, we grieved because we were ill prepared to have a conversation with our son about what that awful word meant.
3. We aren’t the example for all multiracial families- Our experience is our own. We get that. We also know families like ours have had similar experiences and yet many others that have various other life experiences.
4. Our love runs deep period. 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." That's how we navigate our interracial marriage, with love above all things. We hope our son feels that and will pass it along as he grows into manhood.
5. Hold on tight to who God says we are - I am an image bearer. No matter what culture tries to push on me, my marriage, or our family, we are created to love and stand confidently knowing we were created by our savior for such a time as this.
Tampa has been a game changer. I remember the first time we went out to dinner at Burger 21, a local burger joint, we sat there in awe. I think we even had a tear or two. A room full of all kinds of families, some that looked just like ours and others that did not. We were seen as a family and that has made all the difference. In this space, we felt welcomed and we knew we were home.