This weekend I went to a family wedding.  I was thrilled to see my niece, who I have known since she was a little girl, walk down the aisle. Watching the father-daughter dance brought tears to my eyes.  The music was great and people got their drink on with great gusto.  All in all, it was a day to be remembered.  This sounds like a typical wedding, doesn’t it? We all know the clichés.

My partner and I have been together for more than 20 years now.  Through ups and downs, we keep on fighting.  One of our most constant negotiations is race, because I am black and he is white.  I knew before we even arrived at the church that I would be spending the entire day without seeing another person of color.  I knew at the end of the night no one would be stumbling around slightly tipsy on the dance floor barefoot doing the electric slide. The best I could hope for was that they would have the good sense to avoid the Macarena or that hideous chicken dance.  Those are two things you don’t see at black weddings.

For the most part, his family and I get along well, but that does not mean being surrounded by them doesn’t leave me with a strong sense of dysphoria.  Well intentioned comments and carefully chosen words make up a large part of our speech patterns to avoid dealing with the elephant in the room. No matter how progressive they believe themselves to be, I am essentially the square peg in the round hole.  The very absence of any other person even remotely considered raced speaks volumes about their regular interactions outside of those with me.

At weddings, we invite family and our nearest and dearest friends.  With the cost of the modern-day wedding, it causes us to prioritize who we deem important in our lives. Even as some might refer to that co-worker of color with whom they occasionally have coffee as a friend, when it comes to shelling out more than $100 a plate, suddenly that friend’s appearance at a wedding is decidedly not important. Friendship is a word  bandied about far too easily, and it is only during life’s major moments where we can see who we truly value.

I know the dysphoria I felt at my wedding was mine and this was not something many of the guests would acknowledge, even to themselves.  My body represented change and an inclusiveness I didn’t even remotely feel, despite the exchanged kisses, hugs, and well wishes.  When you marry outside of your race, you’re not only getting your white partner, you’re getting you’re white partner’s family and all that it entails. The family events, which for the most part should be race-neutral gatherings, shift to those fraught with problems a lot deeper than who isn’t speaking to whom.

Despite how far we have supposedly come, the truth of the matter is that most of us lead highly segregated lives. If you doubt that, do a church tour one Sunday morning where you will discover that despite worshiping the same God, whites and blacks do not share the same pew on a regular basis.  While it would be wrong to purposefully seek out people based in race, the absolute absence of those who are raced, or the token inclusion of one person, speaks volumes.

It’s hard enough to be the only black person in an all-white workplace, and that is why the spaces which we occupy in our free time need to be as safe as possible.  It is highly likely that while your partner may be racially conscious, your partner’s family is not, leading to moments of extreme tension where you must choose between defending your dignity and keeping peace.  It means going to a family event and looking around to see not a single face that looks like yours.  It means always being on your guard, where you should be relaxing and having a good time, and this is especially true at events where alcohol is served.

There will never be a position of a representational person of color, but that does not mean that whiteness will not seek to make you that, even as they claim you as friend and family.  You become proof they are progressive and inclusive, that any negative behavior does not reflect upon them, but the entire race to which you belong.  There is no room to act the fool — even for a moment.

Interracial relationships are difficult, and, believe me, I speak from experience.  Most of the pressure comes from the outside, and though it may be well-intentioned, that does not mean it does not hurt. I wouldn’t trade my partner for the world, but I do believe that with all of this recent encouragement for black women to seek out white spouses, we should be having honest conversations about what this will mean in our lives and the circumstances we face.  When you marry inter-racially, you are never just the daughter-in-law or the sister-in-law; you are the black person who married into the family, and that won’t always be a comfortable position to be in, even at happy events like a wedding.

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  • Sisou

    I’m now in the fifth interracial relationship with a White men and I got to say some of posters lived in a land of endless rainbows and unicorns.

    Author is being honest about Common issues in interracial dating/marriage. If you have not experience this great you are the exceptations.

    But I would bet from experience some of you ignoring the signs of trouble. I have never once been with a White man who didn’t have some racist family members. Sometimes they hide it for a long time but It always come out.

    The author probably has a great long marriage because she is culturally aware. How many of you judging her been in your relationships for twenty years?

    As the author stated we really need more discussion around interracial dating. I found there are many people who jump in not knowing the struggles. Also, too many people in these relationship shield themselves from racial tensions in order to keep the peace and fit in.

  • KMO

    Although my situation is different on a number of levels… I can empathize. My husband is Japanese and I am an American of Dutch ancestry. We live in Tokyo together.

    As far as our families go, we have never had a problem. My family has never mentioned his race or nationality in a negative way, and his family adores me (and I them!).

    But Japan is an incredibly homogenous society. I live in a ward of Tokyo with roughly 50,000 people and still I only see someone who is visibly foreign (i.e. not Asian) once every couple of days.

    We have been together for over 7 years, although married for less than a year. Although no one in his family has said (to my knowledge anyway) anything negative about me or our relationship, its almost like I am treated as a commodity… an alien, even. When we moved back to Tokyo from the States, he got a flood of emails and letters from his family and old friends asking if they could come and ‘have a look at’ his new gaijin (foreign/outsider) wife. Every time I met someone new they went on a tangent (however well-meaning) about what features they hoped ‘his’ children would inherit from me. Telling me all of the American habits I shouldn’t pass on to ‘his’ children (speaking loudly, overeating – which is ironic considering I’m not overweight). Even going as far as his aunt trying to tell me the proper way to bathe his children (in JP most families bathe WITH their kids until 5 or 6 years old, its a cultural thing). This tidbit kind of put me over the edge. I don’t have any issue with family bathing, but I don’t plan on doing it as it’s not part of my culture, and I don’t particularly like baths. She went on to say that because westerners don’t bathe with their children, they must not bond with them properly and that that MUST be why we’re so obese, cruel, rude, etc. etc… I know she wasn’t purposely being offensive, but I had to call bullshit cause frankly, anybody who has ever lived in Japan can see that their family structure is very formal, even cold at times. They don’t hug one another or tell each other that they love them. They rarely talk about feelings or emotions beyond what they want for dinner. I just couldn’t help myself. I went off on her (politely, though). I explained that yes, when we have kids they will be half Japanese… but they’ll also be half American, and I refuse to let them follow the same path as most half-Japanese children here (completely obliterating their non-Japanese cultural heritage). She was stunned. She explained to me that she wasn’t being rude, but that she couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want our kids to embrace the OBVIOUSLY FAR SUPERIOR Japanese culture in exchange for the SAVAGE UNCULTURED American way of life. Ok, she didn’t say those exact words, but she wasn’t hiding her implications.

    In the US, sure… we get the odd look on occasion… maybe even a slightly inappropriate question now and then… but it’s more like, ‘Will you be speaking English or Japanese at home?’ or ‘Are you going to give them English or Japanese names?’ in America. In Japan they don’t even ask questions, they just force their unsolicited advice on me… I’d get it if they were explaining, you know, like how to dress my daughter in a summer kimono for Japanese festivals… but they’re always trying to ‘school’ me on the proper way to raise children or be a wife. Like how I need to change a diaper if it(s wet, and to make sure I put a coat on a baby in the winter. As if Americans are soooo barbaric that we don’t already do these things.

    And this happens every day. I’d trade a little awkwardness at family gatherings back in the US any day for being treated like an extraterrestrial being who can’t tie her shoes without an instruction pamphlet. As bad as some groups of Americans can be with racial/cultural ignorance… They’ve got NOTHING on the Japanese.