A few years ago, I was asked a question by a good college friend that really made me pause. She looked at me and my white then-boyfriend and asked if I considered us an interracial couple. I paused for a second and answered decidedly: yes.
Years passed and I thought about that question a lot. That boyfriend became history and I began dating the man who is now my husband; he’s white. If I’m honest, I never really considered his race while we were dating. I think that’s because I look white and so much of my life is couched in my white privilege that I am sometimes (read: often) afforded the luxury of not really having to recognize the difference. I know that for many people, this is not the case. I also know that the road that ended with marriages like ours even being acceptable was quite long (if you don’t know what I am talking about, please click that link and watch that film), but I really never thought about it in the way that I should have.
All of that changed, though, over the last few years. Young black men have been murdered by police at alarming rates. Tensions within my family regarding race and what that means have grown. And Donald Trump became president. Throughout all of this, it became exceedingly apparent: I am in an interracial relationship. And this shit is hard.
I recognize that on a macro-level, my husband and I do not deal with most of the challenges that many interracial couples do. He’s white. I look white. For most people, there’s nothing really to see here. We don’t face the mass of struggles that visibly interracial couples do. However, this does not mean that struggles don’t exist.
On a micro-level, we are very much an inter-racial couple. I remember the first time I really noticed it. It was during a discussion about affirmative action. My husband truly didn’t understand why things couldn’t just be run on a “merit-based” system. I had to really explain to him the systemic and institutionalized racism that has impeded access to higher-level education for people of color in this nation for generations. It was a long, emotional, and arduous conversation. I was angry, hurt, and confused by his struggle to understand. In the end, though, he really got it. And now he is one of the greatest white allies I know… but it hasn’t been an easy road, at all.
Since the election process started, the conversations extended to a more meso level. We are now faced with family gatherings (on both sides!) where people really don’t get it. They think we should give Trump a chance. They think he deserves our respect. They think we should come together. They think we should work with him. They think that he’s not “all bad.” They think that protesting is whining. They think that BlackLivesMatter is racist. The list honestly could go on forever.
It has left me feeling isolated and deeply saddened. It has caused tension as my husband and I try to parse out how to best confront our offending family members. It has yielded the end of Facebook and Instagram friendships and the beginning of many awkward conversations. And as far as we can tell, the only good solution is to face and confront it head on. Unfortunately, that’s also the most uncomfortable solution. For better or worse, I am in a place where I have no concern about how these confrontations might impact the future of relationships; my husband, on the other hand, isn’t in that space and isn’t sure what to do. And so, we are left at a bit of an impasse. The beauty of it is that we work so well together, I have zero fear regarding our ability to figure this out and challenge our loved ones to do better. It’s just going to be a matter of planning and tactical approach, which is not my strong suit, but is EXACTLY his.
So while my fear is not that we won’t get through to people, it IS that I might not be able to repair the distance created in the process. I am finding myself struggling to forgive people who have exposed more of their internal selves than I’d like to have seen. I am holding on to a lot of anger about the bigotry and willful ignorance of it all. It makes me wonder: do I know these people as well as I thought? Have they ever really seen me before now? And do they just ignore half of my identity so that I am in some way acceptable to them? It’s a shitty feeling… and I have a lot of frustration surrounding it.
I reached out to a few other friends I know who are in interracial relationships to figure out if this is just me. To my honest surprise, it isn’t. Literally every person I have spoken to has expressed this same feeling of not being seen, of feeling isolated, of feeling disrespected and angry. They have relayed similar stories about dinner parties gone awry and Facebook threads set aflame with racial epithets and hate. And every single person lamented the stress this has placed on their relationship with their closest friend: their partner.
So I guess, this post is meant to tell all of my fellow interracial couples out there: yes, this is hard, but it so worth it. My husband is all the more magical to me because of his readiness and willingness to learn. That magic is magnified when he steps in to go to bat with our loved ones. And while we are spared the macro-level stress of it all, I imagine he would be just as ready to stand with me there, as well.
There is nothing more important than being an example for the world that we can transcend the bullshit. There is nothing more important than bringing that perspective back to our families and challenging them to do better. It is so hard and it can be so crushing, but it is so important. We need to take that love and commitment we share in the micro level struggles of our interracial relationships and try to apply it on the meso and macro levels, as well.
I recognize that this is easy for me to say because my struggles are more limited as we climb the micro to macro scale, but I think we can try. I think that those of us in interracial relationships serve as proof that approaching this with love works*. And we are proof that, while anger (rightfully!) happens, remembering the love helps*. To quote a much overused slogan: “Love [ALWAYS] Trumps Hate…” So we can get angry, and we can get overwhelmed and throw our hands up, but if we continue to live with love and lead by example, maybe we can make change.
*Note: I recognize that this requires the other person to approach and confront the situation with love, as well. If that isn’t happening, this won’t work. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking one-on-one, family dinner, or societal perceptions… if both sides don’t try to do this, then the hope for progress is lost.