I’ve crushed on a lot of white boys. My hometown’s population is roughly 50 percent white, so on the one hand, I didn’t have much choice. On the other, white was what I attracted. My favorite band in high school was Sum 41 and on more than one occasion, I wore Avril Lavigne-style skinny ties. Who do you think was knocking at my door?
But for some reason, people had Opinions™ about who I should be attracted to. And by people, I mean my family—particularly my mom, who once heavily implied that I should “marry my own kind.”
When I met my husband, Lawrence, in college, he was the latest in my string of white boyfriends, so you’d think the novelty would’ve worn off. But, there was still tension. My mom referred to him as “The Boy”—even after we got engaged. When I told my dad about the proposal, he asked if I said yes and then said it was good that we planned on waiting before getting married.
It took the full two years between our engagement and our wedding, but my parents came around. And since Lawrence’s never had an issue with us to begin with, we were living judgment free.
From our families, anyway. Back in Texas, there were still tons of people with Opinions—mostly older white women who threw shade when we walked by. Given the South’s strict adherence to fake politeness, I believed that’d be the extent of things. I didn’t know we’d face something weirder than thinly veiled judgment.
It started in a mall, around the time we got engaged. Lawrence and I were walking, hand in hand, when an older white man placed himself in our path. We tensed up; had the inevitable finally caught up with us?
As the man’s position gave us no route for escape, we stopped and waited. “Are you a couple?” he asked. We nodded warily, and his response was truly shocking.
“I just want to tell you that you’re doing a beautiful thing, and if things had been different when I was younger, I too would have married a black woman.”
While obviously better than a racist tirade, this encounter was incredibly awkward. What do you say to that? And what do you do when, months later, a black man driving by yells “I ain’t mad at’cha!” through his open passenger window?
I could chalk this up to them feeling obligated to normalize relationships that would’ve been taboo—and even illegal—in their youth. But when Lawrence started a new job after we got married, one full of people closer to our age bracket, more weirdness occurred.
Whenever a coworker found out he was married, they’d congratulate him, but not in the typical “Yay for you!” fashion. No, they congratulated him for being married to a black woman specifically. Lawrence regularly endured comments like “How cool of you!” or “Wow! That’s so awesome.” (It IS awesome being married to me, but my race doesn’t have anything to do with it.)
This phenomenon became less interesting and more suspect when it continued after we moved to Boston. Up here, people took it a notch further. They told him “That’s such a great thing you’re doing!” and “I never would have guessed!” What was he supposed to say in response?
I couldn’t understand why so many (white) people acted like Lawrence had done something commendable by marrying me. Were they just super awkward about receiving this menial piece of information, or did they actually think he was trying to make a statement by choosing a black woman to be his wife? And if the latter … why the hell did they need to comment on it?
Interracial/multi-ethnic marriages have been on the rise for 50 years—it climbed from 3 percent of newlyweds in 1967 to 17 percent in 2017. So, how is it that society still doesn’t know how to react?
I know that no one meant us any harm. They’re trying to be supportive when they tell me that “Oh my GOD, mixed babies are so much cuter than white ones!” They obviously had no idea that that’s fetishizing my future children. They’re just trying really hard to acknowledge my blackness and my husband’s whiteness.
But that’s the problem. No one needs to acknowledge it at all. You don’t need to give your two cents on something we already know: that we’re a couple with different racial/ethnic backgrounds. And honestly, you shouldn’t even think of it like that.
We’re not “interracially married.” We’re just married, and that’s all anyone needs to say on the matter.