It’s 2018, and my husband, Mike, and I are still stared at, laughed at and told we can’t take quality photos together because of the contrast of our skin tones because we’re an interracial couple.
For some people in an interracial relationship or marriage, perhaps oppression and racism have never come up. Maybe you’ve never been made to feel inferior or uncomfortable because you’re dating someone of a different race. If that’s the case for you — that gives me hope. And I pray more and more that’s the case.
But for some interracial couples, it hasn’t been easy.
In my previous blog post, I explained that even though my husband is black, I’m still ignorant at times about issues of race and people of color. And acknowledging ignorance is important to defeat it. How can we educate ourselves if we don’t see the need for education?
The more we — my husband, Mike, and I — talk about issues of race, culture and diversity, the more we can better understand and love each other. And the better we can live and serve together as one. But it takes time and work to communicate, and it’s vital to be honest with one another.
Work to understand your perspective and your partner’s.
When we first started dating, I asked Mike right away if he’s experienced racism. He told me story after story about going to a majority white high school in the suburbs and how he was called racist names. Those offensive jokes continued while we dated. But Mike was so used to getting stared at in our white suburban town and being the center of offensive jokes, that he hardly even noticed when it happened.
But I noticed right away. And I wanted to do something about it.
I found myself frequently getting in arguments with people who made racist jokes or ignorant comments. To improve my arguments, I started educating myself on issues of race and injustice. I read books by Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. John Perkins, Malcolm X and others. I started becoming so enraptured in seeking justice that all I wanted to talk about were issues of race and equality. But I never stopped to actually consider how I was making my partner feel.
I soon found out that it made Mike feel uncomfortable and irritated.
Not because I cared about issues of race, but because I was talking about race from a completely outside perspective. Just because I read something in a book or heard about it from a friend didn’t mean I actually understood what oppression looked like.
I was publicly chastising those who said racist things about people of color. I felt like because my boyfriend was black, I could scold my friend or neighbor.
That was another form of white privilege I was just seeing in myself — entitlement.
Throughout the years, Mike and I have talked extensively about issues of race and how to approach talking about them. Getting outwardly frustrated by people’s ignorance is not the most constructive way to go about it, which Mike had to explain to me.
Stereotypes are best struck down by honesty, humility and empathy. The best thing to do is continue to be a positive person in their life. Mike taught me that.
He also lived it out. When people would say something offensive to him or both of us, he never got angry. He laughed, listened and replied with a thoughtful remark. People listened to him. And people didn’t listen to me when I freak out.
It’s important to hear the perspective of the person you’re dating. If he (or she) is of another race, then maybe it’s hearing how he grew up, asking if he’s experienced oppression, or seeing how he reacts to and addresses problematic language.
People’s stares aren’t necessarily racist — but sometimes they are.
After church on Sundays, Mike and I would typically go to the same restaurant. But every time we went in there, we’d get stared at. And not just a double take or two, but long, hard stares. We got stared at so much that for about a year we didn’t go back to that restaurant. I remember one day we pulled up to the restaurant and Mike said to me, “I just don’t feel like getting stared at today.” I agreed. So we went somewhere else for lunch.
The stares people give Mike and me —an interracial couple — are something I’ve learned to get used to and get over. But it wasn’t easy at first.
You see, I used to have a bad habit of believing everyone I met was racist. But I learned that’s not true and it’s painfully offensive —and still something I have to remember. I’ve also learned that just because someone stares at Mike and me, that doesn’t necessarily mean that person is thinking something offensive in his or her head. It definitely could mean that, but it isn’t necessarily the case.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that people aren’t racist or that people don’t have racial preferences. But for the most part, I think people stare out of curiosity.
Grace upon grace upon grace.
Let me make myself clear — hating racism is a good thing. As believers, we are called to hate sin. But hating people and spitting on one another’s ignorance is not a good thing.
Breaking down stereotypes is important. But doing so humbly, intelligently and graciously will have a much greater effect than simply lashing out. Again, that’s something I’ve had to learn first-hand.
To my fellow interracial couples, grab a hold of grace. I need grace to survive everyday at work, to tolerate ignorant stares, to extend love when addressing problematic language, and to see when my own entitlement and privilege clouds my understanding of others. Talk with your partner and his or her family about issues of race. Pray for clarity for yourself and for equality not only for interracial couples, but for all couples who face injustice.