Trials of the Interracial Couple

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Common Challenges for Interracial Couples

One of the disadvantages of being an interracial couple is the fact that you have to bite your tongue so often in order to get by unscathed.  There is so much more that can be said on this blog, but I can’t help feel like I’m always holding back on certain topics…stuck in “bite your tongue” mode.  Yesterday, I got a couple comments from a reader who’s had to deal with a lot in her interracial relationship.  Hearing her share her story really got me thinking about all the things that I don’t share here…and why I don’t share them.  It’s not because I’m afraid exactly, but I guess there is this knee jerk reaction that comes with “learning your place” in order to prevent the onslaught of attacks that come with being committed to someone of another race.  Guaranteed, racism doubles when the offending races are in close quarters and being in an interracial relationship means that you’re in the “line of fire” every time there’s a dispute.  You can count on your family acting out…with your partner there…and even more so when they get you alone.  To all the interracial couples out there, I just want to say…I know where you’re coming from.  Our experiences might not necessarily be the same, but I can definitely relate. Here’s a bit more of mine and my husband’s story…

Before I met my husband, his parents gave him the talk…you know…the one where they tell him that a woman who isn’t Mexican (or at the very least, Latina) isn’t suitable for marriage.  He was told that he could only marry a Latina…period…and it was preferred that she be Mexican.  His mother would harp on him again and again that he’d better NEVER marry a black woman (that’s saying it politely).  And of course, I got the same speech from my mother (at age twelve no less!) and with very graphic language.  So, when it came to the point that his heart chose me, he was nervous that his mother wouldn’t accept me…and she didn’t in a lot of ways, but I think she was relieved that at least I wasn’t black.  I was a “good” white girl, as she called me…”not like most Anglos”.  So there was always that stigma there about my being white. She would point out all the time about how funny their family would look to other Mexicans now that there was a ” little white girl” in the group.  ”All the other Mexicans are going to wonder what this white girl is doing with us” she would add with a chuckle.  I think she was kind of proud in a way…that she felt her associating with me meant that she was better than other Mexicans.  It always struck me as odd and I felt kind of guilty to discover that she thought of me as “higher class” than Mexicans in a way.  I hated that my presence had this quality to it.  There was always this lingering sense that I was different or that I thought myself superior.

Imagine her surprise when my family turned out to be “low class“.  We weren’t professionals, we didn’t have money and yes, we were often crudely unrehearsed in our social etiquette.  For her, this was like a double blow…now, not only did she have a white girl in her family to “water down” the genes, but the girl had no status and was completely useless in any plans she might have to elevate her appearance amongst Latinos.  My status within the family dropped day by day and I was constantly reminded by her and my sister-in-law that I was an outsider.  They never trusted that I wasn’t racist and they always pointed out how “Latinas are more beautiful” and would tell me all the ways in which I didn’t measure up as a woman. It seemed they always had to “remind” me that I wasn’t better than them…as if I wasn’t aware.  They would encourage my husband to see me as less than a whole woman, simply because I wasn’t Latina.  It hurt…it still hurts.  In the end, we had to cut ties with them and move out of state to feel like we could breath because they were always trying to control my husband’s life and judge every decision that he made.  When it came to the point that they questioned our daughter’s racial identity and said that I wasn’t fit to raise her because I wasn’t Mexican, we’d had enough.  That was the breaking point.

For my husband, it was a very similar response from my family, but I would venture to say that there was no romance period for him. Many of them were upset at my choice from day one and he has never felt the sense of acceptance that I felt in the beginning. There have been brief intervals where he’s felt partially accepted, but the constant scrutiny he lives under always seems to muck it up.  No matter what happened, it seemed that he was always to blame.  From my family, the conversations were more like, “Mexicans are drunks who cheat on their wives and beat them” or “They can’t hold jobs.  He won’t be able to provide for you.”  Yeah, this amplifies when your husband is discriminated against at work, denied promotions, reprimanded at every turn, becomes the first to have his hours cut and has no choice but to listen to, and to some degree accept, racial stereotypes and slurs at work.  Is there any good way to explain this to a family that already sees your husband as “flawed” because he’s “Mexican”?  I add Mexican in quotations because it has become a word tinged with prejudice and sometimes feels more like a slur, than a badge of identity.

Having a husband who deals with discrimination is frustrating enough on it’s own, but having a family that doubts racism as a possibility can become downright infuriating.  Instead of realizing the real problem of job discrimination (Yes, it’s real!), my family would prefer to discredit my husband by assuming that he must be at fault for the mistreatment.  This is one of the biggest sources of frustration for me…the fact that people who aren’t directly affected by racism just don’t understand how it could possibly be an issue. Nothing leaves you feeling more hopeless than a family who puts stock in their uninformed and irrational perceptions that racism flat out doesn’t exist!  According to many, it’s something that ended with slavery!  Interesting how so many many disparities exist between minorities and whites…just wondering how that’s possible if racism is a thing of the past?!  Really, the only way that this can be rationalized is by ignoring the facts and I think that as whites we are taught to ignore from a very young age.  Part of it comes out of our prejudice, but mostly, it seems that a lack of awareness grows this idea that we don’t talk about the things that we don’t understand.  There needs to be more transparency and education about true diversity…not just the ‘token’ acknowledgement.  Throwing a black character into a television show does not create diversity or multiculturalism.  In order to find understanding, we must be clued in to the experiences of people of color. For me, that meant films, books, history courses, direct interaction and becoming part of a new community.  I always knew that our family existed outside of the typical American experience because we lived in poverty, so it made sense to discover that Latinos, African Americans and other races were also segregated by society.  The sad part is that this de facto segregation is what prevents us from proceeding as a fully inclusive society that equally regards all individuals.  It prevents “saints” from accepting “sinners”, the rich from accepting the poor and one race from accepting another.  For me, this practice is the main element that prevents understanding and acceptance of those who are different from ourselves.

I believe multiculturalism is the answer.  A multitude of cultures, living in close quarters with each other and learning to accept and appreciate their differences and similarities. As a friend once said, “I see people in an interracial marriage or bicultural marriage as ambassadors or diplomats…I think we have a responsibility to use our marriage as a teaching tool for others who haven’t had the learning opportunity that we’ve had“. Well said!  This should be our goal as interracial couples. ♥

 

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Comments

  1. says

    This rings so very, very true for me.  I have so much to say about this, but it would be obnoxious to go on and on in a comment.  Sometimes I really want to speak about about it, but the times I have, I feel like I am being judged.  As if I am racist for making observations on how race and misconceptions impact my life (particularly when I am critical of his family).  Thank you for this post.

    • says

      Thank you!  I know exactly what you mean.  I think it comes easier to me because I've always been pretty outspoken and because I took a lot of courses on race in college…it helps you to get used to talking about it in front of others.  Having people around you who are supportive of your honesty also helps.  Thankfully, my husband has always been my biggest supporter.  If you do decide to speak out about it, definitely leave a link on my Facebook page!  I'll be happy to share it with other bloggers and readers who share similar perspectives.  The important thing is that we support each other in learning about race and be honest, but respectful.  I know that the topics I talk about here walk a fine line for some, but it's important for me to talk about them and find others with similar feelings…so the risk is so worth it.  So far, I've had very few negative responses. ♥

      • says

        For one of my education classes we had to read "Courageous Conversations About Race".  If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.  It really affirmed so much for me as well as helped me shape who I am as an advocate for my students (though I think it can apply in many contexts). 

        My hesitation to speak about my situation is interesting because I have been a big advocate for race consciousness in the schools I have had my placements with, usually by taking part in Caring School Committees.  But while I feel fine helping others advocate for themselves or fostering awareness in other educators, I feel as though I come off as hypocritical when speaking about my own experiences–benefiting from white privilege (whether I choose to or not) while complaining that sometimes I do indeed find myself on the receiving end of discrimination. 

        • says

          I will definitely check that book out…thanks for the recommendation. :)  I understand what you mean…it feels kind of unproductive and selfish to complain when we know that others have dealt with so much more than us when it comes to discrimination.  I felt that way a lot and used to take everything in stride, but not defending myself left me in a place where I didn't feel good about who I was anymore…and I started believing the negative things said about me. I don't think I really realized it on the surface, but deep down it was killing me piece by piece…and I realized…even whites need to speak out about their experiences.  We need to also educate people of color and help them to realize that we are not the enemy.  We are their spouses, in-laws and parents to their children and grandchildren.  We live in a world of prejudice too and we need their love and support as we make our way through this rocky journey. ♥

  2. Anonymous says

    Thanks for your honesty. You write a very powerful post that I think a lot of interracial couples can relate to.

  3. LDNolasco says

    I'm glad you are so honest, even if the topic is unpleasant. I am fortunate to be accepted unconditionally by my Dominican husband's family, and as for my own, I was so tired of having to justify my choice that we are now estranged. It was not race so much as class that was the problem. After 25 years of saying he was against interracial marriage, my father started to defend my choice and said he would fight anyone who spoke ill of Ramon because of his dark skin. He even told me not to think I was superior to him even though I had an advanced degree and he was a laborer. When the economy went bad, however, and both of us were having trouble finding work, my father's mind snapped and he said, "How come you brought over someone who is poor?" I think it is because he saw himself too closely: a Latino (or Italian) immigrant who could not speak English and faced discrimination at work (or was beaten at school for speaking Italian and not English).

    I got so upset that I had to be taken to the hospital with borderline hypertension and signs of mental trauma, but I was sent home and given a diagnosis of "adjustment disorder," which simply means a serious reaction to stress. I wasn't sitting home texting my friends; I was seriously looking for a job for both myself and my husband, and I had the added burden of being his interpreter.

    Now that I am not trying to roll myself into a little ball for my parents, I have found more than enough work and Ramon now has a job as a maintenance mechanic. At least I have my extended family, including my little grandchildren from my stepson. And yes, multiculturalism is the answer: I seek out not only other intercultural couples but friends from various countries so that we can all be ambassadors of a global society.

  4. says

    Chantilly, your story makes me want to cry. I keep asking myself, "Why?" I think it's got to be all about "conditioning," the manner in which his parents and your mom were raised. Their beliefs were engrained in them through years of exposure to the very language and mindset you were both subjected to. I'm so sorry you went through this. You can find some peace in knowing that you've broken the "pattern." By your example of love and acceptance, Lily will grow up to be an open-minded young lady. Un abrazo, amiga. I find so much strength in your honesty. 

  5. says

    Chantilly, your story makes me want to cry. I keep asking myself, “Why?” I think it’s got to be all about “conditioning,” the manner in which his parents and your mom were raised. Their beliefs were engrained in them through years of exposure to the very language and mindset you were both subjected to. I’m so sorry you went through this. You can find some peace in knowing that you’ve broken the “pattern.” By your example of love and acceptance, Lily will grow up to be an open-minded young lady. Un abrazo, amiga. I find so much strength in your honesty. 

  6. J Olivarez-Mazone says

    Thank you being brave. I have dealt with alot of subtle racism my whole life as a dark skinned mexican american. I have dealt with the "I didn't know you spoke English." to the so"What part of Mexico are you from?". I am not from Mexico, my family was lucky enough to be on the Texas side of the border fence went it went up in the late 1800's. With my husband it adds another degree of pressure, my kids are half hispanic and half black. I want to prepare them for what they will encounter and I love seeing interracial couples. I see more and more everyday. But, I will say my husband has adapted very well to my culture food and music. My own father has finally accepted unconditionally.

  7. says

    I hear ya!  My husband is from Laredo and his family was there since before the territory changes.  I'm appalled by comments from people who see us together speaking English (him with no audible accent!) and they ask if he's from Mexico!  So many ridiculous questions and I know some aren't meant to offend, but hearing again and again just gets frustrating.  I'm so glad that some in your family are becoming more accepting and I would really love to hear more about your story.  You might also be able to relate to a friend of mine…Ruby, from GrowingUpBlackxican.com.  If you haven't met her yet, go check her out, because she's awesome!  She is a contributor on the new site too…at MulticulturalFamilia.com where she wrote her first post about people questioning her sons racial identity.  I hope I see more of you!  Thanks for stopping by!  :)

  8. says

    Wow…I can relate.  I wrote a three posts about my awful in-laws earlier this year…two about our wedding and one called the wrath of la cuñada.  Basically, I almost had a nervous breakdown before our wedding because of all the anxiety they put on my and the judgement.  I never did get them to accept me and we don't talk anymore.  You're exactly right that the best thing is to just live your life and stop worrying about how everyone else feels.  I broke myself down into a really pathetic person for a while, because I was beginning to believe all the negative coming at me…but we can't let them get us down.  Keep your head up amiga!

  9. says

    Ezzy, you are such a good friend!  Thank you for sympathizing with me and understanding.  Sharing this stuff feels weird at times, but having the support of awesome comadres like you lets me know that it's ok to be vulnerable.  ♥

  10. cassandra says

    i think my family was more unaccepting of the fact that my soon to be husband is illegal… i dont think it bothered them that he was mexican… maybe it bothered my grandfather a little but thats cuz hes old and things were much different in the past… then again maybe its because of where my family is from… in Michigain you see a lot of interracial couples… its very multi cultural up there… but where im living now everything seems so seggragated… i feel like everyone is watching us and they seem shocked or disaproving… especially when we kiss or hold hands… and now that we have a baby im kind of worried about how people will treat her when she goes to school… and i have a hot temper sometimes so if someone does say something stupid it is very possible that ill tell them off, which probably isnt the best thing to do… but the few people i have told off shut up rather quickly… i guess im somewhat intimidating when im pissed off… i especially hate it when people say lations are coming here and stealing all our jobs… because they’re not they’re taking all the jobs that americans are too lazy to do and dont want to do … so i think thats just an excuse most of them make up so they can stay on assistence from the government or something… as for his family ive only met his sister shes the only one over here in the states… i know when we first started dating she had said something about prefering him with a latina but he said that was because she thinks that if he marries a white girl he’ll never come home… but other than that i think she’s fine with me… i dont know enough spanish to have a full conversation with her.. :( but im trying to learn… i wish my soon to be husband would talk to me more in spanish… the only time i hear him speak spanish is when hes talking with his family or some of his friends… with our families though i think they’re fine with it as long as we’re both happy…

  11. says

    Congrats on your engagement Cassandra. :) My husband and I are actually from Michigan too! I actually grew up there and lived there for most of my life. Then we moved to South Dakota a couple of years ago, so I can definitely relate to the feeling of being isolated and looked at like an oddity. Our daughter has gotten much of the same treatment here. I've written a couple of times about how people leave the park when we go to play. Definitely hurts. We've been talking about relocating…maybe to the Chicago area or south Texas.

    What part of Michigan are you from? We moved from west Michigan…near Grand Rapids area.

    And definitely keep up with your Spanish! One thing I tell most couples is to not expect that your better half will teach you. Usually it can be an uncomfortable situation, so it's best to look for other resources, like a Spanish class, Spanish Mass, audio cds, etc. Novelas help too. ;)

    Wishing you luck and thanks for leaving your thoughts! :)

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  1. [...] I believe multiculturalism is the answer.  A multitude of cultures, living in close quarters with each other and learning to accept and appreciate their differences and similarities.  As another blogger puts it, “…people in an interracial marriage or bicultural marriage [can be] ambassadors or diplomats…I think we have a responsibility to use our marriage as a teaching tool for others who haven’t had the learning opportunity that we’ve had“.  Well said!  This should be our goal as interracial couples. ♥ [...]

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