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. ♥
© 2011 – 2013, Chantilly Patiño. All rights reserved.