Christina is a lifestyle blogger, curating a raw and positive feed at Hugs and Lattes. She lives in East, TN with her new husband, Pai. Christina loves to spend her free time reading (she started a book club recently, yay!), Netflix binging, and cooking up new dishes.
I didn't grow up thinking white people were better than any other race, but I never grew up around anyone who wasn't white. When I was in middle school, I discovered the Fresh Prince of Bel air and crushed hard on Will Smith. In high school I befriended the two black guys in my high school. One of whom reminded me of Will Smith. I knew they were black, but I didn't think anything else of it. I'm sure the words, "I don't see color" fell out of my mouth a few times.
It wasn't until I was in college and started dating my now-husband that I realized how many things I had done in ignorance could be perceived as racist. When my husband, Pai, and I started dating, I had that safe place to ask the ignorant questions. I learned about systematic racism, I learned about the white savior complex. I learned that saying "I don't see color" whitewashes the incredible experience and story each person of color carries.
My parent weren't the least surprised when I called home one early spring day to tell them I was going on a date, and the guy I met was from a country in Africa. In fact, my dad once said, "Christina, I would be surprised if you marry a Caucasian."
I had one of those moments on my first date with Pai - I knew we were going to get married. (He did not have that moment until several months later.)
Pai and I live in East Tennessee. We have more than one stoplight, so we aren't pure rural Appalachia, and we are lucky enough to live in a college town that does have quite a bit of diversity. I never knew how large the African community was in our area until he and I started dating. I guess I just never noticed.
Nonetheless, I could still feel the eyes. A couple of times I noticed (mostly from the older generation) people staring at us as we walked, hand in hand. And in my lack of graciousness, would look them dead in the eye as I held on tighter to my handsome chocolate man. Once, when we went home to see my family, I noticed someone staring at us as we were stopped next to each other at the stoplight. I turned to Pai and said, "Kiss me" and then made sure I kissed him passionately. He thought I was being sweet. I was being rebellious against the ill-conceived notions that races shouldn't mix.
I don't necessarily recommend that route. It's rooted in pride, and while I am proud to stand next to, and be affiliated with my husband and his family, it is definitely not the most Christ-like approach. Pai is much more gracious in his responses.
Just last month we stopped at a McDonald's in South Carolina to use the restroom and grab a cup of iced coffee to fuel us on a road trip. I was leaned against Pai while waiting in line. There was a man in the back of the restaurant who stared at us until Pai looked his way, to which Pai smiled and waved and the man slowly shook his head in disgust. I promptly turned around and shot fire darts from my eye. I imagined what I would say if I worked up the nerve to confront him. I never did. I'm more talk than game.
But Pai is compassionate. He speaks the truth in love and he is gracious towards those who don't understand or disagree. It's something he has had to accept and learn growing up in America. He told me that when they first moved from Zimbabwe to the United States, as he and his brothers became pre-teens and teenagers, their dad sat them down, making them aware that in the United States, they were more likely to receive prejudice, so they needed to make sure they carried themselves well, dressed well, were respectful at all times to authority figures, etc.
As parents, of course, we would tell our children this anyway: "Be respectful, and carry yourself well. Don't tarnish the family name!" But for the minority groups in America, it's more than tarnishing the family name, it's survival. Over the past several years, through conversation with Pai, reading and listening to accounts from other moms of African-American, Latino, or biracial children, I find this is something that is stressed more so to children who do not look predominately white.
So what can we change? I've written from my hopeful millennial perspective about why it is important that we support our friends trying to use their voice.
But how do we support our black brothers and sisters?
We see color. We celebrate color.When I am home alone with Pai, I sometimes forget that we don't look like each other. It's in those moments where I'm getting ready and he comes up behind me and wraps his arms around me that I see our colors contrast. When we are lying down, and my arm lays against his and he says, "Oh my gosh your arm is translucent!" I remember that he is black and I am white. I see and bask in the color of his dark skin. It is, after all, one of the things I am most attracted to in him- aside from his compassion, and the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles, and the way his heart seeks to right social injustices. I celebrate his dark brown skin because it carries his heritage. He is a Zimbabwean who still speaks in his native tongue when he is with family. His Shona name is a badge of his culture. The way he thinks and sees the world has been shaped by growing up in two different worlds - a third culture kid.
I want to say that our relationship is more than the colors we reflect, but in a sense, our relationship is the colors we reflect. When you see a married couple who are both white, you don't automatically think, "Oh, I bet they have a lot of compromising they have to do." (Which, by the way, is still totally untrue, as you married people know.) But when you see my husband, me, and read our incredibly long (but phonetic) last name, you probably wonder how it works.
And here is how it works: We love hard. We listen well. We learn from each other. We celebrate our differences, and embrace the cultures and traditions we each grew up with.
For instance, in my mind, I had a perfect American wedding planned out. In reality, our families threw the biggest Zimbabwean-American wedding anyone has ever seen. Our dance floor was packed the entire time, whether Zimbabwean, South African, or American music was playing. Our guests had their choice of Zimbabwean food: sadza (a cornmeal patty), collard greens, and beef stew, or my favorite American food: chili and potato soup. Our friend surprised us with a communion meditation that was given in both English and Shona.
If I didn't embrace who Pai is and where he is from, I would miss out on the blessing of finding a new piece of the world. If I didn't ask questions and learn, I wouldn't fully be able to say I know my husband. It is important to me that our relationship's foundation is first of all on the word of God, and secondly on celebrating who we are.
Before I close, I will leave you with one of my favorite poems from Nayirah Waheed,
they do not see color.
you are invisible.
they do not see color.
you are invisible.
For more thoughts on our interracial relationship, check out this post as well.
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