written by Anti-Racist Parent contributor Lucie
Relationships are hard work. They are made especially hard by the differences we bring to the table.
Being a white woman in a relationship with a Black man, with three Black sons between us, is difficult. Contrary to what many believe being in an interracial relationship does not, by itself, magically make you anti racist or race conscious. It does not make you colorblind (nor is that desirable). In reality, when you are in an interracial relationship it is even more important to constantly examine yourself, your actions, and your beliefs. In an interracial relationship it can be even harder to be race conscious, because you have to be able to separate your interpersonal relationship from society’s race realities.
You also have to deal with your extended family.
The family situation
On New Year’s day SLB, the boys, and I packed up and headed to my parent’s for dinner. My stepdad’s parent’s came over as well.
We sat the boys up with a Godzilla video game, I settled into the kitchen with my mom, and SLB sat in the living room chatting with my stepdad and his father. I laughed to myself as my step-grandfather told the same old time stories he has a fondness for retelling.
I was getting something out of the basement when SLB stuck his head through the door. “DO NOT leave me alone with them again.”
What I said (and my excuses for saying it)
My initial reaction was anger. I have been to A LOT of family events with SLB, from big family reunions to big southern funerals. I have hung out with people I barely know, often the only white person there, for hours on end while SLB runs out with family he rarely gets to see. So my response to his request was “That’s not fair.”
SLB looked even more upset. “I am not going to sit up there and listen to your grandfather talk about how funny he finds Amos and Andy.”
Take a step back
Crap. That was not what I expected him to say. Despite being a white family in the South this had actually never happened before. I paused for a few minutes before I thought of what to say next. “I’m sorry” I said, which seemed the right thing to say (and I was).
“That’s not the point,” he said.
I was frustrated. What was the point? Did he want me to speak with my grandpa (the answer was no)? Did he want to leave (again, no)? I still felt a little angry – did he expect me to predict that would happen, or expect me to never leave his side at my family events?
What I should have said instead
When we arrived back at the house SLB and I hashed out the night. The problem, it turned out, wasn’t so much that the conversation occurred or that I wasn’t there when it did. The problem was my reaction.
As SLB pointed out he has never once complained about spending time with my family, no matter how often certain stories may be repeated and despite how little he knows most my family members (other than my mother). So when he came to me, he expected me to know that something was wrong.
That’s when it clicked for me. “Oh.” I said slowly. “I get it. I should have asked you what happened.”
And that was exactly it. My family is my family, and I sometimes forget that my family is white. That means the old folks in my family are from a different time and might be prone to say some well-intentioned, but sometimes inappropriate, things.
In my step-grandfather’s case, “Amos and Andy” was a show he watched (and listened to, originally) as a small child. He did not mention the show to SLB with any malicious intent – he mentioned the show in the same way he mentions all the stories from his youth.
Despite my step-grandfather’s semi-innocent child hood memories of the show, “Amos and Andy” was an show based on black stereotypes acted out by white men in black face. It was an immensely popular show, and it acted as a catalyst for perpetuating demeaning images of African Americans.
Down the road, if I can find some good literature on the problems with Amos and Andy, I might pass it on to my step-grandfather. But that wasn’t what was important to SLB.
SLB didn’t expect me to confront my step-grandpa about the show (which, as said, he was a small boy when he tuned in). Nor did he expect me to stay by his side the whole time. What he did expect was for me to be on his side, to support him, and to show concern for his comfort level. All he expected was for me to understand he was a black man in a room full of white people, and to ask him “What’s wrong?” before I jumped to the conclusion that he was being unfair.
That’s the hardest thing to remember about being in an interracial relationship – you have to deal with the interpersonal and the societal at the same time. You rarely can remove one from the other.
What this means for me as a parent
I am the mother to three boys, one biracial and two black. While I am the only white person in my nuclear household, my immediate family is exclusively white. I love and trust my family, but I cannot assume they understand some of the nuances of a mixed-race family, nor can I rule out the option that one day my children will be put in the same uncomfortable position as SLB. As my children, they expect more from me than merely acting as a supportive partner. I am their guardian, their protector. The day will surely come where one of them will approach me and tell me a family member, friend, or authority figure made them feel uncomfortable. And it is absolutely imperative that when this day comes, the first words out of my mouth are “Tell me what happened.”
Lucie is a new mother (and soon-to-be-step-mother) who blogs about redefining perceptions of the American family at Unconventional Origins. She writes about life as a member of an interracial blended family as well as other hot topics and family issues. Lucie lives in a small apartment with her fiancé and three sons. She is a full-time law student.