Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Something Old, Something New: The Color of Love

Yup, I used to be one of them—the black woman who would throw dead fish eyes and hella shade in the direction of African American men who dared high-step with white women draped on their arms. It didn’t matter who they were or that I didn’t know them from Adam or that they might have really liked each other: If he chose her, I took it personal.

Really personal.

It felt like an affront, see? Like black men who chose white girls over ones who looked like their mamas were making an indictment against African American women—saying under no uncertain terms that we were not good enough to date them or wear their rings or birth their babies or spend their money. To live in their happily ever after.

Plenty of sistahs had my back on this—would hold war councils discussing the latest brother to fall over into the white side. We’d spit out their names: Quincy Jones. Charles Barkley. Kobe Bryant. Tiger Woods. Taye Diggs. Terrance Howard. Ice-T. The list runs deep. And then we’d shake our heads and swear on our future kids’ eyes that black men, especially the well-to-do ones, couldn’t handle black women. Our strength. Our attitudes. Our low tolerance for the bull.

And then, well… I grew up.

Somewhere along the way, I worked out in my mind that human beings—black men included—have the right to love who they love, and even though there are some screwy people out there who choose mates of different races for superficial reasons, that’s not everyone’s story. They have the right to love.

We all do.

I think I embraced this line of thinking when I truly fell in love—when I recognized, for the first time in my adult life what it meant to really be committed to someone. It is not for the faint of heart, commitment—not even in the most ideal situations. Not even when you and your mate have little differences that outsiders can point to as superficial evidence that your union is somehow contrived. Falling in love and staying there is tough work. And I’m much too busy trying to make my relationship last to really give a damn about what some black man and his white mate are doing in their bedroom.

Which is what I was screaming at my computer last week when I read this bizarre story about Keith Bardwell, a white justice of the peace in Louisiana who refused to grant a marriage license to Beth Humphrey, who is white, and Terence McKay, who is black. Bardwell told the couple he doesn’t marry interracial couples because their marriages usually don’t last and interracial kids wind up being rejected by both races.

“I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," Bardwell told the Associated Press. "I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."
He added: "There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage. I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."


And after reading that, acknowledging how utterly ridiculous this man is, and throwing up a little in my mouth, I silently asked for forgiveness for my long-held ignorance on interracial dating. I got a mental image of my daughters, smart, pretty, sweet, strong brown girls who might, one day, have the courage to fall in love—without a care in the world what color their mate’s skin is, or what anyone else has to say about it.

From me, their mother, my babies would get nothing but my love and support.

After all, what right would I have to pull a Bardwell and presume to know what is right for my girls and the people they choose to love and the life that they ultimately create together?


None at all.

Love, you see, is the place to be. And my girls deserve it like they do air.

No matter the color.

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  1. I am glad you don't feel that way anymore :) It still amazes me that people think mixed race children "suffer". We ask our daughters all the time about if anyone treats them in any odd way because they are Black and Indian and it turns out others are really intrigued and don't have a single problem with it. I think when you have 2 very strong and encouraging parents then those kids would not have to suffer. In then end it's all about LOVE :) Great post Denene!

  2. I was so mad when I saw that on the news too. That JP is racist. People have a right to love and marry who they want, in my eyes that includes gay marriages too. Nobody should be denied love for any reason. You can't help who you fall in love with and any situation might be your one shot at true love.

    My girls are biracial (Caucasian and Pacific Islander) and they have the most beautiful features. It does not matter who is loving who, we, as women, will always wonder what someone else has that we don't.

  3. This is a very well written piece. Thank you for writing it. I have dated men of other races because I liked them as people. I also struggle to understand how some Black women think Black men that date white women is a personal affront. Like I tell people who ask me (to speak for the entire race) it has nothing to do with me! Love sees no color. :) Thanks.

  4. Denene,

    I am so very happy that not only you wrote this great piece but that you were able to change your opinion on inter racial couples. I truly believe that you cannot help who you fall in love with and although you may prefer one race to the other, love is beautiful and no one should be denied that no matter where they come from.

    That judge not only is a disgrace to his own race but to the human race in general, he is not God, he is not allowed to make that decision and judge those people.

    Thank you for sharing!

  5. Thanks Denene for this wonderful post. I've been on the other end of the fish eye---from Black men, when I hanging with platonic, White male friends. I saw my friends as my friends---not my White friend. It's not far of a stretch to extend that thinking into an intimate relationship. For many people love is hard to find and for most, it's hard to maintain. My motto is "do you." I've learned to ignore/pity the folks (Black, White, Latino or Asian) who think love is limited to a certain race. At the end of the day, people are people.

  6. As a product of interracial Marriage, I am pleased to see a change in someone's oppinion on the topic.

    I believe there is racism on both fronts, but we can only look to the Bible to really see how we are comanded to love eachother.

    I say we mix up this whole world so the charactor of people is the stongest feature we see.

  7. Hey Denene,

    This article was great. I can image it was not easy to air your feelings so honestly and publicly, I'm sure your article is making a positive impact on a lot of people. For me it is a breath of fresh air to read something positive like this about interracial relationships.

    I've been married to my wife for more than 13years and we've experienced a full range of reactions for choosing to be in an interacial marriage.

    After more than a decade, I can honestly say I love my wife now more than ever and couldn't even concieve of goin' through life with anyone but her. She makes me happy and fills me with love. Our bond based on love, respect and friendship has stood the tests of time and it's proof that interracial love is just as legitimate and strong as anyone elses love.

    If your interested in reading more about our experiences together check out www.DaLyfe.com

    I write under the name: Esc8pee

  8. Great article. My brother has a biracial child.
    Her mother is now one of my best friends and my niece is truly a gift from god. I think you love who you love period. I am an African American woman who is the mother of a child with disabilities. she has taught me so much about love and acceptance.
    Donna S.

  9. Oooh, Denene, you are taking me there! I guess I haven't completely grown up because I still do have some issues with interracial dating (and I say this as a person with a white mother and a black father). At the end of the day, I consider myself a black woman and always have. My problem is when I look around at my beautiful, strong, smart, educated, successful black female friends and too many of them are single, or fighting over scrubs. Black women aren't what is idealized as beautiful in our culture, making it more difficult for us to date outside of our race than black men, who are pretty universally considered to be strong, sexy, cool, masculine, etc.
    Now, do I think a judge should be able to tell a mixed-race couple that they can't marry? Of course not. I think you should be able to marry whomever you choose. I just find it frustrating that so many good black women end up alone. My feelings on this are really complicated and maybe I have some growing up to do of my own.

  10. @ blacktating

    How can you deny you white mother? The person who gave birth to you, by considering yourself a black woman? You are bi-racial, just like Obama, he is not a black man he is a bi-racial man. You can't just pick one when you are mixed.

  11. @Blacktating: Girl, I feel you on that, I really do. I'm surrounded by single sistahs who want nothing more than to be in love and be loved, and who would prefer that love be shared with a black man. And they feel the same way you do: That a big reason they're alone is because black men are choosing to date/marry outside their race. But check the stats: Though the numbers of interracial marriages have increased over the years, the overwhelming majority of black men are married to black women. So it seems kind of unfair to hang our inability to find love on the handful of black men who chose to marry white women.

    I was talking to Nick about this last night as I was writing, and I told him that if I were a 30-something single woman who couldn't find a love connection with a black man, I would happily cast my net wider and consider dating a man from another race/culture—white, Asian, Middle Eastern, African, whatever. Shoot, Justin Timberlake? He could get it. So could Idris Elba, an African from London.

    But you're right: The issue is complicated. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

    And thank you, everyone else, for weighing in!

  12. Hmm, agree with you on most points, Denene. But I think even sensible, loving, open-minded moms do presume to know what is right for their kids because we all want the best for them. Suppose one of your girls brings home a crackhead -- you know you will have something to say (and rightfully so) about who your daughter has chosen to love. Okay, crackhead is an extreme example because we hope our daughters have more sense than that. But suppose it's someone who we can sense has a short temper? She blindly loves him; we (as moms) can see the trouble ahead. Do we presume to know nothing about what is right for her, and chalk it up to her loving who she wants? Surely we'd say something first, and the rest would be up to her. Presuming to know does not mean we're pulling a Bardwell. (But I get your point.)

    Interracial relationships is not without serious challenge. Same color/faith/culture/nationality relationships have the benefit of the shared experience. However, I do agree that true love knows no boundaries if the couple (of any skin color or background) is willing to face it all together.

    Children of mixed race... they are a symbol of harmony and unity. On the other hard, I wonder how many of them feel about having so many parts to their identity? They're never 100 percent black, or 100 percent Jewish, or whatever. I don't mean to offend anyone by saying that. I know they are 100 percent human, and that's what counts. But sometimes it's hard to know who you are when there are so many parts to choose from.

  13. @NS: Point well taken (though crackhead/physical abuser is extreme). Of course, I want my girls to choose someone who won't bring harm to them, who won't drag them down into a life of degradation, and who will always be concerned first with their well-being and the well-being of their families; I'd be quick to give my advice/opinion if that person meant my children harm in any way.

    But I can't say that a white man or an Asian man or an Indian man or a Jew or an African would bring my daughters harm just because my girls chose them. And you're absolutely right: Interracial relationships come with LOTS of challenges. Far be it for their mom to pile on. I trust that I'm raising them to know the characteristics of a good mate—one who loves, respects, protects, provides for and understands them. I'm doing this by giving them an upclose look into a solid marriage between a man and a woman—me and my husband, and the marriages between their aunties and uncles and their grandparents and our friends—the majority of whom are black couples. But they'll also know that no relationship is nirvana, and that it takes WORK, no matter the color of the partner, and that each relationship comes with special challenges they're going to have to be ready for.

    Thanks for your comment!

  14. @ NS truly knowing your history you realize that the last point about being 100% human is the only thing that we as humans are.

    We are all mixed. I consider myself and others would consider me Black. But that does not mean that I can't look at my great grandmother who had green eyes and deny that she is part white. My dad has a deep black hue to his skin tone. Yet he is only one generation removed from a human who is a result from a biracial child.

    To judge off of character is one thing (nobody wants their children to date crackheads) but to base it only skin color along is wrong.

  15. Your words meant a lot to me. My husband and I have been married for 8 years, together for 14. He's black, I'm white, and we have three beautiful children. We have been on the receiving end of the treatment you described. We met each other in college. We happened to connect and fall in love without regard to the color of each other's skin. Girls should have been lined up around the block trying to snag a guy as great as he is, but they weren't. I was the first girl to give him the time of day and he didn't turn me down because of the color of my skin. He never chose to date a white woman, he just never ruled it out either. I feel like we get this bad rap because of the percentage of men who choose a woman specifically because of her color. I would just ask that everyone remember that you can't presume to know anything about a couple's relationship and why and how they got together and who chose who and why. It's easy to assume the worst in someone else, but consider for a moment how you feel when others make negative assumptions about you.

  16. If more people would come to the same realizations such as what has been stated in this forum, the world would be a better place.

  17. To anonymous, are you mixed? Please don't tell me how I "should" or "have to" identify. You can't presume to know how President Obama identifies either. I am a black woman, period. That doesn't mean I am denying my mother. My mother is my heart and my best friend. That doesn't make me any less black. Every mixed race person has their own identity. I understand why someone like Tiger Woods wants to be Caublasian, as much as I understand why Halle Berry says she's black. It's not for you or anyone else to tell us how we should identify. It's a personal decision that should be respected as such.

  18. Whew!

    Well, for starts-thank you Denene for bringing this topic to My Brown Baby and for sharing your story of personal growth. As a Black woman in a 20 year interracial union, I can attest that every one person who comes to understand the depth and breadth of all love, any love, is grand. It's hope that one day we'll really rise above the social constructs that bind us.

    @ Blacktating-you raise a very good point. Identity is assumed NOT assigned. My children, of their own volition, identify themselves as Black. It never occurred to us to question their reasoning any more than their sexual orientation or any of the other facets of their personal identity.

  19. Thank you for your strength and courage to write this article. I am in awe of your experience and learning. I'm a old Latina. Growing up, we were taught marrying a white guy was moving "up" in society. Thank goodness things have changed. Slowly, and changing. Thank you again.
    Jo Ann Hernandez
    BronzeWord Latino Authors

  20. clap, clap, clap.

    That was wonderful! And frankly, I COULD NOT BELIEVE it when I saw that story!

    Thank you for using such eloquence.............

  21. I agree with you 100% Making things work within your own relationship does give you perspective on other's making things work within theirs. If anyone is stupid enough to marry because of self-hate, status chasing, etc, they will have to meet their own misery without my watchful eye.

  22. I have an award for you! Get it on my blog. http://momaandbaby.blogspot.com/2009/10/my-first-blog-award.html

  23. Very well spoken Denene! My husband and I have heard it all (me more so than him). It's surprising to me sometimes that interracial relationships are still such an issue as it seems the number of mixed couples seems to be on the rise (IMHO).

    We have a great kid who is both beautiful inside and out. As long as he continues to grow up surrounded by love and security I think he'll be just fine.

    I hope more people have their own "adult" moment and love and let love.

  24. What a thoughtful post.

    "And then I grew up"

    That's what it's all about. Growing up and learning that love is love.

    I grew up in all-black, majority-white and racially diverse environments. Consequently, I was exposed to "war councils" on interracial relationships, apathy towards interracial relationships, people who were involved in interracial relationships and have been a participant in an interracial relationship. What always bothered me about some black women's angry reactions to IRs is that it's based in insecurity of not feeling beautiful or not being able to find their own black man to love. Think about it: most black women angry about IRs are single. It's not about race; it's about a hungry person envying the person with the refrigerator full of the hungry person's favorite dishes.

    I think a lot of black men get tickled when they see black women act possessive about them - even when we don't know them. Do we really want some of these men who provoke so much black female anger? I sure don't.

    There used to be a time when my black female friends and I would pass by black men with non-black women on the street and those black men would show signs of fear, pride, defiance and anticipation of a negative response from us. When we didn't give them one, we would then see signs of relief and regret cross his face.

    Now, when I pass by a black man on the street who's cupcaking with a non-black woman, he no longer gives a damn about my response. To me, that's progress.

    That written, once we as black women open up our dating parameters to see how much we're adored by other races, we'll cease throwing shade and dead eyes at black men who date outside of the black race.

    Because then we'll realize that, although we choose who we date, we don't choose who we're attracted to or who we love.

    Btw, Something New is one of my favorite movies. :) I think it opened up a lot of people's eyes to how interracial relationships aren't always all about race or making political statements (See Jungle Fever).

  25. Love the honesty in this article! Thank you for "growing up" so that you can pass these great lessons of love and acceptance to your children.


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