This Holy week is particularly special because I will be passing a milestone of tremendous significance to me. April 3, 1987 was the last day I spent in my life as an unmarried man. Put another way, my 25th wedding anniversary is April 4th.
I won’t bore you in this blog telling you how I love my wife, I do. Or how scared I was that wonderful day, I was terrified. It’s not necessary for me to wax-on about the many happy times we’ve spent, there are plenty. And I need not tell you of the commitment required from a man and a woman to stay married this long and however many more years we’re fortunate enough to enjoy together, total commitment.
But my reflective nature did think it was important to write about a significant change that has occurred in the last twenty-five years. Most notable is the fact that my marriage exists at all, and that no one (seemingly) has a problem with that. My wife is black, I am white. And this fact is nearly meaningless today.
This was not the case when we exchanged vows in Seattle, WA in 1987. We were a rarity. And we were a controversial rarity. My Dad was not shy in expressing his opposition to my marriage specifically and to interracial marriage in general. He told me. And in one sad and pathetic and somewhat funny telephone conversation he told my soon to be Mother-in-law. My Dad later claimed to have had too much to drink one night a couple of months before the wedding date when my would-be Mother-in-law called him on the phone to invite him to take a more active role in planning the wedding of her daughter to his son. As was told to me later he told her he was not interested in participating, or even attending the wedding. As the story goes he proceeded to clumsily explain to her the few times in his life where he felt he’d been “hurt” or “damaged” by people who were black. My Mother-in-law, being a strong and smart woman, quietly listened. And when he had finished his pathetic little rant she calmly asked, “Now, would you like to hear all the times white people had “hurt” me?” Having been born in Alabama in 1940 it didn’t take a PHd in Sociology to figure her list was long and severely more substantial than whatever my Bellingham, WA born Father was able to muster. He sheepishly declined to hear her tales. And he did attend our wedding. Though he told no one in advance that he would do so, and when my bride and I first became aware of his presence at our reception it was a pleasant surprise. He was one of the very few of my family members to attend. The cousins I grew up with and celebrated every Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July and other holiday’s and special events didn’t come or send gifts or cards. My Nana, my Dad’s mother, likewise failed to come or acknowledge our wedding. One of my two Aunt’s, one of my Uncles; none attended my wedding or acknowledged it in any way.
It hurt my heart that people who raised me and loved me had such unprincipled views toward the issue of race and family. But it was a stance from which society allowed them to feel comfortable. Even in the 1980s I felt the discomfort, the staring eyes, the unwelcome attitudes, the bias from others because I was with a woman whose skin was darker than mine. It remained an issue years into our marriage. I still remember how offended I was at a news teaser from KING 5 News Anchor Jean Enerson in which she announced a feature story upcoming for the 5 o’clock news by say, “Interracial Marriages!!! Tune in at 5 o’clock for the inside story on these increasingly popular HOT couples.” Hot couples? This was about 1996 when my bride of 9 years and I were living in predominantly white Redmond, WA raising two kids, trying to pay a mortgage, driving to school and family events on a nightly basis…I didn’t feel particularly HOT. I felt like any other couple getting along in this world. And yet, Seattle’s leading TV news agency felt the make-up of my marriage was striking enough to feature it in their prime newscast and to characterize it as “HOT”? Really? Over 30 years from the signing of the Civil Rights Act? It was nearly 30 years since
marking the first time in television history that a white person kissed a black person.
According to a 2010 CNN report interracial marriages were at an all-time high making up 14.6% of all newly married couples. That’s up from 6.8% in 1980. The report does not distinguish what races or ethnicities make up the interracial couples. A report in the New York Times from just 1 year ago says of every 1000 marriages white men marry black women only 3 times, versus 19 Hispanic women, 14 Asian, and 947 white women. So even now we remain an oddity. But fortunately, a much more accepted oddity.
It’s fair to say that some people have a predisposition attraction to people of a certain race, and at times a different race. That’s fine; and I find no fault with such predispositions. It just doesn’t apply to me. I wasn’t then, and am not now particularly attracted to black women. I am predisposed to be attracted to attractive women, no matter their race or ethnicity. Such is and was the case with my beautiful wife. I didn’t marry her because she was black. I also didn’t marry her because she is attractive, though she is. I married her because she laughed at my jokes, and because I thought she was one of the most genuinely kind people I’d ever met. She still is.
While interracial couples are far less an issue today than they were in the 1980′s, I’m proud my marriage served as one small example of how unimportant race is in the living and loving of people. In 1996 my brother married a woman of Philippine decent. My Dad was all over their wedding, ingraining himself in seemingly every aspect of it. Some time after that occasion I asked my Dad why he was so involved in my brother’s wedding and so uninvolved in mine; why was it OK for my brother to marry a darker skinned Philippino but it wasn’t OK for me to marry a black woman? He answered in the best way he possibly could. He said, “You were Jackie Robinson. You showed that it was OK.”
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