I'm still diggin' around in the Reader Mailbag, y'all.
Corey of Living and Loving Every Minute of It gets the prize for the deepest and most thought-provoking question:
Being the ever inquisitive and ever thirsting for a deeper understanding of people, their emotions, and their spirit, I just wondered if you have suffered much negativity, bias, or plain old dirty discrimination due to your bi-racial family? I wondered if you came from an open, loving and diverse extended family or if your relationship with Al caused any sort of ruckus in your life? Do you get ignorant comments or questions regarding Bean's race, or if she is actually YOURS? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
This topic - life as an inter-racial, bi-racial, multi-racial family? I'd say it was actually one I feel very passionate about except for one tiny little detail: It just doesn't come up all that often.
And at my age, it's hard to work up a lot of passion about a thing if it's just gonna go to waste.
Which I suppose is an answer in and of itself, isn't it?
For Al and me, having different colored skin has been a complete non-issue. And that's all it is, to us. Al and I are so much alike, really, in the ways that really matter. We're not a cross-cultural couple - which would be perhaps harder to navigate. The two of us are mostly of one mind in our values and approaches to life. We were both raised in relatively rural settings - small Southern towns - by conservative parents who valued education, self-reliance and (though slightly later in my life than in Al's) the Christian faith.
Both of our parents insisted on honesty, respectful behavior and decorum and as is the case with most Southerners, we've each had a little bit of redneck and a lot of dignity built into us over the years. Ours has been an easy relationship from the start, with little friction along cultural lines. Heck, since we've known one another, even our somewhat strongly opposing political views have begun to gel somewhere in the middle, and we may even both vote for the same candidate in the upcoming presidential election. We strongly disagree with one another in two areas: football and which utensil is the RIGHT one for eatin' watermelon.
But I won't lie to you, those two areas of conflict do make for some heated debates at times.
Although we have HEARD that interracial couples often suffer discrimination or even hatred, the two of us have never experienced anything more than what seems a genuine curiosity from the occasional stranger. Our marriage was and is absolutely celebrated among our friends, but not because of or in spite of our physical differences, as I think those differences fade quickly in the eyes of those who know us well, and what stands in the forefront of our life as a couple is our alikeness, and the joy and gratitude we feel just being together.
I hope so, anyway.
As for our families, not one word was ever said by our parents or siblings about the fact that he is black and I am white. It's a non-issue to them, as well, as far as the two of us can tell by their words or actions. But I won't candy coat it -- older generations of my very Southern family have and do express sentiments that I would say qualify as racism. Thankfully none of them have ever been directed at my husband, and they didn't express any opposition to our relationship directly to me. If they said anything to my parents (which I doubt) my parents prudently chalked it up to ignorance and let it go.
We do seem to get attention from people that I don't recall getting in relationships with other boys or men. In Atlanta, where we dated and married, and here in the Chicago suburbs, interracial marriage isn't particularly common yet, but it isn't unheard of, either. I think, if anything at all, our outward differences make us more memorable as a family, and therefore we seem to be more readily recognized and remembered (in a positive sense, it appears) as we run across people more than once.
Honestly? I think we are treated better socially than I've been treated in my same-race relationships, although I am not 100% sure that's because of our different skin.
The key ingredient, I think, is that both Al and I firmly believe that what you put out into this world is what you get back. And we try to ACT on that belief no matter where we are, what we're doing, or with whom we're doing it.
Do I think we might see more hatred or discrimination if we were on the look-out for it? Or if we felt defensive about our own choices? Possibly, yes. The thing is, we just don't entertain those thoughts or positions. Just like any other two spouses, we each married people in whom we saw values similar to our own, people whom we trusted and enjoyed, and by whom we were inspired in many ways.
See, I don't look at Al and see "my black husband," nor does he see me as "his white wife." And we don't walk side by side conscious of any huge, glaring juxtaposition. Our hearts are generally as together as if they beat in the same chest (unless it's a football Saturday). So why, in today's society where who we are as a couple is perfectly legal and growing more common every day, and where racism is, at least in mainstream society, considered backwards and archaic (I know it's still out there though. I'm not totally blind to it), should our contrasting skin-tones get more of our attention or anyone else's than the different eye-colors of our samish-skinned married neighbors?
They shouldn't. And they don't.
I know! Preach it, sister.
On to the questions about Bean.
You know what? Bean looks like Shirley Temple. We get a TON of interested (but not ignorant, by my standards, anyway) questions about her hair. And about her eyes, which combine my green with Al's brown into a very unusual shade of bronzy-gold. Beyond the questions, we get a lot of very enthusiastic declarations about her appearance, all of them positive. The kid is cute, ya'll, and she looks exactly like both of us, in different ways. No one has ever asked either of us any questions as to her biological origins - she's pretty obviously genetically us, combined. Because her skin is fair and her hair blond, Al used to joke that I shouldn't leave him alone with her at the grocery store for fear that someone would think he was kidnapping her. But in all honesty, no one has ever even cast a sidelong glace at either of us alone in public with her.
We had one interesting encounter with a young girl at our church in Atlanta. But she had her own reasons for approaching us and her intent wasn't to attack or do harm, only to vent her own fears and insecurities and to have her curiosity satisfied. We were neither startled nor offended by her questions, just maybe somewhat amused by her intensity.
The bottom line? It seems to me that where real love, acceptance and contentedness are obvious and transparent, hatred, divisiveness and judgment just don't bother to come knocking.