He Doesn’t Get It Because He Doesn’t Live It: Discussing Race In My Interracial Relationship
Sometimes, people ask me what it’s like to be married to someone of a different race – especially when it comes to racial issues. My experience is obviously not universal and I don’t speak for every Black woman married to a White man, but in some instances, it’s clear that race is a big thing to not have in common.
While my husband and I were dating and getting to know each other, I noticed some differences in our experiences — mainly the fact that he doesn’t have to think about his race (or his gender) ever. While my “Black Card” could probably be revoked on multiple occasions in a single day, I am a Black woman who is definitely aware of the effect my race and gender have on my daily experiences. He, on the other hand, as a heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied, relatively young, conventionally attractive, White, middle-class, male is basically the standard and therefore possesses every privilege that comes with that – including the privilege of not acknowledging said privileges even whilst benefiting.
Still, our racial difference hasn’t been as big a deal for us as some would imagine. It may sound weird but sometimes I forget that we’re in an interracial relationship. This is probably because I’m not always interpreting everything through that fact. I’m not constantly analyzing our relationship and wondering if something is normal or if it’s unique to being in an interracial marriage. However, there are definitely times when I’m reminded just how different our thinking can be as a result of our skin color. This is especially true when race invariably comes up in our conversations.
Just the other day we were talking about Sheila Johnson’s criticisms of BET (which I think are ridiculous considering BET has never exactly been known for its quality programming) when he mentioned that he couldn’t understand why BET was even necessary. From there we launched into an entire discussion about the whether or not Hollywood all but completely ignores black actors, actresses, artists, producers, writers, and directors, and if it weren’t for BET or other all-Black-everything media outlets, would Black people even be represented in the media at all. Of course that led into a discussion about why it’s important for Black people to be properly represented in the media and whether or not the media really shapes people’s perceptions of minorities. Our take in this discussion was different and I openly chalked it up to the fact that he doesn’t understand because he doesn’t have to understand because everyone he sees on television looks just like him. He doesn’t get it because he doesn’t live it.
To be clear, this conversation — as well as others similar in nature — are conversations and not arguments. When race is the topic of discussion, we sometimes disagree but he speaks his thoughts and I speak mine without one of us condescending or disregarding the other. When I’m talking about how race plays into something in my life or even someone else’s (like the Trayvon Martin story for example), we disagree but he’s never once accused me of being oversensitive or ridiculous. Though he can’t empathize, I don’t hesitate to express my thoughts and he at least makes an effort to see where I’m coming from. For instance, recently, I’ve become convinced that a news director in a town near ours refuses to hire me for an on-air position only because I’m Black. After explaining why I believed it to be so, my husband agreed with me. Of course, that wasn’t his first thought, because he doesn’t have to think about things that way, but he saw where I was coming from and didn’t wave me off like I was being silly. Some interracial couples may choose to never talk about race so as not to start a conflict, but I wouldn’t be married to someone I can’t talk to, so I’m not shy about talking about my experience or my theories about particular situations.
Fortunately, my husband and I aren’t having all of these deep conversations about race all of the time. In fact, if even a significant portion of our conversations were about race, I’d be exhausted. We have way more conversations about the things of God or even last week’s episode of The Mindy Kaling project than we have about the experience of Black people versus the experience of White people.
Is being married to a White man different than being married to a Black man? Probably. I’m sure some conversations would never even happen in regards to race because those things would be understood. However, I am also not under any delusions that life is better or worse solely depending on the race of the man you marry. There are a whole host of important things you can have in common or not have in common with someone no matter what their skin color.
Ultimately, what’s important to me and the things that I heavily considered before agreeing to marry my husband were that facts that I can trust him, that he loves me, that he respects me, that he is kind to me and to others, that we’re both Christians, that he puts God first and me a solid second with the rest of his life a distant third. It’s important to me that we get along and have fun together and that he’s just as supportive of my career goals that I am of his.
Does our race (and 12-year age difference) create a gap in understanding? Sometimes. Once, I gushed about seeing Andre 3000 when I was in New York to which he replied, “Is that a movie?” Clearly, our race and age difference (as well as my obsession with celebrities and his extreme nonchalance toward celebs) sometimes combine to put us on two different planets, but I don’t mind the conversations necessary to put us back on the same page.
What do you think? How do you handle race discussions in your interracial relationships?