It’s a Nice Day for a White Wedding

by Renee Martin

This weekend I went to a family wedding.  I was thrilled to see my niece, who I have known since she was a little girl, walk down the aisle. Watching the father-daughter dance brought tears to my eyes.  The music was great and people got their drink on with great gusto.  All in all, it was a day to be remembered.  This sounds like a typical wedding, doesn’t it? We all know the clichés.

My partner and I have been together for more than 20 years now.  Through ups and downs, we keep on fighting.  One of our most constant negotiations is race, because I am black and he is white.  I knew before we even arrived at the church that I would be spending the entire day without seeing another person of color.  I knew at the end of the night no one would be stumbling around slightly tipsy on the dance floor barefoot doing the electric slide. The best I could hope for was that they would have the good sense to avoid the Macarena or that hideous chicken dance.  Those are two things you don’t see at black weddings.

For the most part, his family and I get along well, but that does not mean being surrounded by them doesn’t leave me with a strong sense of dysphoria.  Well intentioned comments and carefully chosen words make up a large part of our speech patterns to avoid dealing with the elephant in the room. No matter how progressive they believe themselves to be, I am essentially the square peg in the round hole.  The very absence of any other person even remotely considered raced speaks volumes about their regular interactions outside of those with me.

At weddings, we invite family and our nearest and dearest friends.  With the cost of the modern-day wedding, it causes us to prioritize who we deem important in our lives. Even as some might refer to that co-worker of color with whom they occasionally have coffee as a friend, when it comes to shelling out more than $100 a plate, suddenly that friend’s appearance at a wedding is decidedly not important. Friendship is a word  bandied about far too easily, and it is only during life’s major moments where we can see who we truly value.

I know the dysphoria I felt at my wedding was mine and this was not something many of the guests would acknowledge, even to themselves.  My body represented change and an inclusiveness I didn’t even remotely feel, despite the exchanged kisses, hugs, and well wishes.  When you marry outside of your race, you’re not only getting your white partner, you’re getting you’re white partner’s family and all that it entails. The family events, which for the most part should be race-neutral gatherings, shift to those fraught with problems a lot deeper than who isn’t speaking to whom.

Despite how far we have supposedly come, the truth of the matter is that most of us lead highly segregated lives. If you doubt that, do a church tour one Sunday morning where you will discover that despite worshiping the same God, whites and blacks do not share the same pew on a regular basis.  While it would be wrong to purposefully seek out people based in race, the absolute absence of those who are raced, or the token inclusion of one person, speaks volumes.

It’s hard enough to be the only black person in an all-white workplace, and that is why the spaces which we occupy in our free time need to be as safe as possible.  It is highly likely that while your partner may be racially conscious, your partner’s family is not, leading to moments of extreme tension where you must choose between defending your dignity and keeping peace.  It means going to a family event and looking around to see not a single face that looks like yours.  It means always being on your guard, where you should be relaxing and having a good time, and this is especially true at events where alcohol is served.

There will never be a position of a representational person of color, but that does not mean that whiteness will not seek to make you that, even as they claim you as friend and family.  You become proof they are progressive and inclusive, that any negative behavior does not reflect upon them, but the entire race to which you belong.  There is no room to act the fool — even for a moment.

Interracial relationships are difficult, and, believe me, I speak from experience.  Most of the pressure comes from the outside, and though it may be well-intentioned, that does not mean it does not hurt. I wouldn’t trade my partner for the world, but I do believe that with all of this recent encouragement for black women to seek out white spouses, we should be having honest conversations about what this will mean in our lives and the circumstances we face.  When you marry inter-racially, you are never just the daughter-in-law or the sister-in-law; you are the black person who married into the family, and that won’t always be a comfortable position to be in, even at happy events like a wedding.

  • http://gravatar.com/lovegiraffes onegirl

    Where is your family and why weren’t they invited to be a special part of your wedding? You shouldn’t have to be on your guard whether you are with your family or his (I’m assuming his) family. I think a lot of your issues are internal, and if you can’t get over them after 20 years, perhaps you should seek counseling and find out why you’re insecure about it.

    Yes, I think being in an interracial relationship is something that should definitely be addressed for those that don’t know what the may or may not be getting into, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s like any other relationship with a few extra hurdles to jump over.

    I have been in interracial relationships, and at first, it’s awkward being introduced, and wondering how the family will react, but it’s not about the family. It’s about you and your boyfriend/spouse/partner. If the others want to talk about you being the “black person that married into the family” so be it. Do you, and keep it movin’.

  • Amber

    I agree with the above comment. 20 years is a very long time to be dealing with the same perceived issue. Perhaps each of your families should do more things together if you haven’t already in the span of two decades. At this point you should be way more comfortable. Relax and enjoy this relationship that has stood the test of time. An enjoy your relationship with his family. Your color won’t change and neither will theirs, but don’t dwell on it. Change your attitude, your perspective, whatever and just have fun being in love!

  • Lady P

    “When you marry inter-racially, you are never just the daughter-in-law or the sister-in-law; you are the black person who married into the family, and that won’t always be a comfortable position to be in, even at happy events like a wedding.”

    When my cousin married a white man, it was an apparent awkwardness from both sides of the family. I believe it was mostly uncomfortable because she was the first to marry a white man and still is the only one in the family that has done so. Even though, they had been dating for 6 years prior to their marriage; some people in the family still refused to accept THEIR blessing. You would think by the time they exchanged marriage vows, both families would have been comfortable. Unfortunately, some “individual” thoughts and bigotries die hard. Negative remarks and stares did take place. From the wedding throughout the reception, a negative undertone existed.

    Two great, happy, purpose-driven souls united in holy matrimony, with a great start and the makings of a successful marriage wasn’t the focal point. That aspect of the wedding was extremely sad. Regardless of the nonsense, they enjoyed their day and continue to live a happy life as a married couple. Regardless of D’s ethnicity, over the years, he has become one of our (my family) closest relative as well as friend. He is truly a good man and the other individuals within the family who doesn’t accept him completely have/are truly missing out.

  • shadow

    “Even as some might refer to that co-worker of color with whom they occasionally have coffee as a friend, when it comes to shelling out more than $100 a plate, suddenly that friend’s appearance at a wedding is decidedly not important.”

    &

    “It means always being on your guard, where you should be relaxing and having a good time, and this is especially true at events where alcohol is served.”

    I can totally relate to the above statements as I am one of only two Black ppl on my job. There have been two weddings you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t getting invited to…guess not & I have a White male co-worker, who drinks a little more than he should at times, and his conversation was real shady after a few drinks. He made a comment about me being in a “reverse Oreo” situation since I happened to be sitting in between him and another White person, yeah…Needless to say, I haven’t gone out with any of my co-workers in a casual setting in a couple years now and don’t plan to.

  • Laugh

    First let me applaud you for shedding light onto a side of IRR that people may not think of and for having a 20 year relationship period!

    My advice…. try not to take things so personally. So your white fam have no black friends. Big whoop! Who cares, what are they supposed to pretend now so you can be more comfortable? That would be insulting to you. I mean look at how many black people have no white friends! And as far as being the black who married into the fam. There’s always a title for who married into the fam that gold digger marrying into the fam, that young girl marrying into the fam. I can’t stand that, fill in blank, that married into the fam. People are always going to have their issues. This is why I’m against big weddings because how many people there are truly happy for you? You sitting there counting the amount of black people there. Somebody else looking at how cheap the decorations are. Please if I know I’m gonna have a bad time or feel a certain way I wouldn’t even attend unless I was truly happy for the couple.

  • Anon

    Girl, you have issues. 20 years later and those folks aren’t YOUR family too? TWENTY YEARS LATER? Your marriage is college-aged now! Why are you still carrying this level of baggage around? I swear, the most confused of us are the ones blogging.

  • Lula

    I think the fact that this is still an issue after 20 years of marriage just speaks to how some people refuse to embrace change. I don’t think the author should be attacked because she had the courage to share her experience with an interracial relationship… It’s not her fault if her husband’s family still won’t accept her or make her feel welcome.

  • http://gravatar.com/honeybfly1980 Isis

    I thought they weren’t married at first cuz she called him her partner and not husband.

  • http://itsoftenbeensaid.wordpress.com Sasha

    Yeah at first I thought lesbian but then know what she meant when I read further. I still don’t know if they’re married or not but eh I get the gist….

  • Kam

    Seems like there is something more going on in this marriage than just the interracial issue. I’ve always maintained that when you marry a person you marry their family. So if you’re looking to be with someone for the rest of their life, know that you’re going to get a whole host of family members to deal with. If this is not what you want, or if you can’t see yourself dealing with them for the rest of your life, then it’s best to move on and not enter that marriage because they are not going to go away.

  • Not A Problem

    I’m sitting here writing this with my wife. I am white from a half French half American family and grew up in Canada. My wife is African American from the States. We are both in our early 30s. We dated for several years before getting married. My family loves my wife and has made her feel included in the bunch from the time that we began dating. Likewise, my wife’s 90-year-old grandmother tried to adopt me upon our very first meeting. Her parents have accepted me into the family so much that it sometimes seems they actually forget that I’m not black. This is funniest when someone starts talking about “that crazy white boy” they knew back in college, and then going on a “yeah, that white boy!” riff. I don’t mind, but after a while my wife will say, “Can we please use another term?” And then her parents say, “Woops!” Aside from funny times, have there been awkward moments or small things that I wish hadn’t been said or done, by either a family member or friend – or even one of us? Yes, but they have been few – and not necessarily greater than when a French person marries a “Anglo” English speaking person where I grew up. Also, it’s almost entirely been not from either of our family members, but from friends or associates – a couple of people my wife has put on an unofficial “probation” or outright deletion from being friends. My wife feels that one person in our family clan is not especially warm to her. The thought of that does not make me pleased, obviously, but then again, in every family isn’t there always one person who just is who they are and acts how they act, for whatever reason? In terms of feeling like society isn’t open enough to us, I can think of three times in eight years when we’ve heard an odd comment or gotten an odd look. But as my wife says, “An attractive, single woman walking down the street in New York City will get that much negative attention in just a couple of hours.” So no biggie. We do find that at grocery stores, unless we are glued to the hip in front of the ATM swipe, checkers won’t necessarily realize that we are together and not separate customers. Sometimes at church, an usher will try to seat my wife and her mother separately from me, thinking that I am not part of the group. Also, years ago at a hockey bar, I was chatting with a woman from Canada and motioned to “my girlfriend;” although my girl and I were sitting next to each other, the woman mistakenly introduced herself to a blonde, white woman at our table. All this to say, my wife and I haven’t – thankfully – had to deal with much negativity so far, and truly do have the full support and enthusiasm of our families. We’ve mainly – especially me – become more aware of people’s assumptions, which are actually kind of interesting to observe. And we also have considerations together that I wouldn’t have been aware of before. Like my wife not liking living in our old neighborhood, mostly white and also very preppy. Now we live on a great block with all nationalities and types of people.

    It’s too bad to hear that this writer has not had the same experience as ours. My wife’s trainer at the gym, a young white woman, is marring an African American man and both families are fairly unsupportive – many folks are not attending their wedding. Such a shame.

    Praise God for the wonderful gift of open and kind family and friends that my wife and I have been given. We hope to be able to continue such a happy life.

  • Gina

    If your not strong enough to deal with the punches of being in an IR relationship, then perhaps it is not really for you.

    I think it may be selfish to the future kids too if you didn’t think of the full ramifications before being with your partner permanently. IMO

  • omfg

    i think after 20 years of marriage she’s pretty much entitled to her opinion and has show she can deal with the “punches”. lol.

  • omfg

    interesting.

  • http://diaryofasmalltowndiva.blogspot.com/ Petite Diva

    Kudos to “Not a Problem”! You have essentially mentioned everything that I wanted to say. I am a black woman married to a white man and we find so many ways to celebrate our pointed differences. I think at first it was awkward because we put pressure on ourselves but once we relaxed, everything fell into place. I loooooooove my husband’s family. I consider his mother and father my parents and they treat me like their daughter. My mother-in-love is the kindest, most generous person that I know and my father-in-love has a knack for making me feel comfortable in every situation. Quite often when we go out, I am the only person of color but because I know that they love me and consider me a permanent fixture in the family, I feel secure and protected. It is my hope that my husband feels the same way too. My family fell in love with him the first time they met him and he has somehow managed to charm his way into their heart :-) I am not saying that everything has been rosy- we live in the south. Every relationship is work and I encourage everyone to date who they want. I honestly don’t think there is a formula to interracial dating/marriage because it is just a marriage/relationship period. A lot of it has to do with the individuals themselves. You will find that often time, people create wars in their own minds. The people who matter loves us and take us for who we are. I find it hard to imagine that my mother-in-love would consider me the “black who married in to the family” because, she affirms her love by always telling me what a blessing that her son found me and married me. She makes me feel like the “blessing that married into and became a part of the family” What she does not know is that I feel exactly the same about her son and her entire family. My advice to the author of this article is to sit down with her husband and communicate her feelings about his family. He may actually do something about it or he may inform her that there is nothing that he can do but SUPPORT her (advocate for better treatment of his wife). Once she knows that he has her back against anything, her views and insecurities may disappear. Nobody should feel so bad amidst “friends” & “family”. I am totally sending serious hugs your way!

    XOXO

    Petite Diva

  • http://livefromthematrix.wordpress.com TAE

    I haven’t been in many interracial relationships that were serious enough to involve meeting families and thinking about marriage so I can’t speak from personal experience but I can speak from what I have seen through the lives of my friends and people I know and it seems to me that when it comes to interracial relationships that the deal breaker is culture and not race. What I mean is that two people from dissimilar ethnic backgrounds can come from similar cultures. A Caucasian man who grew up in an environment where he had always been surrounded by and embracing of diversity and also comes from a family in which his parents have a similar mindset would probably have a smoother time integrating himself into the family of his African American or whatever other race spouse than a Caucasian male who grew up in a town where the only diversity he saw was on television and whose parents only kept company with folks who looked like themselves. I’m not suggesting that interracial relationships between people from dissimilar cultures can’t work out, but when the culture thing comes into effect that can be a doozy. I’ve been the only black friend before, the first black friend that their parents liked enough to let sleep over or go on family trips and it can be heavy psychologically. Almost always there is some reference made to your otherness and the fact that you are not as different as they expected you to be or worse yet you are “different” as in not like the other ones. There was a time that I was sure that I might date outside of my race but found it highly unlikely that I would marry outside of my race and I knew that I most definitely would not be marrying no white boy. It’s too complicated to explain here but I’ve since came to the conclusion that I could see myself married to a Caucasian, Asian or Hispanic/Latino, Native American whatever man. BUT he would have to be someone who understood me, my culture, and my story, or at least understood it to the best of his ability. I have an extremely low threshold for ignorance. Most men that I’ve talked to who have been of a different ethnicity than myself and made ill informed remarks about my ethnicity and/or culture whether they be meant to be perceived as compliments or not is immediately and irredeemably unattractive to me.

  • asada

    it still takes someone who lives the experience to understand what the writer is talking about!
    progress…..is coming at a slow pace.

  • http://gravatar.com/amazonbattlevixen Bri

    I’m like Not A Problem where I’ve been blessed to have some great future in-laws. I’m not the first to marry a non-black person in the family, but I’m the first to marry a white person. The only reason that it was awkward for the both of us to meet our parents is because I’m awkward to begin with, not because of color.

    If I can be in an interracial relationship in the most racist area of the US (Northern Louisiana), then anyone can have a successful interracial relationship. The only reason why there are issues, race-wise, is if either person has personal issues with dealing with public perception. I just ignore racists and people that turn their noses at me, because in the end, it’s him and me that are together.

    Do I have members in the family that don’t approve? YES. I even had an uncle that told me that I’m ‘fucking up the bloodline’. It hurt, because that’s my uncle, but I can’t change his opinion, and if he’s that way, then he honestly doesn’t need to be in my life or my future child’s life. As far as his parents/family goes, I’m sure that there are some people that don’t like me, but thankfully, I haven’t had to meet them on a regular basis.

    My opinion is that dating/marrying inter-racially is only as hard as any other relationship. The only arguments that we have had were based on typical dating issues (time management, etc), not based on race. However, if one has personal issues with race or openly talking about race or cultural things, then it can be difficult.

    And I’m with the author on the co-worker part. I’m the only black person in my department, and although I like some of my co-workers, that’s just it. We’re co-workers. Not friends. And I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. (That sounds means, but they like to gossip, and I’m not one to broadcast my life.)

  • Gina#2

    This was not a fair statement. Every relationship has “punches” from differences in religion, ideas about child rearing, age gaps, being from different socioeconomic class, etc. the list is endless. If people thought like you do then there would not being any relationships!

    For what it’s worth I am engaged to a White man and I haven’t had any problems that differ from homogenous couples like my mother in law trying to take over our wedding and trying to figure out if we are going to stay in NYC after we have children.

    I think this author needs to stop caring so much about what other people think because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter.

  • Jasmin

    Since she refers to him as her partner, It ‘s not clear to me whether the author is actually married to him. I commend her for being honest about her feelings. It’s quite possible that in 20 years, she still has not been completely accepted by his family. To date interracially is one thing to actual MARRY a white man is another. On the plus side, interracial marriages between black woman and white men have a very high rate of success; much higher than black men and white women and even hire than white men and women.

  • Jasmin

    Good advice, PD. but, everyone’s family is different and the author’s feelings are probably justified. For every situation like yours there are as many if not more that are fraught with tension. I’d also bet that after 20 years her partner is aware of her feelings.

  • NewLook

    I’ve been in a relationship with a white guy for 6 years and I can tell you my experience has been the total opposite of this article. His parents love me and I love them, and sometimes (when I lived in Boston– we moved to LA) I would just go over their house even if he wasnt around to hang out. They accepted me into his family immediately (there is a running joke his mom always says that “We love her more than we love him”)and my family has accepted him as well (my mother and him have a secret handshake that is quite hilarious). Eitherway, they have never made me feel uncomfortable and we have had discussions about race on several occasions. But I will also say I got VERY LUCKY.

  • Nic

    Lower divorce rate, which is what you are really talking about here, does not mean that the marriages are more successful, just that people get divorced less.
    There are a lot of parts of the world and in this society where people divorce less or not at all and that isn’t because their marriages are perfect.

  • Sisou

    I’m now in the fifth interracial relationship with a White men and I got to say some of posters lived in a land of endless rainbows and unicorns.

    Author is being honest about Common issues in interracial dating/marriage. If you have not experience this great you are the exceptations.

    But I would bet from experience some of you ignoring the signs of trouble. I have never once been with a White man who didn’t have some racist family members. Sometimes they hide it for a long time but It always come out.

    The author probably has a great long marriage because she is culturally aware. How many of you judging her been in your relationships for twenty years?

    As the author stated we really need more discussion around interracial dating. I found there are many people who jump in not knowing the struggles. Also, too many people in these relationship shield themselves from racial tensions in order to keep the peace and fit in.

  • KMO

    Although my situation is different on a number of levels… I can empathize. My husband is Japanese and I am an American of Dutch ancestry. We live in Tokyo together.

    As far as our families go, we have never had a problem. My family has never mentioned his race or nationality in a negative way, and his family adores me (and I them!).

    But Japan is an incredibly homogenous society. I live in a ward of Tokyo with roughly 50,000 people and still I only see someone who is visibly foreign (i.e. not Asian) once every couple of days.

    We have been together for over 7 years, although married for less than a year. Although no one in his family has said (to my knowledge anyway) anything negative about me or our relationship, its almost like I am treated as a commodity… an alien, even. When we moved back to Tokyo from the States, he got a flood of emails and letters from his family and old friends asking if they could come and ‘have a look at’ his new gaijin (foreign/outsider) wife. Every time I met someone new they went on a tangent (however well-meaning) about what features they hoped ‘his’ children would inherit from me. Telling me all of the American habits I shouldn’t pass on to ‘his’ children (speaking loudly, overeating – which is ironic considering I’m not overweight). Even going as far as his aunt trying to tell me the proper way to bathe his children (in JP most families bathe WITH their kids until 5 or 6 years old, its a cultural thing). This tidbit kind of put me over the edge. I don’t have any issue with family bathing, but I don’t plan on doing it as it’s not part of my culture, and I don’t particularly like baths. She went on to say that because westerners don’t bathe with their children, they must not bond with them properly and that that MUST be why we’re so obese, cruel, rude, etc. etc… I know she wasn’t purposely being offensive, but I had to call bullshit cause frankly, anybody who has ever lived in Japan can see that their family structure is very formal, even cold at times. They don’t hug one another or tell each other that they love them. They rarely talk about feelings or emotions beyond what they want for dinner. I just couldn’t help myself. I went off on her (politely, though). I explained that yes, when we have kids they will be half Japanese… but they’ll also be half American, and I refuse to let them follow the same path as most half-Japanese children here (completely obliterating their non-Japanese cultural heritage). She was stunned. She explained to me that she wasn’t being rude, but that she couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want our kids to embrace the OBVIOUSLY FAR SUPERIOR Japanese culture in exchange for the SAVAGE UNCULTURED American way of life. Ok, she didn’t say those exact words, but she wasn’t hiding her implications.

    In the US, sure… we get the odd look on occasion… maybe even a slightly inappropriate question now and then… but it’s more like, ‘Will you be speaking English or Japanese at home?’ or ‘Are you going to give them English or Japanese names?’ in America. In Japan they don’t even ask questions, they just force their unsolicited advice on me… I’d get it if they were explaining, you know, like how to dress my daughter in a summer kimono for Japanese festivals… but they’re always trying to ‘school’ me on the proper way to raise children or be a wife. Like how I need to change a diaper if it(s wet, and to make sure I put a coat on a baby in the winter. As if Americans are soooo barbaric that we don’t already do these things.

    And this happens every day. I’d trade a little awkwardness at family gatherings back in the US any day for being treated like an extraterrestrial being who can’t tie her shoes without an instruction pamphlet. As bad as some groups of Americans can be with racial/cultural ignorance… They’ve got NOTHING on the Japanese.

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