Blast from the Past!
Brought back for our current audience to read & comment on.
Originally published on May 27, 2010.
Marriage is for white people.
Its hard to say what I felt exactly when I read that Washington Post editorial a few years ago offended, outed, but mostly just sad. But finally, someone in the media had exposed the furtive secret, the dirty laundry. Despite the fact that my own parents had been married for 45 years, I learned early that marriage for whites and blacks was distinctly different if it happened with blacks at all. In my pubescent, wide-eyed youth, I remember, hands clasped against one cheek, sighing my dreams of love, marriage, mutual understanding and cooperation to some friend or relative only for them to scoff, “Thats some fairytale-white-people-shit.”
If black women – regardless of class and education – were really honest, most will tell you that their ideal mate is a black man. The problem is, the chances are slim. U.S. Census data from 2001 confirms it – African-Americans have the lowest marriage rate of all races, and black women are at the back of the line. I once knew a single black woman with a thriving career as a civil engineer and co-franchiser of a Subway sandwich shop, who told me, “I’m still holding out for my black man”. In her church, work, or circle of friends, she could not find one single, solitary black man who could fit the bill. I don’t care if he’s a FedEx carrier, I just want a good one”, she had said.
We lost touch so I never found out if the delivery man ever came knocking with that ring in hand. But if I were a gambler, I’d say she must have faced some tough odds on finding her black man considering 42 percent of black women never marry, compared to 21 percent of white women.
So, if marriage is for white people, what option does an educated, fertile, marriage-minded black female have? Know this, sisters, Prince Charming comes in all colors. White women have already figured this out – and if you can’t find the right color or cultural match, it’s time to expand your horizons and simply find a good man.
I realize that some black women, steadfast in their quest to find the ultimate brother, may bristle when they read this. Some would rather concede to “baby momma” status if they can’t get their partner to commit for life, for reasons here too presumptuous of me to assume. I can only speak for myself. Because my twelve-year-old daughter’s father, who is black, outright refused to marry me when I became pregnant in college, despite dangling the marriage carrot in front of my nose for a year prior. His parents never married. His own father has three illegitimate children (that we know of). As my belly swelled, I remember being so ashamed that I bought a cubic zircon to wear on my ring finger when we were out together in public. It didn’t bother him a bit. To him, marriage was extraneous.
And still others, like my engineer friend, would rather forfeit marriage and motherhood than ever consider marrying outside their race. It’s a betrayal of the Afro-centric us-against-the-world groupthink, and a heartbreaking remnant of slavery. It’s the pebble in all our shoes. Marriage for slaves was not legally or spiritually binding by the ruling class. Defiant lovers still found ways to express their eternal devotion by jumping the broom, which symbolized the leap into a new life, lived together. Such “frivolity” did not stop the slave owners and foreman from raping the women, while husbands and sons watched, helpless and impotent. Some of us still have not forgiven.
My husband and I jumped the broom the day we married. My mother insisted on it, perhaps as a not-so-subtle reminder to me from where I’ve come. So with clenched teeth and sweaty palms I took the leap with my white husband, and into world that wasn’t quite black or white, but brushed with of wisps of gray. An interracial marriage is truly risky. You join the ranks of odd couples that abdicate their anonymity and risk ridicule. Tall and short, skinny and portly, black and white. Someone stares a millisecond longer than what is comfortable, and then you wonder. A salesman snubs you and then you speculate. You weren’t invited to a party and you can’t help but think, is it because my husband is white?
Is it because I’m black?
I have been called a nigger three times in my life. The first time was in elementary school; a blond boy with dirty clothes and flies perpetually circling his face spat the word at me while on a swing. Then it happened again in high school – some cowardly adolescent thought it was funny to yell out the slur while I was walking alone from school. The last time came just before my wedding.
I was walking alongside a coworker passing out notices to home owners about freeway work to be done in Costa Mesa, California. We made the best of it, laughing about the ridiculous job, how the execs liked to farm off the grunt work to the juniors. We took in the sunshine. We talked about our significant others. He knew my intended was white, and asked me about it.
“What’s it like?” he asked, innocently. “Do you ever worry about what people say?”
“Not at all, I said, full of cosmopolitan bravado. This is California, not Mississippi.
Almost immediately after, a white pickup blazed passed us, a little too close to the curb. A man hung his elbow out of the window. Then it had happened the third and final time.
“Nigger!” The cowards hit the gas and zoomed away.
My coworker, who was white, seemed incredulous, almost embarrassed, and a little scared. Then, unsure of what to do, he chuckled nervously, “You’re not offended by those jerks, are you? Ha! What jerks!” Then, he looked at me and saw my face, brown and burning, tears swelling against the bridge of my nose. “God, Chris. I’m sorry.”
I remember thinking at the time about how absurd it was. Why apologize for what those chumps yelled out? Did he think that I would hold him responsible in some way, like some collective condemnation for all bigots of the world? In a way, he did. In some ways, we all do.
Before that incident I lived in a bubble of self-imposed denial about what it would be like to be married to someone white. I grew up in the eighties, but I was only one generation removed from drinking out of the “Blacks Only” fountain. That day, something grabbed hold and shook me. I began to overanalyze the incident, rewinding and replaying. Seeing us laughing and walking together must have looked like intimacy to those men. They must have thought we were on a date. Ghosts may be dead, but they find ways to make you see them.
Later that evening I told my fiancee about it. He kissed my tears. He called the men bastards. Then we went on, one foot in front of the other, down the aisle. Because no matter what, nothing changed the fact that we loved to cook and garden together, and debate the latest outrage in Newsweek in bed on Sunday mornings. It didn’t erase that we completed each other’s sentences. He had an uncanny way of reading me and knowing my secrets, and loving me still.
When it was time to take the leap, my palms slick with sweat, part of me was giddy with love and promise; the other, secret part, was full of fear and dread. I would begin a life with a man whom had never known bald prejudice, never been called a name meant to humiliate and dehumanize him. He would have to understand why that word had so much power, how it could cause me to crumble into tears. He would have to toughen up to hear a few slurs of his own, now that he was going to be married to me.
I gave one last look at the audience. To my left was his family and friends – mostly white – and to the right was my family. Black sand, white beach. As the tide ebbs and flows, each part takes and leaves a little of itself with the other. I looked at my soon-to-be husband, with his wide smile and hopeful green eyes, and I knew in an instant that no matter what the future brought, this was my man. He was the man.
Almost equally ironic as was the drive-by name-calling a fluke, my husband and I have been lucky thus far to never experience blatant outrage or bigotry about our bi-ethnic, bi-cultural relationship. Indeed, the world is changing. At almost 12, my oldest daughter has never been called a nigger. There are more families that look like us, both in real life and on television. Finally, the ghosts of slavery and all the “isms” that go along with it are being exorcised. Of course we get the furtive looks and stares of bald curiosity or distain that comes along with being different. And I must admit I still hold my breath when we walk together passed a cluster of black men.
I sometimes think about that person who once told me that marriage was a fairy tale in which white people cornered the market. They were wrong. Imperfect and glorious, this little black girl got her fairy tale ending. My marriage works, just not in the confines of tradition or with the ease of anonymity. We continue to transcend together, beyond Jim Crow and the n-word, beyond the fear of ridicule. Knowing what I do now, I wish I would have told the engineer-slash-sandwich-shop-owner that you just have to snatch love for yourself when it comes knocking, in whatever color or cultural package he’s wrapped in. That’s the purpose of this book, and my hope is that all who read it will find love, however it arrives.
–Christelyn D. Karazin
on 2010/08/02 at 7:09 am
Whoop! I am so glad I am not alone in jumping the broom. I really want to do it when my husband and I have what we call our “big wedding”. We got married in the courthouse a year ago and we are planning a bigger wedding soon. I wanted to jump the broom my entire life, but when I fell in love with a white man, I thought everyone would scoff at me. It is nice to see that it has been done before.
on 2010/06/08 at 6:09 pm | In reply to vonnie.
Vonnie, scientists must quickly extract this gene from you, copy it, and implant it into all single black women!
on 2010/06/08 at 5:17 pm | In reply to Aabaakawad.
I think that I missed this “must want the same race” gene, I really did. Even from a super young age my taste has been allll over the rainbow, with main celebrity crush examples being Zach on Saved by the Bell AND Slater, Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock, Brad Pitt, Bad era Michael Jackson, and Will Smith. Honestly, none of those people look at all alike or have totally alike personalities nor races. And there was never any desire that “omg, must have my black prince!”
on 2010/06/06 at 6:23 pm
@Boomer babe. I don’t know how diverse your environment is but your comment about if Christelyn’s husband is white and if he would defend her honor and stand up for her makes me want to ask if have you notice black women are the only women I’ve ever seen who is not protected? Men from different cultures by nature protect women. I am happily married to a man from North India who is not a tough guy but if somebody ever disrespects me he will be protect me without any hesitation. Men who truly love you will defend you and respect you in front of anyone. Black women sadly most don’t know what that feels like being able to not have to be strong and your own defender trust me its liberating.
on 2010/06/06 at 5:59 pm | In reply to boomer babe.
Whew! It’s a good thing we made it legal, then!
on 2010/06/06 at 5:54 pm
sex is supposed to be FOR MARRIAGE ONLY
on 2010/06/06 at 5:53 pm
Nic, GOD BLESS YOU for adopting that little girl!! I see what you mean about BW but i think it’s starting to change. Although, we seem to be our own worst enemy; women shouldn’t be wanting someone that doesn’t cherish them, not just â€˜sex’ them.
on 2010/06/06 at 5:38 pm
It’s nice that you have a white husband BUT its a positive IF he defends your â€˜honor’ and â€˜slays the dragons â€˜for you (fight the redneck garbage in the pickup truck) etc.’figuratively’ ahem, not get into a brawl. and â€˜brothas’ need to watch out if they try to hurt you when hes with you
on 2010/06/06 at 9:33 am | In reply to Kether.
Thank you, my friend! Love to see you here!
on 2010/06/06 at 9:12 am
I’m totally sending a link to this one to one of my student workers who is 50, three children and never married. We talk about this all the time. I think she’ll enjoy your blog.
on 2010/06/03 at 12:45 pm
“If black women regardless of class and education were really honest, most will tell you that their ideal mate is a black man.”
If my recent conversation with my 8yo Black daughter is any indication, you are right – or at least AB is right when he says “Sometimes the preference disappears, sometimes it doesn’t, but it was always there at her coming of age.”
A little context: Mine is an odd household, a Nordic dad (me), a white mom (brown eyes & hair, not at all “Nordic”), and four children who are Chinese, White, Mayan and Black. As God would have it, our youngest is the only Black person in the extended family (which also includes olive-skinned Persian and redheaded Irish and square-jawed German). Although we certainly have our share of race-relations stories to tell, by the time our youngest came along, we must have created a local bubble of racelessnessâ€¦ not because we perpetuated the lie that race/culture doesn’t matter, but because everyone had a slightly different one, and it was never a point of division but of delight. She was six years old before she realized the label “Black” applied to her and also grouped her with others whose skin wasn’t nearly as dark as hersâ€“ very confusing. Before then when talking about skin color she would call herself “dark chocolate”, since she wasn’t quite as “black” as her aptly-named friend Eboni.
ANYWAYâ€¦ on a Dad/Daughter walk with her recently to get smoothies and pick up the mail, conversation turned to what her wedding would be like someday. (Little girls talk about this?! My wife says it’s normalâ€¦) I asked what kind of guy she might marry. She gave me a surprisingly detailed description, mostly character virtues and abilities, but including the fact that her ideal mate would have the same color skin that she did. This from a girl who has grown up in South Los Angeles (where we live) but in a wildly multicultural/multi-class family. At her age, not yet having a fully-formed grasp of Black identity, culture, history, etc. (though we are working on that), the reflexive desire was for a husband of her same race.
On the other hand, when I asked “Like, anyone in particular?” she beamed up at me and said “Yes maybe Sam Voss!”
Sam happens to be white, the only white family in a nearby Latino neighborhood.
I didn’t point that out to her. When she gets older, I’ll point her to this blog though.
on 2010/06/02 at 11:42 am | In reply to Aabaakawad.
The perspective your present as a WM assessing the conundrum of interracial dating angst amongst black women is well assessed, and accurate. I love you point, “the truth is not awful, for mature people anyway,” is an excellent one, and should be openly discussed, but in a loving and sensitive way. Thanks for chiming in!
on 2010/06/02 at 11:13 am
“If black women regardless of class and education were really honest, most will tell you that their ideal mate is a black man.”
This constantly denied fact (denied by more than a few BWIR bloggers) is a real stumbling block in IR relationships – not because of the fact, but because of the denial. These feelings are natural, should be expected, and not in any important way anti-race. There a few natural cosmopolitans, but most of us create our romantic target out of instinct mixed with what we are familiar with, at least initially.
It is assumed by many BW interested in IR that this simple fact will cause their suitor such pause that they may evaporate. Yet the little “white” lie (pun intended) isn’t really believed. So both parties pretend.
The truth is not awful, for mature people anyway. Yes, most BW open to IR grew up dreaming of a Black prince, and may still prefer such if all else is similar. BlackGirlInMaine has been honest about this in her blogging. She is in a stable marriage w/ a WM.
Sometimes this (non-BM as plan B) is denied with anger. But I have been in a few IR relationships, and, perhaps because I am easy to be honest with, every BW I have dated *so far* has admitted this preference. Sometimes the preference disappears, sometimes it doesn’t, but it was always there at her coming of age.
Despite all the angst, this really isn’t a big deal. Most of us don’t end up pursuing our first choice in career, romance, or location, but don’t consider that a tragedy. Human beings fall in love with human beings. Their partners either grow on them, or not. Familiarity eventually creates comfort, then ease.
I hate to tell you women yet another thing to be brave about, when you have been dealt far more than your share, but it is much better that he understand what your life has been about, what you have faced, and how you have evolved and why â€¦ than to try to have him think you live colorlessly. Do you really want him to be oblivious to your stressors?
If this level of complexity is overwhelming to him, he wasn’t worthy of you anyway.
on 2010/06/01 at 6:57 pm
So very sorry that you have been called that awful word.
on 2010/05/30 at 4:55 pm | In reply to beautifulbrown.
THanks so much for visiting! more and more, I think online interracial dating is the most effecient way to step outside your comfort zone.
on 2010/05/30 at 3:53 pm
1st let me point out that i love your blog. i have come across black men who are in their 40s almost 50s who say they are still waiting on â€˜the right one’ which makes me always tell them that they are getting older and not younger.. i come a predominantly black country jamaica to be exact, so they are many black couples who do marry along the same age range as whites doâ€¦. so i guess i am privileged.. i have been called the n word but its never by whites but always by blacks problacks as a matter a fact. and i have to say that i have my own share of critics and laughs by black people because of my relationship especially on the stereotype that white men have small penis and because oral sex is something that is frowned upon by my society that white men love to eat.. but i dont let that bother me.. since lately my relationship as become the center of conversation whenever your gossiping about me.. but i coulda careless.
on 2010/05/29 at 10:39 pm | In reply to Aisha.
(Would love to be a fly on Aisha’s Facebook wall)
on 2010/05/29 at 6:47 pm | In reply to Lovelybubbly.
Thanks for bringing up this point. I think these issues are a direct result of the dearth of available and marriageable black men. It puts them in a position of power, and us black women begging for scraps, any scraps, just so we can have a man. This lopsided power must stop, which is why I’m so encouraged that black women are beginning to expand their options.
on 2010/05/29 at 6:24 pm
I felt the need to post again because when I mentioned black women who refuse to open their options to include men of any race who is of quality have lowered their standards and are now either accepting anything or remaining alone please allow me to give some examples and I hope I don’t offend anyone with my brutal honesty. I’m 40 married settled down content but I still chat with and mentor young people so I remain hip and current with the social scene, I talk to younger black women in their 20s and 30s and I’m stunned. Black women are being encourage to participate in threesomes, to tolerate sharing a man with several other women and not being jealous about it,allow her man to hang out with his boys whenever he wants even if that means going to a stripclub,to not ask him for nothing he only does what he wants for you no obligations black women even the driven educated career oriented type or quietly tolerating this foolishness! I’ve heard black women who are decent willing accepting men who have been in jail criminal types, not working men. When I hear them speak its shocking that we as black women who are doing well would remain with men who bring that kind of craziness into your life?
on 2010/05/29 at 4:32 pm | In reply to CW.
Well said, CW. We have generations of men-boys who have never seen fatherhood demonstrated to them. And it’s an unbelievable shame that 75% of black children are being born out of wedlock. Where is the outrage from the community about this? Where is the sense of shame?
on 2010/05/28 at 10:43 pm
Its not just that 42% of black women are not married you have 44% of black men that are NEVER married, 2% more than black women. In short there are black men do not want to get married at all. Also too to many black men are not trained to get married. You have some black mothers that want their sons in an eternal state of boyhood because of their issues.
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