“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive. And we don’t want them to say, Look how far we’ve come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable. It’s true. I speak from experience.”
-Chimimanda Adichie “Americanah”
Sooo…my last serious relationship before I met the man who is now my husband was with a White guy who worked on the same campus as I did at the time. Until I read this passage in “Americanah” I told myself that the reasons we broke up, both times, had nothing to do with race But when I read this, it was like someone was speaking my internal experience back at me and I realized that I was holding all these feelings inside. I was reading one of my 2002-2003 journals over the Thanksgiving weekend and it turns out that while I never talked about these issues with anyone during the time I was in a relationship with, I’ll call him, “Average White guy” I wrote very clearly about my discomfort with his place in my life.
He hated his family and didn’t ever want to have kids, but other than that, was perfectly lovely, nurturing, kind, generous and sweet. The family hatred and not wanting to have kids turned out to be huge for me. I never even realized how much I wanted kids until he made this statement. Neither did I realize how much I loved the whole idea of family, as much as an introvert as I am. Those things I was always willing to admit and discuss out loud. But race?
This was not my first interracial relationship. It was just the first serious one in which I was not seeing anyone else and at an age where I was no longer willing to deal with anything short of serious commitment. This wasn’t just dating or exploration. I also wrote a lot during our time together about needing to be with someone with a spiritual core, because apparently he did not have one and i am not suggesting that this was because he was White. It was just one of many things about him I could not tolerate. He never said he was an atheist or anything but some things a person doesn’t have to say.
At some point though, in 2002 (I didn’t date it) I actually wrote, “I hate that I can’t sleep with my boyfriend while my hair is natural without feeling painfully self conscious about it.”
This is why I love that I was such a hard-core journaler (journaler should just be a word) since 1989. Because I would never have recalled thinking or writing this otherwise! I think I wanted so badly to believe that I was above or beyond race as an issue in my relationship with AWG that I just buried any idea that it had anything to do with my breaking up with him. I always told people, friends, peers, that it was other stuff. I think I was ashamed to admit that yes, when it came to thinking about a long-term commitment, even with the very first white guy, my whole “we are the world” “can’t we all just get along?” “I am human first” front came crashing down.
I don’t want to get lazy and get used to this. To settle for something which essentially was not what I was shooting for if I had been shooting for anything. Things he doesn’t want, doesn’t believe in, I have no problem with but I have to find someone who does. I won’t try to change him. I adore him! But even the racial consciousness is a problem and kicks in sporadically for me as a problem where it never does for him. Pisses me off.
And there it is. I didn’t want race to be an issue because I wished that it wasn’t. So I wrote about it but I never raised the issue with AWG.
This memory just in! LOL!
He said he hated his parents because they were racist. AHHHHHHH!!!!
Yeah, I guess he must have slipped that one in after almost a month? At least that’s what I’d like to believe. I’m not saying that either of us were at fault. As Adichie mentions above, when we were together alone anywhere, it was like being in a different world, that same world of isolated and precious intimacy you would experience with any human being you love. But in the street, in social situations, at my family’s home! Oh God! I couldn’t deal. And we never talked about it. I never talked to him about how I really felt because I didn’t want it to exist.
It has taken me years to really see myself, not as I have always wanted to, but the way in which America sees me, and it’s hard because it is so unrelentingly ugly. And while I understand that what they say is not who I really am, I have to struggle not to unconsciously project the same negative qualities and stereotypes on my own Black and Brown brothers and sisters as a way of distinguishing my self. As aware as I always struggle to be, I still struggle not to fall into a place where I think, race doesn’t matter here, I can relax. I can care for a White person and not ever have to deal with the Race elephant in the room trampling over all we may have built together. The truth is that I don’t want it to matter. No person of color does. But I don’t have that luxury. I never have. And any African American in a committed relationship with a White person in America who tells you different is just not at place where they feel like they can discuss it.