A woman's thoughts on interracial relationships - a love against all odds.
My name is Tammy Bailey, and I am a young woman of African-American descent. I recently graduated from a prestigious university with Honors, and I am currently employed in a Fortune 500 company, making enough money to guarantee me a comfortable life and possibly an early retirement.
I come from a big family. My father was the neighborhood's doctor, and my mother owned a small but lucrative pastry shop. I have two older brothers. Daniel is one of the top neurosurgeons in the country. He has a lovely wife and two sons who hope to follow in his footsteps. The other is Sean, a professional football player in the NFL. He's just getting over a divorce and currently lives with a girlfriend. I also have two older sisters – Shelly (the oldest child), who is married to the owner of a professional basketball team. They have five grown children. My other sister is Beatrice, or simply Bea to those who know her well. She is a Principal at a local high school and is married to a technical engineer, who works for one of the nation's top gas companies. My grandparents – from my mother's side – are still alive and well. Now, in their early nineties, they are well-loved relatives who still insist on living in their home of over fifty years.
You might look at our family and consider us lucky to have such a wonderful and blessed life. I will not fault you for doing so. We are indeed lucky and blessed to have come this far. I grew up in a small home on the streets of Savannah – in a predominantly black neighborhood. While my father wasn't poor by any means, we weren't as wealthy as many would have thought. My father was often guilty of treating his patients for free and didn't make as much money as he often deserved. However, mother made up for it with her wonderful pastries and confectioneries. People from out of town, blacks and white alike, would flock to her little shop to buy whatever she created and we, the children, would do our best to help out as much as we could.
I will not say that I wasn't aware of the racial issues we faced while growing up. However, back then, I was only a little girl and never really paid much attention to it. I went to good schools and studied hard to make my parents proud of me. The only chances I got to see many white people came on the days when my parents would take us to the main city or whenever I watched the movies at the theatre. To me, at the time, they were bigger than life – a force to be reckoned with – a group of people who had lovely fair skin, something I would never have. Do not get me wrong. I did not wish to be white; I simply admired them as any curious young black girl would.
However, awe slowly became blasé and indifference as I grew older and went to high school. The ratio of blacks and white were now somewhat even, and I was able to make a lot of friends from both races. My two best friends at the time were Emily Logan, whose father and mother were the local judge and school teacher respectively and Barbara Allison, whose father owned a grocery store. At the time, I really thought nothing of having those girls as close companions, and we were more than happy to hang out with each other as often as we could.
On the surface, things looked fine and our families seemed to endorse our friendships, but little did I know that beneath the politeness and pleasantries, lay a simmering layer of a phrase I've only come to be more aware of as an adult – a silent racism. Someone once defined that as a practice, act, or event that is motivated by race, which is not verbally acknowledged to be racially motivated, and is maintained by tacit approval from generation to generation. When one is generally asked if he or she is a racist, the natural answer given is 'No, I am not' and yet there are places where even though such prejudices are not obviously shown, they still do little things which give away an inherent desire to distance themselves from another not of their kind.
What shocked me the most was that this brand of racism was felt more from my side of the family. It was in the way my brothers and sisters watched me warily each time I brought my friends home, how they'd joke amongst themselves about 'the white folks' and how they were not to be 'trusted'.
"I wouldn't get too close to them," Sean had once said when we were still teenagers. "One minute, they're smiling at you and the next, they stab you in the back! Happens all the time!"
My argument had been that it happens to everyone, black, white, red or yellow, it didn't matter. That was simply human nature. But no matter what I said, as long as it was the 'white' man in the picture, it was never okay. Perhaps you might call me naïve and say that the other side does act the same way, and you would be right in that assumption. My rude awakening would eventually come when my friendship with Barbara suddenly ended for no reason at all.
"I just don't think we should be seen together...in public, that's all."
Ah, okay, that's just fine, I had said with a cheerful smile, although seeing that furtive look in her eyes and the embarrassed flush on her cheeks had told me all I needed to know. It hurts to know that your friendship is not considered 'acceptable' by society just because of the way you look and we weren't strong enough to combat such odds against us. It was made even worse when my mother had muttered beneath her breath after I had told her the news,
"I knew you should never have trusted those kinds of people."
Those kinds of people.
We are a race of proud individuals. We have worked our way from the fields of slavery to a place in society where we can be considered as equals in most if not all fields. We all pray and hope for a day when we will be treated as one, where racism will no longer be an issue and yet, we as a people, find it so hard to let go of the mentality to 'stick with your own kind'.
Today, I feel blessed to be with a man I love more than life itself. He's handsome, smart, funny and dedicated to whatever he sets his mind to. We met in my final year at the university, at a seminar being held for Business Administration graduates. He was a speaker at the event and when he stood upon that podium and our eyes met, I knew he was going to be the man I'd spend the rest of my life with. I was honored and flattered that he approached me first, struck up conversation and found me the most attractive woman he had ever met. We've now been together for almost six months and believe me, it's been a very long and already trying courtship. For you see, the man I love is a full-blooded Caucasian – blond hair, blue eyes, just your typical all-American male.
Shocked? Not surprised? It's your choice.
Unfortunately, it's the same thing we get and expect wherever we go these days. The quick and curious glances we receive when we walk hand in hand down the street, the way their expressions change whenever he or I introduce ourselves as a couple or even the way we are treated sometimes. Take for instance the day I went to the beauty shop as I usually do every three months or so. It's your typical black hair establishment where conversation is lively and gossip takes precedence at any time of the day. I was yet to tell anyone of my relationship with my new man and I will confess that I felt a bit shy about it. Although I have known my hair stylist for several years and we've shared some rather personal stories with one another, a part of me was sure she would not 'approve' of my decision to be with a white man. My fears were only confirmed when David walked into the beauty parlor to pick me up. You could hear a pin drop in the silence that ensued and when he leaned close to kiss me, you could almost hear the collective gasp of disbelief that ran through the women in the room. Somehow, David's presence erected a thin but palpable wall between me and the women I had come to know as friends for the past two years. I cannot begin to explain the misery and loneliness I felt at the knowledge. It is hard to think that I am looked at with disbelief, shock, sometimes pity and even anger from my own people.
You can always see the unspoken question hovering on their lips, burning in their eyes, even as they smile and continue polite conversation.
Why her? Why him? What happened to the people of your kind? Your race?
How come you can't be with a brother? What's a fine sister like you doing with a white guy? We brothers aren't good enough for you now?
No, my brothers and sisters. It is not that you aren't good enough for me. It's because I fell in love with someone – a human being just like you and me, who happens to be of a different skin tone. Now I ask you, my brothers and sisters, does that make me less Black? Does that make me a traitor to my own people? Do I deserve to be looked at and treated differently just because of that? What crime have I committed to warrant such mistrust? Loving another person? If so, consider me guilty as charged. We say we want to be treated fairly and yet we discriminate against our very own people. If that's the case, then we, the human race, are nothing more than hypocrites.
As of today, David and I have yet to tell our families of our relationship for we know that is another major hurdle to cross. We have talked about it and decided that we can put it off no longer. We know that there will be whispers behind our backs, perhaps some family members who do not approve and even more hardships ahead. But as I look into those beautiful blue eyes and feel the comforting weight of the ring on my finger, I know that we will weather this storm as best we can and pull through it with our heads held high.
I am not ashamed of my race and culture, neither will I cower and hide my feelings for a man who does not 'look' like me. But for now, I can only sit here and write my thoughts, with the hope and prayers that one day, our children will live in a society where everyone becomes color blind.