Barbara Stanton has been my friends for fifteen years. You might say that she is my best friend. We’ve dated and double-dated, but not once did we ever date outside our own race. About a year ago, Barbara came to me announcing that she was getting married to her boyfriend Paul. I hadn’t seen her for a while because we both began to grow in different directions and I’m ashamed to admit that we didn’t even keep in touch to have a deep conversation. Just some hello’s and goodbyes.
When she called to tell me she was getting married, once again she omitted something that may have seemed inconsequential to her, but quite significant to her family and friends. She was marrying a black man. Maybe it’s not so crazy, but in the past few years we’ve seen more black and white couples than ever before. Maybe it’s because children of today’s world don’t even see color, or maybe it’s because of the rappers and hip hop entertainers that we somehow have as role models. Who knows?
All that is certain is that where at one time this was totally unacceptable, today it is gaining more and more popularity. On a luncheon that we had with a few friends a few weeks before the wedding, the issue of race was brought up. Barbara had all the statistics. She argued that although race has often been contentious in children’s literature, from controversies over Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to Bannerman’s Little Black Sambo, to Keats’s The Snowy Day, to Herron’s Nappy Hair. How race is portrayed and who portrays it have been crucial for many critics.
( Sands-O’Connor, Karen “Why Are People Different? ) She related to us about some of the history of racism, and we had to admit that it seemed rather ridiculous the way the people of old handled it. In the sixteen hundreds, for example, Maryland banned interracial coupling because it wasn’t sure if the offspring of the black slave and white person would be considered a free person or a piece of property. Barbara knew a lot about black history. She told us that many blacks had white ancestry and who are we, the smug whites, as she called us, to not see this.
She let us know in no uncertain terms that there were so many white slave ‘owners’ that took advantage of their female slaves that there was an abundance of mixed children born throughout those years. It is estimated that as many as seventy percent of African Americans are descendants of interracial coupling. These include Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frederick Douglass. Each one of these mentioned are of black and white ancestry, including her intended. Denise, one of Barbara’s cousins brought up the fact that it just wasn’t common for blacks and whites to marry because of the long-term effects.
But Barbara had the numbers right there in front of her. She told us that according to the Census Bureau, the number of mixed-race marriages rose from three hundred thousand in 1970 to one point two million in 1990. Between 1960 and 1990, the percentage of African American marriages involving a white spouse more than tripled. She wasn’t alone. Barbara looked at the six of us. “Of course we realize that we are of different ethnic backgrounds, but we are in love and intend to be married and really don’t care who objects. That is, of course, except the parents and relatives. Somehow, we always care what family says.
But, what is interesting about America and it’s occupants is that even though people define their deliberations of interracial marriage in terms of “culture,” what really bothers them is race. We laughed as she told us that they didn’t tell the family that there was a difference in ethnic background. They just said, ‘guess who’s coming to dinner? ’ and they walk in the door, totally shocking the pants off all in the room. Her family, of course, pretended to be polite and welcoming until the couple left. Then, Barbara said she could imagine her mother’s hand going to the heart and the drama began.
This, of course, is with both families, black and white. Barbara and Paul are sure that all through the courtship there will be innuendos right into the wedding day. Paul, in consoling Barbara as the big day approached, told her that friends of his that married interracially had similar problems. Some families give in and actually convince themselves that this is okay. Others really are okay with it and still others completely betray their own feelings. Their family did consent and did seem pleased. However, Barbara really didn’t want to know if these were feelings for show or not.
She admitted that they had to face many decisions before the big day, such as the way they’ve handled difference of opinions thus far and religious upbringing of the children. They needed to voice whether they were willing to compromise on some of these issues and most importantly, how they see the role of husband and wife in this marriage of difference. In my opinion, like all marriages, things can lead to disaster or they can be worked on effortlessly, and Barbara and Paul firmly examined their path well before they made the decision to wed.
Traditionally, African-American weddings include vivid colors, elaborate costumes and meaningful rituals. Whereas the white wedding embraces a more toned down dress. White bridal gown and pastels usually are chosen for the bride and the maids. The men are usually in black or white tuxedos depending on the time of day the wedding takes place, whereas the black groom sometime chooses a costume designed to the custom of his people. Ironically, in order to avoid all of this, Barbara has chosen to have a civil ceremony in the chapel at city hall and a small dinner at one of the area’s best restaurants.
All decisions regarding custom have therefore been eliminated. The night before the wedding, they had a talk with both parents. The question of the future was brought up and the constant changes the human life goes through. They ask the couple how they are going to feel ten to twenty years down the road about this relationship and the offspring of this relationship. They do understand that everyone changes their ideas and opinions and although today they agree on most things, life is funny when it wants to throw bones.
If a couple of the same race marries, when each one goes through changes, it is not going to be related to race. This is a big deal. There will be racial slurs on both sides of the family and friends sharing opinions. They will eventually have to deal with school and the black and white mom and dad. The family that evening pointed out that as sad as it is, the child will always be looked upon as ‘different’ because of his or her genetics. However, this was something Barbara and Paul did not agree on.
They pointed out that in today’s world, unlike when their parents were growing up, the rivalry between races isn’t as potent. They agreed that some whites looked upon themselves as superior to blacks and in reality there would always be some type of racial issue as long as we have a democracy. It’s just different opinions. These things have a way of working themselves out and as for their children, they will know as soon as they recognize the difference in mom and dad that they are mixed. Growing up with it is certainly not the same as finding out spontaneously when their older.
Since that’s impossible, the race issue may be resolved with the age of reason. The next morning, the wedding went off as scheduled. The whites in the chapel at city hall were noticing the difference in the people across the isle and the blacks were noticing the same things. But, they smiled at one another in a friendly gesture of approval. But, Barbara and her new husband knew that you couldn’t take the hand-me-down prejudices out of the older people in the chapel and they knew that there would be difficulties and differences from the get-go.
However, they felt this would be a long lasting relationship and they were not willing to give up their future for the likes of racial interference. At the words, ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’, the whole family changed. Now there is a white girl in our family…. says one. Now there is a black man in our family…. says the other. Life has changed for them all. It’s been five years and the marriage is still going strong. I visited them and their twin boys, two years old who have brought the whole family together and they are loved to pieces by both sides.
The children are mixed, but they have the blue eyes of the mother and the full lips of the father. Their color is the color of coffee with milk in it and their hair is a mixture of straight and curly. Perfect. They happen to be absolutely the most beautiful children imaginable. And they know it. There is so much love in that family that no one would guess there is a racial difference. Now, the families admit that they still see color, but only on the outside of the family. They see no color within. As far as the parents go, both couples realized they have a fondness for poker, hence the Thursday night poker club.
In conclusion, we see that today, there are few communities with any claim to being racially pure; in modern society there has been a considerable amount of intermarriages which has blurred any such distinctions even further. (Pinsent, Pat: Race and Ethnic Identity pg. 91) So, are we going to get caught with our pants down if we don’t start building our country with the knowledge that all men are indeed created equal? No one actually takes a look-see inside the obviously different race to find out that we are not so different after all. Our wishes and hopes are exactly the same.
Our love for our children is bountiful on both sides and our country is important to us all. How than, for a matter of a color, can we be so negative toward one another? I believe it is simply a fact collector. Get the facts on the person. Compare those facts with your own and voila’ we’re all God’s creatures. Barbara and Paul taught us all a lesson. The readers of this essay may have racial differences as well. If so, maybe we should stop and smell the roses and if not………how did they smell? CITATIONS BOOKS Sands-O’Connor, Karen – “Why Are People Different? ” Pinsent, Pat: Race and Ethnic Identity pg. 91