Inter-dating: Not So Black & WhiteMarch 25, 2013
“I assumed she was just a nice Jewish girl trying to piss off her parents.”
This was the comment made by a friend’s new boyfriend regarding my relationship. After meeting us, my friend informed her new man that we had been together for a while. Apparently shocked that it was not a hit and run relationship, I was deemed the “nice Jewish girl” attempting to piss off my parents by dating my boyfriend… of over five years at the time – whom both my parents love.
Did I forget to mention that the commentator barely spoke to my boyfriend before making this remark? As a matter of fact, almost nobody at the table was able to get a word in edgewise, so it hardly seemed that the perpetrator was interested in getting to know anyone.
And if you didn’t already assume it, I am white.
Oh, and my boyfriend is Black.
Wait, when did this happen? Where was this, you ask?
It was three years ago in a bar in New England, frequented by young, educated individuals.
This comment was relayed to me three years ago, but I still feel the resentment bubbling up every time I recall it. There was an attempt to play it off as a compliment of our long-term commitment to each other. But there’s really no way around the implication that a white woman would only date a black man to annoy her parents. Or that a Jewish parent would not be cool with a daughter dating outside of her race or religion.
While I don’t think the person stating it was overtly “racist,” I do think it speaks to the underlying racial and religious undertones that shape the attitudes in our country; even though we’ve come so far in our society, race and religion are still seen as issues to overcome in relationships rather than differences to be celebrated.
The last anti-miscegenation laws in the U.S. were lifted in 1967. That means that some areas of the country could have legally forbidden my relationship with my boyfriend – and prevented us from getting married – less then fifty years ago. It seems unbelievable, but according to a report by the Pew Research Center last year, only 4 in 10 Americans say lifting these anti-miscegenation laws was good for our society and 3 in 10 say it made no difference. One in 10 say it was bad for the country. Sixty three percent of Americans say “it would be fine” if a family member married outside of their race. These statistics indicate that, while the majority of the population feels that interracial dating is acceptable, many people are still only ok with it from a distance.
I was fortunate enough to be raised by open-minded parents – one Jewish and one Christian. They faced judgment from some family members because of their interfaith relationship, but they never allowed their different upbringings to get in the way. We celebrated Chanukah and Christmas, Passover and Easter. I thought it was so cool to learn about and celebrate different holidays and the unique mixture of my heritage. I can vividly remember telling my parents I wanted to marry someone who was a different religion from me so my own children would be exposed to a wider variety of cultural traditions.
Fast forward to the end of college – it was time to introduce my parents to my new boyfriend. I assumed they’d be fine with our different religious backgrounds, given their own experience. The race issue… I assumed it wouldn’t be one, but I gave a heads up, just in case. I told my mother over the phone that my new boyfriend was funny and smart, he got my sarcastic sense of humor and could serve the wit right back to me. He was really tall and athletic… and Black.
“You guys are fine with that, right?” I asked. Not that I needed approval – it was more like I was making sure my parents really were the open, accepting people I believed them to be – and that they wouldn’t have the “not in my backyard” mentality.
“Of course,” my mother replied without a pause. “My only concern would be how other people treat you two.”
I assured my mother that we could handle any response to our relationship. Eight years later, every person who matters has treated our relationship with respect. And the ones who don’t, well, we just assume they are good old-fashioned bigots trying to piss us off.
[Image Credit: thecafebelle.com]