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I Can Never Truly Understand

October 20, 2010

A good friend asked me for advice this morning.

She’s developed a friendship with a guy she met through work. Evidently, there’s a lot of chemistry, and by “a lot” I mean when she mentions him her face lights up so that she looks like she has a halo on. His colleagues have also commented on it, and commented to her that their friend feels much the same about her. I get the feeling that a lot of people who know both of them are sitting around watching the sparks, waiting for ignition.

So, why advice? She’s single, divorced, dating casually, but not in a committed relationship. He’s divorced, stable, with a great job and a great personality. No one has any red flags that scream, “Woah! Wait! What are you getting yourself into?”

She is Polish-Czech-Italian American,  and he is African-American. Black and white.

While I do not have any friends who are haters, my friends span the spectrum of people who use the N-word, who disapprove of interracial relationships, and who honestly do think “American” implies “white,” to people who are nationally and internationally renowned advocates for social justice. The friend who asked my advice falls much closer to the N-word-using end of the spectrum. She has told me she was brought up in a family where interracial dating was seen as the worst possible betrayal of all her family stood for. She was brought up to hate.

One of the many reasons I’m so fond of my friend is that she’s overcome so much, and in doing so, gained wisdom and compassion in a measure that far outweighs her suffering. A public blog isn’t the place to air grievances against her parents, so you can use your imagination, and I assure you, it isn’t far off. She’s been one of my best friends for the greater part of a decade, and the stories just keep coming. I heard a lot of her history during the nadir of my illness because my friend is the type of person who understands the purpose of the “it could always be worse” anecdote. Not schadenfreude but solidarity.

“I’m afraid,” she said.

“Of what?” I demanded of her. “Of your step-father?”

“Like he’s going to get in his car and drive two thousand miles to beat me up for dating a black guy?”

She was quiet.

“He would. He would. But I’m a grown woman, and I would press charges. No, I’m not afraid of him any more.”

She was quiet, and so was I, except for the clatter of the dishes I was loading into the dish washer while she sat at my kitchen table drinking Cuban café con leche.

“I’m afraid of people staring at me.”

“What if it went really well and we got married. Our kids would be bi-racial.”

I brought up my friends and neighbors who are in a mixed race marriage, and whose children are so wonderful, and so smart, and so beautiful that I would switch them for my own if I could get away with it.

“Yeah we might have kids like that.” She smiled.

She drank her coffee and I sprayed down the counters.

“What would Chris say if I brought over a black guy?”

“He’d say, ‘Have a beer. Have a seat. How are things going?'”

“You grew up in an interracial family,” my friend said to me. “Was it weird?”

Well, it was weird, but only because my family is all people with strong personalities, and I did not think it was the time nor place to discuss what is meant by multicultural versus interracial.  I’m also quite certain that my friend’s mother and step-father would not differentiate between the two, but would merely categorize me as a Spick.

“My parents got married in the sixties. I think maybe some people raised eyebrows because my mom was from Cuba and my dad was from New York but it wasn’t ever a big deal. One year, Chris’s mom was surprised when I made Cuban food for Easter, but then she laughed and said ‘Of course.’ That’s about it as far as anything,” I said.

“I think you should let him take you out and see where it goes,” I said. “What is there to lose?”

“I’m afraid.”

My drop-dead gorgeous friend is afraid, because when she was growing up, her mother stood by and watched while her stepfather degraded her by telling her that her curly (blonde) hair and her full lips and curvy backside made her look like a black person, only that was not the word he used.

My friend knows that melt-your-butter-make-you-giddy attraction to someone does not respect racial boundaries.  She knows, better than anyone, what kind of a person would intentionally bring up a child to be a racist, a hater, and her repudiation of that twisted value system is just one part of the healing journey she has taken to overcome her upbringing.

My friend also knows, in a way I, who grew up in a family with two generations of multicultural marriage, can never truly understand, the extent of social pressure against interracial dating.

This morning, was she asking my advice or my permission?

I think she is going to let him know that she currently has no plans on Saturday night.

I can never understand the courage it’s going to take her, and I love her all the more for it.

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  1. Gale permalink

    If she is Polish-Czech-Italian then it is way too late to worry about interracial marriages. Mixing cultures can bring up some hurdles that would otherwise be avoided, but marriage is full of hurdles anyway. It’s sad that people let that kind of thing tear apart the family. Like she said, she is a grown women. At this point in her life her step-dad needs to get off her back and find a hobby. She shouldn’t let her family’s anger keep her from being happy. People should have more friends like you. I think you’re wonderful. 🙂

  2. Dances with Reaper Dancer permalink

    I would ask if he was stable and had a great job.

    I would not ask if he had a great personality since in guy speak, that’s code for is he ugly?

  3. Elaine permalink

    This is where all of her growth and change as an adult will be revealed to her family. This is her coming out. I would bet that her step-father has not really seen the extent of her evolution. Even if it doesn’t work out, if it becomes serious enough to be a thing, this is her line in the sand.

    You are wise to know that sometimes when people are asking for advice they are really asking for love and support. Most people miss that. This is big scary uncharted territory for her and it might mean that her family of origin will disown her for good. It is good for her to know you are in her corner regardless of what happens.

    Good luck to her. May she have much happiness in her life.

  4. Anne Slater permalink

    What Elaine said.
    She’s asking “Would YOU do it?
    “Will I be safe? Will my mother ever speak to me again?
    Does that matter if he turns out to be THE one?”

    Best wishes and good luck to your friend.
    It must be gratifying to you that she trusts you so much.

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